Cultivate Cohort Reflections #3

We are in a special series of guest blog posts—written by alumni of our Cultivate Cohort program. We’re excited for you to hear what the Cohort has meant to others. Our third post comes from Michelle Bramel, a member of Cohort Gimmel, the third cohort group of 40 Orchards.


I drove home and cried for an hour. I didn’t just cry- I had moments of sobbing. I felt overwhelmed.

This was a few Mondays ago, after a study with my Cohort. That night we’d talked about many things- trusting, being vulnerable, caring for the poor, community. Someone suggested that we each had something of value that our community needed, and we should spend some time figuring out what that is. I was overwhelmed at knowing how much I have, how much privilege I have, and how much I probably don’t use what I have in order to make a difference in the lives of others.

I was also struck by the idea that I actually have something of value that others might need and that I bring value to my community in my own unique way. I was simply convicted.

I’m in my 9th month of Cohort Gimmel with a group of amazing people who are journeying alongside me! I have been overwhelmed on more than one occasion, learned so much, and know I have much more to learn and apply, for the rest of my life.

I started my Cohort journey in what I consider part of my reconstruction of faith. If I had to define it, I would say that reconstruction means intentionally building a faith life that is an integrated part of my entire humanity.

At some point, I hope to not talk about my faith or Christianity, or my walk, or insert phrase here, as though it is separate from the rest of my life. I don’t want to feel like I have to inform another that I have a faith life or spiritual life, I simply want to try and live my life as Jesus did and hope it speaks to others in beautiful, just and caring ways.

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I’m 48 years old, I grew up in the Presbyterian church, participated in Young Life for my high school years, worked in the advertising industry for about 8 years, and then spent about 12 years attending and working for an evangelical church. The time I spent working for and attending the church is what has informed my beliefs and understanding about the bible. I held church leaders in high regard, blindly believed what they said and thought they had all the right answers. At some point, the poor treatment of the staff at my church became too much for me. I didn’t have influence to make any changes and I simply couldn’t endure the negative impact the church had on so many people I loved and cared about, so I left.

It turns out even church leaders are mistake-making and fallible humans who have things to learn, just like the rest of us. And the best ones will tell you that with complete honesty. I no longer say those words with frustration, anger, or as a warning to others, I simply understand it as a human truth. We all have different gifts and how we use them matters.

As I was preparing to leave the church I was also preparing to move on from my divorce. I left my husband, I left the church, and a lot of other things, all at one time.

In Cohort studies, we use the study of the Israelites being led out of Egypt as an important concept and application in our own lives. The word Egypt means the narrow place, a place that is limited, a place that has hemmed us in. In my simplest understanding, it is a place we need to first recognize we are in, and a place we need to leave, if we want to grow.

As painful as leaving can be, a lot of life can be found in the wilderness of not exactly knowing where you’re going or what is next.

After a few more years of going to church because I thought I should, or because it was what I was supposed to do on Sundays, I stopped. There just wasn’t life in that for me.

I reconnected with a friend and she had mentioned an organization called 40 Orchards. She didn’t try to sell it to me but invited me to join a study (called a Scripture Circle) and see what I thought about it. The way that 40 Orchards presents a study isn’t anything like the small groups I used to be a part of and that can be uncomfortable for people. Fortunately, I was comfortable with discomfort at this point in life, and I was in a place where I was open to just about anything. In fact, it was even more appealing if it didn’t look anything like the church experience I had left.

I can happily say that my first Scripture Circle wasn’t anything like my past church experience and it opened my eyes to many things I’d been missing.

Things like cultural context, real definitions of Hebrew words, and the space to question everything. 40 Orchards is a place where questions and uncertainty abound, and those things are welcomed with open arms.

At the end of my first Scripture Circle, I slammed my bible onto the floor and announced that I felt like the church had lied to me my whole life! For those who know the enneagram, I’m a 9. This was quite a moment for me and my anger was right out in front for the world to see (not a typical 9 behavior). In all honesty, the church probably didn’t lie to me about everything, and I’m sure there are good things I learned along the way in my church experience.

What is true is that I had a lot of searching, unlearning, relearning and digging in to do. Scripture Circles played a big part of the next 2-3 years of my life and helped me through that unraveling and deconstruction process.

In the spring of 2018, the same friend who led me to 40 Orchards mentioned that there was room in the Cohort for 2018-2019. She shared more about it and told me to just think about it. I talked about it with my then boyfriend, now husband, and we agreed that this was the next right step for me.

We are 9 months in to a 10 month/40 week Cohort, and the reality that it will formally end in July is becoming sadly real. These are people who have become friends, teachers and sisters at a critical time of my life.

They’ve accepted me exactly as I am and have given me space to ask all of my questions without fear.

Each seed study has been like taking a drink from a sacred well of knowledge. I have been given so many tools and resources, and incredible human beings to help me on my journey, and I will be forever grateful.

I have unlearned and learned so much about who and what the Creator is, who she is in my life, what creation is all about, and all that I am capable of.

A most important truth I’ve learned is that life is generative. My choices and my lived example truly do impact generations to come. With all that I’ve been given, and all I’ve come to learn, what is the legacy I’m going to leave?


Wondering what’s next in your life? What if you had space for intentional discernment? How might a deep dive into study, community, transformation, and scripture impact your journey? Wrestle with all your hardest questions in our next Cohort, which starts in August and is filling up now. Learn more HERE.