Bonnie Brooks was a sweet, soccer playing, Southern girl who loved Jesus – and wanted to please Him. Raised by loving parents who served in vocational ministry, Bonnie had a strong foundation for genuine faith. She was also a natural people-pleaser, and often felt that goodness was a prerequisite for acceptance or love, even with the Lord. People-pleasing and man-fearing became the burden of Bonnie’s heart, and an expectant legalism filtered into her relationship with Jesus. She felt that her “goodness” should earn her God’s favor, and when the trials of life felt unfair, bitterness and resentment sprouted in the soil of that spiritual legalism. Read Bonnie’s story to see how the Lord met her in weariness and filled her heart brimful with joy in Him.
Bonnie was born in Georgia, the oldest of five children. When she was five, her family moved to North Carolina for her father to work at a Christian camp.
Bonnie: Living at camp was idyllic in many ways: exploring outdoors, being together as a family, homeschooling. I accepted Jesus as my Savior as a little girl at the camp. I wanted so much to be good, so I was agreeable, and easy – a people-pleaser. I thought people – and the Lord – would only love me if I were good enough. I believed in a lie that goodness is what would bring me freedom.
When Bonnie was entering seventh grade, her family relocated back to Georgia. For a quiet girl who had been homeschooled until 4th grade and then attended a small school in rural North Carolina, the crowded halls of a large middle school seemed daunting and unfriendly. Discovering a talent for basketball and soccer, Bonnie poured her energy into being the “best” at her sports – and finding acceptance through success.
I thought that if I wasn’t the best, I wasn’t worth anything. If I made the team but I wasn’t on the starting line-up, I didn’t feel like that was enough. I focused on soccer because I was good at that. And while I loved playing soccer, and played all the way through college, my success as a player led to pride. I let academic and athletic success become my measuring stick for whether I was good enough, and that led to a sense of self-sufficiency.
As Bonnie was venturing off to college, a painful breakup shattered her heart. The brokenness she felt in the aftermath became a catalyst to a deepened relationship with the Lord.
In high school, I was just living my parents’ faith. I was doing the right things. But it wasn’t until I went off to college and experienced that loss that I really turned towards God and made Him the Lord of my life.
Although Bonnie had been a believer for most of her life, she had never been baptized. As she grew spiritually her freshman year of college, she felt a tug to return home and be baptized.
My dad baptized me that summer at home in Georgia. I would say that my freshman year of college was when I truly started following the Lord. I graduated college with a degree in high school education. While I was doing my student teaching, I began to feel like teaching wasn’t really what I wanted to pursue. I ended up being offered a full-time staff position at the camp where I had grown up, and I felt like that was where God wanted me to go. So, I moved back to North Carolina.
Every morning, all the staff had personal quiet time and then came together for prayer. It was a time of closeknit community, spiritual growth, and developing habits of daily devotion and study.
That summer, Bonnie met Greg, who had joined staff as a summer counselor. He returned a year later, and the two began dating. When they married in 2010, they continued serving in camp ministry as a couple. While their first year of marriage included the discipleship and camaraderie of living with other believers at camp, it also included the normal struggles of two sinners learning to share day-to-day life, and the unexpected challenge of watching Bonnie’s mom battle cancer.
I felt like God should see our willingness to follow and serve Him and that He should give us another baby. When we had a miscarriage in 2014, I was devastated. And, instead of allowing that disappointment to draw me to the Lord, I pulled away from Him. I allowed bitterness to grow in my heart.
After a year-and-a-half of marriage, Greg and Bonnie discovered they were expecting their first baby. Olivia arrived mid-winter, and, while Bonnie was overwhelmed with love for her newborn baby girl, the postpartum months were harrowing. Liv was diagnosed with a genetic disorder and required a lot of attention. As Bonnie strained to manage the demands of her new baby, who was difficult to nurse and struggled to gain weight, her emotions frayed. Anxiety and postpartum depression combined with her long-time fear of failure to create a perfect storm of stress and emotional fragility.
I was afraid of being home alone at night. I would lock myself in Liv’s room to rock her to sleep and just cry. I was angry at Greg, angry at my circumstances. Finally, things began to improve as Liv grew. But we knew our season at camp was ending, and there was the new stress of trying to figure out what was next for us.
Greg and Bonnie considered overseas missions, but, after Greg visited China on a short-term trip, the Lord directed them away from that option. Seeking counsel from their pastor and camp director, they began to – somewhat reluctantly – consider youth ministry. Through a series of God-orchestrated events, they found themselves uprooting and heading west to Cody, Wyoming. Arriving in Cody with a fifteen-month-old baby and hearts full of hope, they were welcomed into a warm and loving community.
At that point, the clouds of postpartum depression and anxiety began to lift. I settled into motherhood and into our new lives here. We started to hope for another baby but discovered that I had polycystic ovaries and that a second pregnancy was going to be more difficult. I had always had that sense of legalistic entitlement where I thought God should bless me for my faithfulness. I felt like God should see our willingness to follow and serve Him and that He should give us another baby. When we had a miscarriage in 2014, I was devastated. And, instead of allowing that disappointment to draw me to the Lord, I pulled away from Him. I allowed bitterness to grow in my heart.
Over the next several years, Greg and Bonnie pursued fertility treatments, while also welcoming a teen boy into their home through the foster care system. Greg’s ministry responsibilities grew, and Bonnie’s resentment increased as he was gone from the home more.
There was a wedge between me and the Lord. Our marriage struggled. Greg was stressed, and I was internalizing my own bitterness. As those things came to a head, we sought out counseling and saw things begin to turn around. Youth ministry became so fruitful and good. In 2018, we finally conceived again, but the pregnancy turned out to be ectopic. It felt like such a tease. It was incredibly disappointing to experience the joy of a positive pregnancy test only to have the pregnancy be inviable. I was so angry, so disappointed.
But, despite the resentment and anger boiling in Bonnie’s heart, the Lord poured out His blessing and love in the form of another pregnancy. Just a month after losing their baby, Bonnie was pregnant again, and this time, she was able to carry the baby to full-term.
The Lord did not have to bless us that way. As I realized how good and kind the Lord was – whether He gave us a baby or not – I was so humbled by how He showed His love to me while I was such an angry mess. He had already given us everything. He had sent His Son to die for our sins (Romans 5:8). And His grace was enough. But He gave us Isaac (son of laughter) Boone (blessing), too.
During Bonnie’s pregnancy, the Brooks family was introduced to Watermark Church and the Institute. While Bonnie felt trepidation about moving with a newborn in arms, she also believed God was telling them to go.
I thought that our time in Dallas was going to be all about Greg getting the training he needed for ministry. I had no idea that God wanted to use that time to grow and change me, too. In Dallas, I realized that I had been at my wit’s end in terms of being a pastor’s wife. I was overwhelmed by my perceived expectations and by the busyness. I saw ministry as a chore. But at Watermark, I got to see women who were running with their husbands in ministry, and they were joyful.
Likewise, Bonnie saw godly men training Greg in boundaries and family life as a pastor. For both, their year at Watermark was a growing season. The Lord knit their hearts together, bonded them as a family, and gave them a renewed sense of calling and excitement for ministry. On Halloween, Bonnie recalls visiting a house where the family – garbed in Candyland-themed costumes – gleefully distributed generous candy portions to trick-and-treaters. Their delight in serving and giving together, and their evident love for Jesus and their neighbors made an impact on Bonnie’s heart.
I wanted to serve like that. I wanted to be a family serving God together and just delighting in loving people. I wanted to become the “motherlode” house. Not necessarily by handing out the biggest candy bars on Halloween, but by loving others deeply, genuinely, and joyfully.
The Brooks family followed the Lord’s leading back to Cody to plant Outpost. As those God-sized dreams for a Gospel-focused community of people loving and serving together have come to fruition, Bonnie is in awe of God’s kindness. He filled Bonnie’s womb with another baby boy (Tripp), gave her a renewed love for Himself, and awakened within her a new passion for the Gospel and for God’s people. For so long, Bonnie was trapped in a perspective of legalism, believing that goodness was the key to blessing and freedom. But she has realized that the Lord has already blessed her with every spiritual blessing through Christ Jesus. As a dearly-loved child of God, Bonnie can love and serve from spiritual “fullness” – empowered by the Holy Spirit. She cannot lose the love of God, and so living a life of faithfulness and righteousness is now the fruit of the Spirit in her, not an attempt to garner God’s favor.
“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.”