Cecelia Bellomy

For the Lord will comfort Zion;

    he will comfort all her waste places,

and will make her wilderness like Eden,

    her desert like the garden of the Lord;

joy and gladness will be found in her,

    thanksgiving and the voice of song.

I live in an attic of a family, a married couple and their two daughters, ages nine and four.  We eat a delicious home cooked meal most nights, usually vegetarian, lovingly prepared by one or both members of the couple. We talk about our days, our little joys and annoyances. And afterwards, whatever food is left over on our plates, we scrape into a lidded pot next to the sink. 

Composting, besides a brief foray my mother made when I was a child, was new to me upon living here. But I have now become so used to the habit that I find it strange when a friend’s house or self-bussing restaurant does not offer it. You mean I have to put all of this food in the regular ol’ garbage? 

At the risk of sounding like some sort of hippie, I feel like I’ve found a great value in this smallest of acts. I like the idea that even my garbage can be useful, that my black, uneaten bananas and abundant tea bags might help grow next year’s salad or daffodil. That all this garbage might be good for something. 

In August, I moved from Ohio to New Haven, Connecticut and started my first year at Yale Divinity School. Two years from now, when I’m finished, I hope to be ordained and ready to begin fulfilling my call to ministry. But quickly after I arrived at my new home, I began to doubt if the Holy Spirit really called me to this place. Maybe I misunderstood. I grew up in a very traditional church, and somehow I’d found my way into classes where we were asked to refrain from using male pronouns to refer to God, into a chapel service where one professor claimed that all those demons Jesus cast out of folks were metaphorical.

Everyone seemed so different than me. Could I possibly find a way to belong here? My anxiety seemed to spike, and I quickly realized what I’d gotten myself into. 

Almost three years ago, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. My mental illness and my faith have always gone hand in hand and probably always will. The brain of a person with OCD is constantly doubting, always grasping for a certainty that feels like it can never be attained. This makes resting in the peace of Christ feel like a Herculean feat most days. I always worried: 

What if I sinned? What if I’m about to sin? What if I’m causing someone else to sin? Does God still love me? How can I know for sure?

As my first semester at school unfolded, these questions seemed to plague me with increasing volume. In my classes and relationships with peers, many of the things I had come to believe about God and God’s world were called into question. Sometimes, at the end of these questions came a changed opinion or belief. Is it okay to change my mind, God? I panicked. Sometimes I stuck with the belief I had in the first place. Am I missing something? I panicked some more. Regardless, my racing mind flung me into a depression. I could barely sleep, could barely eat, could barely get off the couch to go to class. 

After a week at this lowest point, I remembered my pastors in Ohio praying over me before I went to divinity school. After the prayer, one said, “You really know how to question yourself and see where you might be going wrong, and that’s a gift. But now God wants you to learn to start trusting in yourself.” I had totally forgotten about this moment, this wisdom, this prayer until the exact moment I needed it most. 

So now, as I prepare to head back to Connecticut for round two of school, many of my Big Questions remain either tentatively answered or filed in an imaginary mason jar labelled “Ask in Heaven.” But what I do know is this: 

My God composts. From the refuse of life, something can be salvaged. From change and grief and illness, something can grow. Now I find myself more able to experience God’s peace and presence even as I question, even while continuing to find my place in a new community. 

Like this passage from Isaiah says, I believe God can make your waste places, your wilderness, like Paradise, too. Ask in prayer or reflection: What beautiful things has God allowed grow in the place of your personal wasteland? Or what desert are you walking through now that God may desire to turn into a garden? Amen, God, let it be. 


Dawn Ottobre

Breakthrough begins with you

Who doesn't love experiencing a breakthrough, a chance to come to a new discovery within their lives or even watching someone else experience their own breakthrough? Is that not why we have so many television shows displaying the progression of someone encountering a chance to exhibit their gifts or experience a life-changing event? Shows like America's got Talent, So you think you can Dance?, and the Biggest Loser are just a few. The anticipation is almost addicting as we cheer them on through their journey waiting to see their outcome. One of my favorites growing up was Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. It would start with interviewing the family that was going to receive a total home makeover. The families would share stories that gripped you by your heart and wrung out your tears. Their homes were in terrible condition, but they usually suffered from limitations that made it almost impossible for them to make the necessary improvements on their own. The families would be sent on vacation for a week and return to a brand new house. The show left you feeling renewed and hopeful after witnessing someone's breakthrough.

It may be safe to say that these shows remind us of the breakthrough we want to experience for ourselves. Be honest right now in your heart and think about what you have been longing for recently. We are all longing for some kind of event to take place in our lives that will elevate us to the next level, the next chapter, whatever that may be. What if that breakthrough is closer than you think? What if your breakthrough is how God wants to move in your life right now in this very moment? I want you to know that there is a group of women cheering for your personal growth and healing, praying for your breakthrough, but it starts with you taking small steps forward. Would you let that small step be a simple, "yes" to coming to the Selah Conference this year?

The Selah Conference is where you'll find this group of women who have been praying for you all along. This is where you'll be sounded by women in a safe place supporting each other and lifting each other up. Most importantly, the Selah Conference is where you'll find a pause in your busy schedule and a place of respite from the chaos to connect with God. The stories from women who have previously attended the conferences have been nothing short of a miracle. I've heard stories of healing and prayers answered. I have seen women of different ages, race, and backgrounds come together in belief of a bigger picture that reminds us that there is a God who's not far away from us, but closer than our very breath. Words of truth, healing, and love will be spoken over you. There is a group of women fighting for you, and I desperately want you to experience this goodness for yourself. Your personal breakthrough is just around the corner, but it starts with you saying a simple and brave yes!

I am one of those women rooting for you and praying for you. I hope to see you there so that we can navigate through our faith together and the beautiful mess that is life. You can find more information at http://theselahconference.com/ and follow the Selah Conference on Instagram for updates: @theselahconference


Jemima Gleeson

I’m thinking about gardens… which makes sense being that this is the theme for the Selah Women’s conference this year. 

I’m looking out my glass doors towards my backyard which- in spite of it being cold here in Australia, is beautiful, and green and receiving warm winter sunlight. For all intents and purposes it just looks like any other yard or garden. But although it’s similar in look, colour and size to the other gardens on my street- it’s not the same. No one else on my street has the same yard as me. In fact, no one anywhere has the same yard as me. Maybe they have some of the same plants and vines. Or have some of the same trees. But my garden is my garden. Your garden likewise- though it may have similarities to others on your street or in your neighbourhood- is unique. 

Just like your life. Just like your story. 

Sometimes the things growing in our lives are things we planted there deliberately. Maybe you’re the type of person who plans out their garden patch- deciding exactly where things will go. You’ve planted the things you want to see grow, you’ve seeded in the right season and you’re waiting patiently for the harvest. 

Sometimes there’s things growing in our lives that have been planted there by someone else. Perhaps carefully seeded thoughtfully, but sometimes carelessly seeded, thoughtlessly. These seeds- cast without regard, can create a messy bramble in an unwanted space. And maybe it’s grown big enough to block your vision, and you just can’t even see past it anymore. It’s right in your line of sight, everytime you glance out your window to dream- there it is, obscuring your vision.

Maybe there is a garden bed desperately needing new soil and an overgrown corner filled with weeds. We‘ve all looked at those areas and wondered if the task is too great and the reward too little. It feels like starting over would be the easiest bet- just mow the whole lot down.... And yet despite the blisters that come from ripping out weeds and pruning back dead things, we usually find that once we face it and start removing what needs to be removed, there’s joy and triumph in the work… as well as the opportunity to plant something new and fresh, where there was only ugliness and chaos. 

Selah conference this year is going to be celebrating the Garden that is our lives. I can’t wait to hear your story- the unique, the beautiful, the overgrown, the messy. We are going to gather together, encourage each other and wait in God’s presence. It will be real, and challenging and life giving- because that’s what happens when we gather in unity in His Presence. Come as you are dear ones, let’s do this together. 

Can’t wait to be with you all again.

Jem x