A Hope That Heals: Sarah’s Story

February 1, 2024

This past week, I had the privilege of meeting with Sarah Etsler, a newer congregant in our church, to hear her story. In the short six months that she’s been attending Browncroft, Sarah has participated in Rooted, developed many supportive friendships, made the decision to be baptized, and seen God work in ways she never expected or imagined. It was an honor to talk with Sarah, and I hope her incredible testimony will be an encouragement to you. Her prayer is that God will use her story “to provide hope that heals,” and to inspire many with the truth that, if we commit to following Jesus, we can experience genuine, lasting life-change in Him.

***

To begin our conversation, I asked Sarah how she learned about the church that she now calls home:

“I got connected to Browncroft through Peter (Englert). We go to the same Starbucks every Sunday morning, so I kept seeing him all the time. Eventually I said to him, ‘Hey, you’re here again! What’s your name?’”

As Peter and Sarah got acquainted, he told her about his job at Browncroft and encouraged her to check out the church website. As an aspiring life coach, her interest was piqued by our many ministry programs and small groups. She continued asking Peter about the church and its opportunities, and then began to consider whether she might want to start attending herself.

Sarah then shared with me some of her religious background and about the trials she has walked through in her life. I so admire her vulnerability and willingness to divulge these personal details for the purpose of inspiring others:

“I grew up Catholic,” Sarah told me. “But I didn’t have a relationship with God or Jesus because, in my experience, religion was more fear-based. So, I didn’t trust it. I practiced the values, but it was mostly about being a good person, loving others, that kind of thing. My first husband was a very vocal atheist, so I didn’t go to church or anything like that.”

After going through a very traumatic divorce, Sarah found herself struggling to cope in a healthy way. There was one day when she remembered a Bible her aunt had given her a long time ago. She dug it out and opened it up to Jesus’ words in Matthew 17:20: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.”

“I wrote that verse down on a piece of paper and carried it in my wallet. When I was feeling really bad, that’s what I would read, and it would give me hope to keep going. But it really didn’t fix anything, honestly.”

While struggling with a serious eating disorder, Sarah turned to journaling as a source of comfort. “I felt like as I was journaling, I was writing to a higher being.”

“God has been in your life all along, and He’s never left you.”

At an all-time emotional low, Sarah realized it was her spiritual self that was suffering. She began reading about God and Christianity to see if these were things she would ever want to explore. When she met Peter and heard about Browncroft, she became increasingly intrigued by the church and kept looking it up online to see what was new there.

“Browncroft seemed like a noninvasive environment that was all about coming together over belief, rather than regimented routines and rituals. I thought, ‘I love that.’ I noticed the New Guest Connect event that was coming up, and I said to myself, ‘You know what? What can it hurt just to find out what it’s like?’”

Before going to New Guest Connect, Sarah met with our Next Steps Director, Amanda D’Angelo. After hearing her story, Amanda said to her, “God has been in your life all along, and He’s never left you.”

“I just got tears in my eyes,” Sarah told me. “And I said to Amanda, ‘You’re right. What am I doing?’”

It was then that she made the official decision to come to a Browncroft service in person.

Sarah described to me her first Sunday here, back in July of 2023:

“As the worship music was playing, I looked up at the cross in the sanctuary and the lights beaming down, and I just had tears coming down my face,” she said. “I felt like it was home.”

She explained that, for the first time, she felt like she “had someone to talk to up above.” As she continued coming to Browncroft week after week, she met more people and became comfortable here. After hearing about Rooted at New Guest Connect, she decided to sign up and see what it was all about. This turned out to be one of the best decisions she’s made as a new Browncrofter and a new Christian.

“Rooted has been a game-changer,” she told me. “The relationships I’ve built, what I’ve learned, what’s been shared with me, and what I’ve shared with others… I can’t describe it.”

“The relationships I’ve built, what I’ve learned, what’s been shared with me, and what I’ve shared with others… I can’t describe it.”

Sarah continues to spend time with her Rooted group and has developed sisterly bonds with the women she met there. It was also through Rooted that she discovered God’s unique way of speaking to her and learned how to listen for His guidance in her life.

“How God started speaking to me when I was praying was through Scripture. I would write down what I was feeling and say a prayer. Then I’d pull up a verse, and it would be exactly the same thing that I wrote about. I thought, ‘What is this?’ And my Rooted leader told me, ‘That’s how Jesus is talking to you.’”

This is not the only wonder she experienced in her first few months at Browncroft. She went on to describe how, one Sunday in late October, she felt a warm feeling close around her heart and an indescribable energy move through her. “I knew it was the Holy Spirit,” she said.

Around this time, Sarah learned about the upcoming baptisms on December 17th, 2023:

“I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t I get baptized? I’m ready for this. I’ve already made a commitment in my heart.’ At first, I wasn’t sure I would be ready so soon, but one day in the car, this thought came into my head: ‘You will be baptized on December 17th.’ I started talking to Jesus and told Him what I was afraid of. I knew He was comforting and guiding me, and so, I signed up.”

With Sarah’s decision to be baptized came a strong sense of responsibility to follow Jesus perfectly and be a steadfast example to others. As we wrapped up our interview, she described these heavy feelings to me and then shared an important realization she’s come to:

“In the weeks after my baptism, I began to feel this heaviness, this huge responsibility, given to me to live like Christ,” she said.

Sarah began looking for serving opportunities to fulfill this obligation she felt, but found herself paralyzed by the pressure she was under. She told one of her Rooted friends, “After being baptized, I feel this enormous responsibility. But I don’t feel worthy to have it because there’s nothing I could ever do to repay God for all He’s done for me.”

Her friend replied, “Well, that’s what grace is.”

At that moment, Sarah realized she had experienced a negative shift in her emotions since being baptized. Instead of feeling her burdens lifted by God’s grace, she explained that she’d become fearful she wouldn’t be able to live up to the public declaration she’d made to follow Him.

“Just allow me to love you.”

She shared this realization with her Rooted leader, who, incidentally, had been through the same thing. Her leader explained that what had enabled her to move past this feeling was God’s voice saying, “Just allow me to love you.” Those same words are what finally enabled Sarah to relinquish her fears and stop worrying about how she would live up to her newfound Christian calling.

“My leader told me, ‘I think what you need right now is to rest from all the activity. Just spend time in your relationship with Jesus.’ And so, that’s what I’ve been doing—praying and asking His help in allowing Him to love me. That’s it. That’s my story.”

***

And what a remarkable story it is! Thank you, Sarah, for your openness and your desire to share your spiritual journey with our church. I know we will all be blessed by it in some way. May God continue to work in you and through you as you follow Him, allowing Him to love you each step of the way.

“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:6

*All information, quotes, and photos in this blog were shared with the express permission of Sarah Etsler

About The Author

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