Kindness

Don’t use foul or abusive language.  Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29 NLT)

When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.                 (Proverbs 31:26 NLT)

Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. (Proverbs 16:24 NLT)

Kindness is something you hear about all around…social media, personal stories, even in tragic events.  Most of us assume we’re kind.  Question is…are we?

I had light bulb moment recently that made me ponder that question.   It was a great moment of clarity, which was unusual since most of the time clarity comes from the rear-view mirror, not through the windshield.

I’ve hosted a Christmas Ladies brunch for over 10 years, and it’s always a fun and festive occasion.   I have so many amazing ladies from all facets of my life, and it always strikes me how little time we get to see each other throughout the year.  Some ladies I only see on Social Media.  Although we laugh that another year has gone by and we haven’t seen each other in person except at this event, I sometimes find it a little frustrating.

The attendance has grown over the years, and many of the ladies don’t know each other.  I remembered a time, many years ago when my handsome husband and I were married, how my dad stood up at our reception and introduced special guests who had traveled great distances to be there.  He thought that since there were so many fascinating people from various chapters of our family’s history, it would be entertaining to hear personal stories of the people who gathered.  And it was!  I realized then…everyone has a story.

So, at my party, I follow my dad’s example and started introducing the ladies as part of the gift exchange.  Each lady would take their turn choosing or stealing a gift, and I would say a few words and share stories about them as they did.  I shared what popped in my head at that moment.  Many of the women over the years have told me how much they appreciated what I said, and what I remembered about them. I love sharing those things because to me, everyone is special.

This year, with over 50 ladies still in attendance at the end of the gift exchange, a woman suddenly stood next to me.  She pulled her shoulders back, stood up straight and said, “it’s my turn next!” and looked at me like she had great expectation about what I was going to say about her. I was taken aback.  It struck me in that moment that we don’t say enough nice things about the people around us, nor do we hear many kind words spoken about us.  I know as wives, business owners, moms, daughters, sisters, employees, friends, employers, grandmothers and granddaughters that we often have kind thoughts about the people around us.  We marvel at a friend’s accomplishments, appreciate how well she overcame what seemed like overwhelming odds, admire how she carries herself, or even recognize something small that was overlooked, but still extraordinary.   Oftentimes, we don’t take the extra step and say,

“Great job”

“Well done”

“Congratulations”

“Hang in there, you got this”

“You did it”

“You’re amazing”

“You look great”

“That’s a great idea”

 

I greatly admire this quality in our Pastor Jude.  He’s a great example of taking that extra step.  He’s always encouraging to someone when presented with the opportunity and has a kind word ready on the tip of his tongue, like it was meant just for you.  It seems to come to him naturally and I’m so blessed by it.

As summer kicks off, I want to challenge you to take the extra step like Pastor Jude, like my dad, and like we do at special events. When the opportunity arises, and the thought strikes you, give the gift of kind words to those around you.  Your words may just make someone put their shoulders back and stand up a little straighter.

GL_0021Lisa Schoeffler is a 3rd generation Real Estate Professional and owns a renowned, successful local business with her husband, Gary.  They have one son, Rex (15) who is a freshman in high school.  Prior, she spent more than a decade in high-tech marketing in the Bay Area, after earning her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Management and a minor in Economics.  She spent most of her childhood in Southern California and Washington DC,  before relocating to the Bay Area and eventually settling in Ventura County.  She is known for her contagious entrepreneurial spirit as well as her talent for entertaining, as her love language is food!  To her friends, she is known as the one they can count on, as she always strives to be there for anyone in need.

Floating

When I look back on my life, I can remember times where I relied on my own strength and I made it. I survived. Even when my head was just barely above water, I thought, “Hey, at least I made it.” Eventually, I got tired of treading water. My head was above, then below, and then finally I turned over on my back to float to get just a little bit of rest. God doesn’t want us to get by and barely survive. He wants us to thrive. He wants us to be like a swimmer, strategic, diving under the waves to resurface at the top.

Isaiah 40:31 says, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” He wants us to soar above the ocean and then plant our feet into the sand and run. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. He renews me in my most tired of times and I can float upon His love.

Prayer: Lord, help me resist by urge to depend on my own strength. I believe Philippians 4:13 that, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Help me to have hope. Thank you for challenging my strength. Thank you Lord; it’s not all on me.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetMarissa Williams is a first grade teacher at City Christian school. She is passionate about advocacy for marginalized groups and loves connecting with people at church, the gym, or the drive-thru window at McDonalds (a McChicken w/an extra patty is her go-to). You can come say “hi” to Marissa on the Guest Experience team or in City Kids at the Ventura campus.

Clothed in Grace

It was June 27, 1987. It was my wedding day. I walked down the aisle wearing a blush pink wedding dress. This nontraditional dress was not something I wanted. It was something I was told to wear.

I was raised in a conservative and traditional home, and the youngest of four children. For most of my younger days of life we attended church twice a week as a family. Both of my parents were also church leaders. I loved church, God, and was actively involved in youth group. 

At age 21, I was still living living at home, was working, had recently purchased a car and was dating a great guy. All is well, right?

I made myself a routine doctor visit because I was having bladder infection symptoms, expecting to be given a prescription for antibiotics and to be feeling better in no time. 

My lab results came back differently than what I had expected. “You are pregnant” were the shocking words of the doctor as he held me hands to comfort me. I left his office in a daze, trembling and holding a bottle of prenatal vitamins.  Thoughts bombarded my mind, how will I tell my family? What will church people think of me? More than that, what does God think of me? It was in that moment that the enemy began to plant seeds of shame and fear which would  begin to make me feel separated from how God truly viewed me. Those seeds were watered with some of the reactions of the people around me. 

This didn’t deter me from pursuing God in my life. My husband and I raised our two children in God’s word and pursued a genuine life in Him.

Decades later, I was in a season where God began to unveil past hurts and wounds within my heart. It was in this time, during prayer, that I encountered God’s presence and love in such a way that brought healing and wholeness. This shifted my identity forever and eliminated a lot of false perceptions that I had of myself.

God had never shamed me but was always accepting of me and His astounding love was settled upon my heart.

Now I look back at the young woman who was clothed in the pink wedding dress as one who was clothed in grace. It was recently that I found out what the color pink symbolizes biblically:  right standing with God. This is who I was to Him all along and now I freely walk in that truth. 

There is no power above us or beneath us—no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from Gods passionate love, which is lavished upon us though our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! -Romans 8:39 (TPT)

Prayer: I thank you Father for loving me unconditionally. I ask that You would bring your healing touch to any place in my heart that has been negatively affected by living in this world. Let my heart be completely free: the way that you intended from the beginning, knowing who I was made to be and who I am in You. 

IMG_4938Nadine Zaragoza is a mother of two and has been happily married to her husband Alex for 31 years. She is passionate about spending time in God’s presence She also loves to pray for people that they may experience God’s love in the form of physical healing. She and her husband both serve on the Next Steps Team at the Ventura campus of The City Church.

God’s Perfect Timing

I was never one of those girls who planned out their dream wedding from a young age, but I always knew I wanted to get married. My goal was to be married by 25. It seemed by then I should have life figured out, so surely I would be ready for marriage. It also seemed, as that 25th year got closer, that God had a different plan. When I was still single in the years leading up to age 25, when I didn’t even have a boyfriend, I couldn’t help but feel defeated. I questioned why God wouldn’t fulfill my selfish plans. He knew I desired to be a wife, so why was he making me wait? I had heard, read, and spoke it myself that God’s timing was perfect, but I was having a hard time believing it.
In 2013, during a Sunday morning service, my pastor asked us to get with someone next to us and pray with them. The woman I was with spoke words over me that I’ll never forget. She simply said “God is working on your husband.” Insert mind-exploding emoji. Through hearing that, I began to regain security and fully believe in the truth that God doesn’t ignore us when time seems to stand still, but rather he keeps us in the present to prepare us for what’s to come.
You see, I didn’t know it at the time, but the man I would one day marry was enduring some serious life changes. He had been married and was going through a painful separation and divorce. Through the healing that came after this, God was changing, molding, and reshaping him into the very man I was meant to marry. Where I felt defeat, frustration, and impatience, God was doing a greater work that my eyes couldn’t see.
Fast forward a few years, I’m now married to that man God was working on. And I’ll admit, he was even working on me in the waiting. Imagine that. His plan for me didn’t fit my time schedule, and it definitely didn’t look the way I thought it would (we got married 3 days after my 28th birthday), but it came exactly when it was supposed to. And I’m so thankful for that.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the work that God is doing in our current circumstance. And sometimes it’s so hard to wait. But Psalm 27:14 (ESV) encourages us to do just that. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
His timing is always perfect because he knows us, and he’s always aware of the desires of our hearts.
Processed with VSCO with a9 presetKelsey and Nathan have been married since June of 2017 and are expecting their first child in August of this year! They are both involved in the worship team at the Ventura Campus. Worship is Kelsey’s number one passion, but she is also a photographer, artist, and loves anything hands on!

God First

A WILD Devotional

Every New Year, I make resolutions. This year I only made one, “Put God First in Everything I do!”

My family has been attending City Church since 2013. We loved our Sunday services, but our quality time with God was light throughout our week. Last year, a sweet friend started planting seeds, giving me desires to go deeper. My husband and I decided to do the “grow classes.” In the end, we were signed up as greeters. I was so nervous…but why? I love people! I love to smile and give compliments! This should have been so easy for me. When the enemy saw me putting God first, he planted fear and doubt in my mind, in an attempt to try and stop me. 

But no, this year was going to be different. I printed this verse, taped it to my bathroom mirror, and began reading it often:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

On March 4th 2018, my husband, son, daughter, and myself were baptized as a family. Gods plan was coming together. I joined a City Group and starting unlocking gifts I held inside of me. I was asked to do WILD, but I was still too nervous. I had commitments that conflicted, and decided I wasn’t going to take the class. God had other plans. In my group, a new friend mentioned she was trying to be intentional. She was working to quiet herself long enough to hear from God. I realized I wasn’t giving Him the time and attention He desired from me. The next day I read my Bible, sat quietly, and asked what He wanted from me, and there He was. He was so clear. He said, “take the WILD class.” He also told me not to worry. He was going to give me the peace I was always praying for. 

Prayer:

Lord, help us to always seek you. Help us to hear from you often, in whatever way you want to speak to us. Help us to be obedient, and to put you first. Thank you for the wonderful plans you have for every one of us!

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Marcella Berglund has been a wife to David for 16 years. She is a mom of two amazing kids. Her family started attending the City Church when her son started school at City Christian, during his 2nd grade year. He is now in 6th grade, and their daughter is in 1st. Marcella loves being a wife, mom and friend. She also loves cooking, baking and hosting people in her home. You can find her and her husband serving on the greeting team at the Ventura campus. 

My Shield

I love to hike and worship God on the trails in Ventura.  On one of my hikes, with my earbuds in, I couldn’t resist singing out loud to one of my favorite worship songs.  I should mention I wasn’t blessed with a great singing voice. With my fists pumping overhead and hiking up the trail, I rounded the corner to find two women smiling and giggling at my private worship concert.  I had a good laugh too.

“The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving” (Ps. 28:7, NLT)

This passage means a lot to me. God loves me and protects me, as a shield, causing my heart to overflow bursting with love and joy for Him and others.  I can’t hold it in – I live to share the love of Christ with everyone. With the Lord as my shield, I am safe to pursue His will for me, trust Him, and accept the invitation to His adventures.

I picture this shield as a huge steel ornate six foot tall shield, not a wimpy small hand held one.  It is impenetrable, the armor of God, on all levels; physical, emotional, and spiritual. On one of God’s adventures, He asked me to care for my favorite great aunt, my second mom, while she was on her way to Him.  My husband and I had been inviting my aunt to live with us and she finally accepted after 5 years, now at 85 years old. She moved in on St. Patrick’s Day and we celebrated with a big corned beef dinner. The next morning she wasn’t feeling well; I was hoping it wasn’t my cooking.  My husband took her to the ER and they did a scan that revealed bone cancer in her from head to toe. They released her home to us on hospice. Our journey of caring for her began and boy did I need that shield! My aunt believed in Jesus with all her heart, which made this a heavenly experience.  Jesus brought her home to heaven thirty days from diagnosis. During that time we sang at the top of our lungs, prayed, played games and watched “her boys,the Los Angeles Dodgers.  During her last 24 hours, with her eyes closed, she called out to go home.  In the stillness of the night she went to Heaven and there was no doubt Jesus was in the room, His shield all around us.

This experience was one of my greatest losses, but also one of my greatest joys.  My Aunt Jean was an angel on earth for me and I thank God for giving me the gift of the ability to care for her.  I could never have done this without Him, “my strength and my shield.”

Prayer – Lord Jesus, surround us as a shield and protect and guide through everything you have for us.  Strengthen us and fill us with joy for all the people we meet and adventures you call us to. We trust in You.  In Jesus’ Name Amen.
Emily Stevens is a wife to Craig and mother of two amazing teens.  She is a high school teacher. She loves to camp with her family, read, worship, and be active.  Emily and Craig serve on the greeting team at the Ventura Campus.

Emily Stevens (pictured above right with her aunt and sister) is a wife to Craig and mother of two amazing teens.  She is a high school teacher. She loves to camp with her family, read, worship, and be active.  Emily and Craig serve on the greeting team at the Ventura Campus.

California Coast Bible College

This past Sunday night, our incredible California Coast Bible College students graduated from their first and second year programs. It was a night to remember! These students are an incredible part of The City Church and we wanted to share some of their incredible experience with all of you. Many have contributed here on Beautiful Stories. Enjoy!

You’ll love this second semester recap video created by Pastor Debra Arnott, especially if you love The Greatest Showman!

For more about the CCBC experience, click here.

Safety in Jesus

WILD Devotional

One of my favorite verses of all time is, “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

I have loved this verse from my early teen years.  As I have reflected back on my formative years I realize how God was with me during very unpredictable times.   My parents’ violent divorce, my mother’s drug addiction, and the loss of my eldest sibling at age 4 (she was 6).  I can still remember where I was, which street I was on when I was told my sister would never be my sister again. Dead… what did dead, hit by a car mean? I had no context to understand it.  I only understood that I’d never have my sister come home. There were only feelings… lots of BIG feelings. My throat swelled, my eyes watered, and I felt I could not breath.

Over time, I adjusted to being the only child, Mom thankfully flushed her pills down the toilet, and purchased a Bible. We started to read about where my sister Karrie might be.  I learned the Lord’s prayer, we started attending church, and my mom married a wonderful, Christian man.

In the second grade I was invited up to an alter call at school chapel.   I remember them asking if anyone wanted to have Jesus come live in their heart and be their best friend. I raised my hand, wanting to be picked so bad, to have HIM choose me and to live in my heart.  I knew HE existed, I knew HE was real, because I knew my sister lived with Him and I would too, someday. God was always beautiful to me, a safe haven, a place of refuge, and PEACE.

Since I experienced loss early I have known how valuable life is and the people in it.  I longed to be close and connected to God, and to find refuge in Him (in the shadow of his wings) during the challenging AND beautiful times.

I have continued to practice being in this special place of safety with Jesus to this day.  I breathe and rest in him, take moments of Sabbath each week to hike, pray, ride a bike, go for a run, walk on the beach, or spend time with the people I treasure in this life.  In the art of stopping this fast-paced life, I sense his nearness most. When I slow down the pace of my life and enjoy being still, He speaks most clear and is most near. I breathe deep and am still before HIM.   

Lord, please give us limits, boundaries, and the ability to manage our schedules to make time for resting in our daily life.  Thank you that you can reveal to each of us how and where in our busy schedules to slow down and be still in Your presence and enjoy being filled up, loved on by our Abba Father.

 

25128Susan Martinez Lee is a mother of five and has been married to Jimmy and living in Ventura for 21 years. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. The Lees are passionate about foster care and supporting other foster parents. They coach the cross country team at City Christian School where their son attends and they serve actively at Ventura Campus of The City Church.

When I Wandered

I’ve always loved babies and kids. From a very young age, I dreamed of being an elementary school teacher and decided I would do what it takes to become one.  I grew up in a “Christian” home and attended Sunday school and youth groups. When I was 15, everything was shaken in my life. My parents got a divorce and I began to question God and ask, “Why is this happening?” I went away to college happy to finally be on my own and away from the sadness of my broken family. I began to date for the first time and stopped going to church. Dating and guys became my idol as I began to search for someone to love me. I didn’t have a good example of real love or a healthy relationship.

Halfway through college, at the age of twenty, I found myself pregnant and in an abusive relationship. I had felt trapped and I had been praying for a way out of the relationship but this brought me to rock bottom. I was so ashamed. Even though I had turned my back on God, I still felt His presence in my life. He was still chasing after me!  He told me that He still loved me and would walk me through this part of my life. After many tears and prayers, I decided to place the baby for adoption. I was in the middle of college and still wanted to be a teacher and knew I could not provide for this child emotionally or financially. I found an amazing Christian family to adopt the baby and we have a great open adoption to this day. This was the hardest thing I have ever gone through but God was with me through the whole process- I could not have done it without Him.

Jesus said, ”What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18: 12-14). I love this verse because it reminds me of my story. God was still searching after me even though I continued to disobey Him with my own desires and sin! I can only imagine the type of rejoicing that happened in Heaven when I finally decided to give up my selfish ways and trust Him.

I moved back to Ventura after college and was in search of a new church and community. I had checked out a few churches in the area but did not feel welcomed or noticed. I decided to give City Church a try because I had seen the stickers on cars around town. I happened to be there on a City Group Sunday. I enjoyed the service but, since I am shy, I wanted to get out of there without having to talk to anyone. I wanted to get on with my Sunday but God had different plans.  After the service, two women, Tiffany Dooley and Shaleta Chatman, stopped me invited me to their City Group. I immediately felt cared for and important after talking to them for just a few minutes. They took a genuine interest in my story and who I was. I wasn’t just another new person at church anymore. I thought visiting The City Church was a random decision but God knew what He was doing. He knew exactly what I needed: community and love.

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I attended their group for two years and developed amazing friendships and community with those girls. My faith grew as a believer and they challenged me in my life. I came into the group broken, with a lot of baggage, and they didn’t judge me for it. They were a genuine example of God’s love and grace. They loved on me and prayed for me. This was the first time in my life I felt like I had genuine girlfriends who cared about me. I could call Tiffany any time of the day or night for prayer or encouragement.

 

Tiffany baptized me a couple of years later. When I married my husband, Dallas, she was a bridesmaid in my wedding and her husband, Andy, officiated the ceremony. Now Dallas and I have a beautiful baby girl of our own. The love of Jesus is so real and it’s expressed through real people doing real life together. If it wasn’t for the love of Jesus I experienced in my City group, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

KNP_2578Allison LaPrelle has been attending the City Church for over five years. She is married to her husband, Dallas. They just had their first baby girl- Isabella Grace. Allison is a kindergarten teacher at a public school in Santa Paula. She is passionate about children and loves to serve in the nursery.

A New Heartbeat

Around the age of one, doctors diagnosed me with a complete/ 3rd degree heart block.  A person with this condition is at high risk for a sudden cardiac death. My parents became so nervous when they received the news. Regular exercise was now life threatening for me. I have spent much of my life with cardiologists and in emergency rooms due to chest pains. I constantly had shortness of breath every time I went up a flight of stairs. In New York City, where I grew up, a flight of stairs in the subway was unavoidable.

When I was about 17 years old, doctors told my mom and dad that my heart was going to get weaker. They talked to me about the possibility of a pacemaker. I remember praying and believing God would heal me. I know this sounds crazy,  but during a prayer time at my home church,  I remember feeling as if God was actually healing my heart. I wanted to confirm that this was true so I went to the doctor. They ran an EKG and told me that my heart had changed and it looked different. They saw no signs of a heart block. I was ecstatic. I didn’t have chest pains or shortness of breath for a few years after that. I truly believe God healed me.

Then, early in August 2017, I felt light headed for three days straight at work. On the third day, I knew that something was up. I told my coworker I felt like I was going to pass out. I drove myself home and my friend took me to urgent care. The doctors ran tests and then followed up with more tests. I felt so “off” the following weeks. After what felt like forever, two cardiologists confirmed that I would need a pacemaker. They said they had no idea how I was able to function without one for so many years. They were surprised I had not passed out and died at some point. I remember hearing them say “if you want to have kids… if you want to live more years… If you want to… you need to have this surgery.” 

I went home and was so overwhelmed. I thought “God, I thought you healed me?! What happened to my heart changing and no symptoms?!” There were so many doubts and fears going through my mind. 

What happens when the prayer God answered suddenly seems like a lie? We lose our hope and feel that God has failed us. We think, “Why is this happening?” I dealt with those fears and doubts. I remember praying before making the decision about surgery and I heard God say, in the quietness of my heart, “Marie, I’m still your healer, and sometimes the way I heal is not what you expect. I can heal in different ways.” That brought me so much peace.

Fast forward to my surgery; it was painful. I couldn’t move my left arm for 6 weeks! It felt more comfortable sleeping in a sitting position then lying down. I remember feeling overwhelmed.  Then the Ventura fires happened. If you know anything about smoke, it affects your lungs and can also affect your heart. Worship got me through this season of sleepless nights.  The presence of God brought me peace. It was not the easiest journey, but God was there and He sent His people. I honestly couldn’t have gone through it without a community. Many people at the City Church stood by me to pray with me, bring me food, take me to doctor visits and spend time with me. 

After Jesus was crucified and had been dead for three days, Mary Magdalene went to tell the disciples that Jesus had been resurrected. She stated “He’s alive and I’ve seen him!” Their faith was restored. Maybe my story can give a similar hope to you. Are you going through a hopeless situation and you feel as if God has let you down? Your situation may feel as conclusive as death itself. Rest assured that God wants to make that situation come to life.  Look up, believe His word. He wants to restore it and turn it around. Wait for the miracle. I’ve seen what He can do.

PHOTO 2Marie Martinez graduated from the Generation Intern program in Seattle, WA and moved with Pastors Jude and Becky to help pioneer the City Church in Ventura in 2011. She now attends the Ventura campus and serves as worship overseer for the Spanish ministry. She is passionate about building the local church and leading people into the presence of God through worship. Marie has been a College City group leader for seven years and loves raising up women to be passionate for God, and empowering them lead and disciple other young women.