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 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.

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.

Grandma’s Faith

I was thinking the other day about what it means to live big and the thought of legacy crossed my mind. I was thinking of my grandmother who passed a little over a year ago and what her life was about. She died right before Christmas and I traveled alone to Seattle to attend her memorial service just after the new year. She was ninety-six and had been looking forward to heaven for a little while.

As I sat in her service, her pastor, who was many years younger, began to tell stories of her life. My grandfather was a chaplain in a hospital and not always available to attend on Sundays. When they started attending this church after moving across the state (to be close to their grandchildren) she informed this pastor that she would be in church every week with or without my grandfather. And she was. He told how she started a group for Norwegian immigrant women and their daughters that grew from two to ten to over forty women. She was joyful and faithful and loved Jesus deeply. When we’d stay at her house for sleepovers, she would pray traditional prayers over us, like “Jesus Tender Shepherd Hear Me.” She’d play cheerful hymns on her piano at Christmas for all of the adult children and grandchildren who filled her home. Her joy filled my young life even in seasons of heartbreak. Her hair was white as snow and her face so full of wrinkles, but I always thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever known. She left such a legacy for me.

When Tom and I were married, my grandparents began to intentionally pass things on. One day they gave me a photocopy of the front page of my grandmother’s Bible where my great-grandmother had written a precious note. It holds these words:

Dear Judith,

God’s word is our great heritage,

and it shall be ours forever;

to spread its light from age to age shall be our chief endeavor:

Through life it guides our way,

In death, it is our stay;

Lord grant, while words endure

To keep it’s teachings pure,

Throughout all generations.

With love from Mother, Christmas 1946

My great grandmother was a Norwegian immigrant whose own mother never spoke English. I can imagine her faith was required during many moments of her own life. All of these women in my family, including my own mother, shared the defining characteristic of bright, red hair. When I think of these women who joyfully passed down a passionate love for God’s word to their daughters, I am inspired to do the same. I’m so deeply grateful for this heritage, but I’m also well aware that there was a woman at some moment in my ancestry who was the first one to believe in Jesus. The fruit of her faith has outlived her!

Regardless of whether we have natural children, God puts in every feminine heart the power to nurture and love and care for those who need an inspiring word, a guiding hand, an example of strength and unwavering faith. When we receive the unbelievable, selfless love of Jesus, He puts so much in our hands to give and then He multiplies it beyond what we could imagine.

Maybe you’re the first in your family to believe in Jesus and become who He created you to be. Imagine the women many years from now who will look back and thank God for your faith! Maybe you’re discouraged and feel like your love for Jesus isn’t shared by your children. I’m praying today that God will show up and reveal Himself to each one of them. He has heard your prayers and treasured your tears. He will not give up on them!

Let me leave you with this picture from Psalm 78:6-7:

For perpetuity God’s ways will be passed down

from one generation to the next, even to those not yet born.

In this way, every generation will have a living faith in the laws of life

and will never forget the faithful ways of God.

Jesus, we pray you would use us to be vehicles of your love and your truth to the next generation. We pray our faith would extend beyond ourselves and into the lives of many, many others. We pray we would pass on a legacy of faithfulness and life to everyone we meet. We love you Jesus!

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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.

Zero Missed Calls

I think a lot of mothers dream about the day they have a daughter and can have that best friend relationship. Her daughter tells her absolutely everything that’s going on in her life and no secrets are kept. I know that isn’t a reality for everyone but I’m fortunate enough to consider my mom my best friend. Now don’t get me wrong, she’s still definitely my mother and I’m always reminded of that when she calls me from 1,000 miles away to make sure I got home safe. When she asks if I’m out at night by myself. I usually respond “Mom, I’m fine!” I’m so thankful for her. If you’re a mother of a daughter I pray you too can have a close relationship.

When I moved from the Seattle area to Ventura for Bible College, three and half years ago, not much changed in the relationship between my mom and I. It’s typical we talk on the phone and FaceTime a few times a day. So, this past December 4th when I called her in a panic at 9:30pm while I was nannying, she answered the phone like she always did. I explained to her that there was a large glowing fire I could see in the distance and I wasn’t sure what to do with two sleeping kids. She calmed me down in spite of being two states away and she gave me that comfort that only a mother can give. I made the decision to take the kids and leave. That night the Thomas fire blazed through the city of Ventura and the house where I work was lost as well as the car I had left behind.

Who’s that first person you call in time of need? The person that you can be completely real with? The person who knows you so well but loves you anyways? The person you want to share your absolute worst moments with, but also your best? My mom is amazing but I believe that God is the truest form of that person. Life can get chaotic, it can sometimes seem like too much to even handle, but I really believe that it’s in those moments that we get to see the character of who God is so clearly. His comfort and peace is like no other. His voice can calm even the most intense storms.

In the months following the fire, God’s peace has been so real to me. Every time I call on Him and hear His voice, I am given that reassurance that He is in control. Everyday he reminded me that He would take care of everything and it has been so incredible to see God work in my life in this situation. Someone I didn’t even know let me use their brand new car while I looked to purchase one. Countless people sent me encouraging texts and I am so thankful for every person God placed in my path. I was so blown away by the generosity of the people around me. Just last week I was able to purchase a car that was way better than the one I had lost because of people who had given so generously to me. Isn’t that so like God’s character? He provides all we need and more!

I‘ll admit it, I hate answering my phone. I would much rather someone text me so I can respond when it’s convenient. But I’m working on getting better at it, I promise! When I call my mom she picks up 99.9% of the time (its not quite the same for me, sorry mom!). How much more does our Father God care and listen to us?! He’s ready and listening 100% of the time. I’m so thankful that God NEVER declines or blocks our calls! Psalm 18:6 says “But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.” Jesus wants to be the first one we call upon in times of distress. There is so much freedom and peace that comes when we cry out to Him and let him carry our burdens. Its something I constantly have to remind myself of, that I don’t have to carry my issues (Psalm 55:22). Its so easy to get caught up in the struggle of life and forget that we have a direct line to Jesus. He sympathizes because He experienced life like we do, He’s always there and He isn’t going anywhere. He wants us to tell Him everything: our concerns, our excitement, our frustrations. That constant communication with Him causes us to become closer to Him and rely on Him more.

Can I encourage you to place God as the first person you call on in times of need? He’s always listening and available. When we try to deal with our problems on our own, they seem to get heavier. Remind yourself daily that God is for you, and he’ll carry you through every season of your life. 1 Peter 5:7 says “Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.” When I truly sit and meditate on this verse it blows me away. The God of the universe cares and loves you specifically. Call on Him today, and let Him take your worries and replace it with His perfect peace.

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Ashley Lundgren grew up in Edmonds, Washington and when she was 19 she moved to Ventura, CA to attend California Coast Bible College. She graduated from CCBC in 2016 and is currently a nanny. She loves serving at the City Church and leads a High School city group and helps weekly in City Kids.