We’re starting 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 first post comes from Ashley Leusink, a member of Cohort Aleph, the first Cohort 40 Orchards offered.
It was spring of 2016. I had quit my job with no plan, ended my lease, and was planning to do the only next logical thing you do when you’ve cleared life’s slate… move to California. I had no idea what the future held for me. I was wide open to what was next. With that as the backdrop, the only thing before me that I knew was the right next step was to join this experimental venture, the very first Cultivate Cohort being offered through 40 Orchards.
For much of my adult life, I had been deconstructing a view of religion that was hard, cold, stale, and did not align with the realities of living an actual life - filled with pain, betrayal, loss, grief, uncertainty, hope, joy, peace. It wasn’t until I discovered Scripture Circles that I felt like my faith could live and move and breath with what my life actually looked like. For this reason, I was hungry for a much deeper dive, a consistent rhythm, and a community the Cultivate Cohort could offer.
What I did not expect was to experience such a deep transformation of my mind, body and soul. I grew up with the well-known verse in Romans … do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind… so deeply engrained that its actual meaning had become lost on me.
But as we began to dig into the depths of what the original words of the Bible held, I was blown away by how the text was actually reading my life. I began to realize, these things I’ve been experiencing, that felt right in front of my face, almost blinding, have been part of the rhythm of the humanity for thousands of years. And what the Bible is actually trying to show us is that we are in fact, not alone, but very much held, loved, and pursued. There is an ancient wisdom available to us, pulsing just beneath the surface if we stop long enough to look and listen. It’s part of a greater invitation to connect to the Living Presence that is all around us and permeates everything.
Rather than holding a narrow view of the world, this experience gave me language that began to broaden and expand wide enough to hold not only my own experience, but to begin to see the larger view of what is at play (and at stake) for humanity as a whole. Why the way we view ourselves, each other, and this planet we call home actually matter. That the way we live our lives here and now has the potential to make an impact on the generations to come. To see we actually started from good, delight, abundance, hope - and that is the gift we have to live and breath and bring to the world.
All of this transformation and growth did not come without wrestle, resistance, fear, and many, many questions. As someone who had experienced tremendous loss over the past few years when it came to intimate relationships and deep friendships, my walls coming into the cohort experience were up quite high. I was quick with the intellectual answers, but kept the responses of my heart cautiously tucked away.
But it was in this safe space, I began to gradually open up, to look around the room and see eyes that felt safe, loving, and for me in a way that I had never experienced. It was through this deep sense of being seen, that I felt a new kind of healing. One that came without expectations or conditions, but rather allowed me to unfold and blossom into someone that felt more me than ever before. It was in this place, space and community that I began to feel put back together after so much deconstruction.
There have been countless words, stories, concepts that have been deeply influential throughout this experience, but one of the most profound was the deeper understanding of the word, shalom or peace. In a world where we are constantly looking for peace, I believe some of the answers lie in the root word for shalom, which is shalem, which means wholeness. I remember the first time I heard this deeper meaning - it felt like everything in my life collapsed in on itself in that moment.
To me, wholeness is coming to peace with all the broken parts of our lives and allowing them to come back together to make a new, more beautiful whole. Perhaps one we didn’t plan or ever expect, but much deeper, richer, fuller because we have tasted and know what how it feels to be hurt, betrayed, to experience loss, grief and can therefore celebrate the moments of joy, abundance, and new life that come after the darkness.
My favorite visual of this concept of wholeness is the Japanese art form of Kintsugi, where broken pottery is mended back together using gold lacquer and is considered an important part of the object’s history and is highly regarded. In the same way, all the various parts of our lives make us who we are, even and especially the broken pieces, which take time to come to peace with, but in the end, make us more loving and compassionate people. This is now how I see the actual intent of what it means to live a spiritual life.
In case you were wondering, it was in the summer of 2016 I decided the idea of moving to California wasn’t actually for me and instead was gifted a community beyond what I ever could have hoped for in Cohort Aleph. Out of that same season of life came a new relationship, a new love that grew into a new marriage just celebrated this very spring. Like many of us, there is much gold that lines the broken pieces of my life, for which I am now exceedingly grateful. May you see, taste, and experience the peace and wholeness that is available to each and every one of us.
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—and reserve your spot.