The Freedom of Forgiveness

Forgiveness. It is at the core of our redemption, it is the foundation on which our faith stands (Ephesians 1:7); yet I struggle with it constantly. I wrestle with its depth and its implications. I want it for myself, but I grip it, bury it, lord it over others when it is time to release it to its rightful owner. I thought about the power of forgiveness as I walked my dog late one evening. I asked God, “Why is it so hard to forgive?” When I contemplate my frustrated response to difficult situations, I try to step back from the triggering event and get to the ‘why’ of my reaction. As I prayed that evening, all of my past hurts played like a slideshow in my head. Every hurt felt tied to my worth. Therefore, every time I forgave, I felt like I was saying I wasn’t worthy of better treatment.

I have battled insecurity my entire life. Growing up in a home where children were to be seen and not heard, I rarely had a voice. Decisions were made for me and there was little room for hurt feelings. “Grow thicker skin!” was my dad’s mantra. I wasn’t taught how to express myself in a healthy way. The message I received from my parents was that I had nothing of value to offer. I wasn’t worthy of being heard. When I was old enough to be heard, I made sure I was the loudest and the meanest. When people questioned my approach, I’d say, “I’m just being REAL.” As if that was enough to excuse my bad behavior. Since then, God has done such a work in me. Three solid years of therapy with a woman who loved me like Jesus and prayed for me like Paul, enabled me to face the brokenness of my past with the Word of God. I learned to believe in the worth that God established for me on the cross, when Jesus decided that I was worth dying for. Knowing helped me to understand why, without it, I was sabotaging all of my friendships and why I struggled to trust anyone. In therapy, we talked a lot about how pain had shaped the way I viewed relationships with people. When I encountered conflict, it triggered responses that came from that pain rather the reality of the new situation. By making me aware of that flaw in thinking, she taught me how to respond from a position of the Truth I know, rather than a reaction to the things I feel. That clarity of mind enabled me to separate my worth from situations of conflict because I knew (from God’s Truth) that I was valued.

It softened me. I learned to respond out of love when I was hurt because I no longer felt the need to defend my worth. It enabled me to extend the benefit of the doubt because my thought life had been renewed, no longer reacting to the wounds of the past. God continues to do work in me. He continues to teach me that I’m not too much, that I am enough. My battle with insecurity has helped me to recognize longing in others and how to create space for it as we learn how to have that need met by God (Philippians 4:19). As women, we can compete and compare. Sometimes we distrust, lack compassion, and lack graciousness. It’s not because we’re heartless monsters. It’s often because we don’t know how to offer ourselves freely. Sometimes I feel so busy protecting my heart – my worth. This isn’t to say that there isn’t genuine love and encouragement and openness in our community, because there is. But there is also pain.

I remember, so vividly, drowning in my own pain. I remember acting out of it and at times, in moments of conflict, I catch myself slipping back into old ways of thinking and responding. I have spoken too harshly, backed out of a conversation, minimized myself, given a look instead of grace, and talked over others whose opinions I didn’t agree with. In those moments, I was either exerting or preserving my worth. It is in that space where my feelings are hurt that I misunderstand someone, or I react with self-righteousness because it’s difficult to see beyond myself (James 3:14-16). Sometimes I forget that my worth is already secure. Sometimes I’m terrified that if I’m open, if I’m vulnerable, someone will swoop in to prove my deepest fears – that I’m not worthy at all. This terror comes on as a feeling and lasts like a spirit — a spirit of offense. Unlike regular offense, a spirit of offense is in direct opposition to reconciliation, to grace, to understanding, and to compassion. A spirit of offense refuses to make amends and keeps (not so accurate) records of wrong. It is one-sided and therefore eliminates opportunity for relationship. At its core it is a lack of forgiveness.

When we’re striving to preserve our worth, a painful event can confirm a lie as truth: I’m not worthy. But it’s not His Truth for us. When we live according to His Truth, we’re able to respond to pain with His forgiveness. That forgiveness isn’t a verdict based on evidence, it’s based on the abounding grace and mercy He has for us. It’s part of how we’re called to love. When we forgive, we are saying “Lord, you’ve already told me I’m valuable. I’m choosing to believe You and allowing them off the hook so I can get back to Your business. Heal me and remind me of Your Truth.”

The more often we forgive, the more opportunity God has to confirm His truth to us and His truth sets us free (John 8:32). He wants to release us from the grip of grudges and soften our hearts. We have access to a God who wants to turn us away from old thinking and toward a life of freedom and hope. That privilege is the right to know God and understand who we are and are intended to be. We’re able to appreciate the gift of salvation when we recognize that we are more precious to Him than rubies (Proverbs 3:15). He adores you. He wants to give you the freedom to live and think and love without fear. Allowing Him to heal you as you release forgiveness is unlike any bliss you’ve ever encountered. It’s in that place of complete surrender that we grow and in that place of growth that we’re able to experience more of Him. Forgive.

When Life Throws Curve Balls

A WILD Devotional

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5.  

Last year, I resigned from my Director position at a very prestigious resort. On that day, I had an overwhelming sense of peace and calm. Never in my life had I taken such a risk with the unknown. However, I knew everything was in God’s hands. I knew I couldn’t reason with myself. I had to put my worries on God’s altar. I had poured my heart and soul into my career, given them all of me. I put in very long days, even weekends and holidays. I never complained because I knew that came along with working in the hospitality industry and I truly enjoyed what I did. Needless to say, my husband was at home caring for the children and ensuring things on the home front were handled. While he never said it, he was never sure when I would walk through the door. Some nights it would be timely,  but as the job responsibilities increased, my days grew longer. Eventually, I would even miss tucking my kids into bed at night.

Now that I have been unemployed since May, I have realized that God really does have a plan. If this would have happened even two years ago, I don’t think I would have been able to trust in God; I didn’t have the relationship with Him yet. Not only that, but I would not have been able to see the beauty in cherishing every moment with my children. I was always so career focused and my patience would have been short. While being a mommy is not an easy task, I have been able to embrace this time.  It’s the simple things: doing school drop off and pick up, being able to attend school events, attending daytime mommy groups and getting all the love from my little ones. These are the things that I hold dear to my heart right now. I would have never expected to still be out of work at this point, but I have kept believing in Him. I know “my God will supply every need of [mine] according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:19. I continue to pray for grace and patience to see through what God has planned for our family.

If you are wrestling with a big decision this year, one that you know is right but comes with a lot of risk, let me encourage you that you can trust God to provide for every need.

Join me in this prayer: God, you see my life from the beginning to the end. You know what’s best for me better than I know for myself. Thank you, Jesus, for the work you did on the cross, so I can truly rest and value the things that matter most. Help me to make the big decisions that you want me to make. Help me to see and believe for all that you want me to have. You see it all and know it all. Thank you. I trust you. 

Erin Watson

Erin Watson is mother to two great kids and wife to Leonidas. Erin loves to use her gift of hospitality by helping
out with women’s events and groups. She’s also actively involved in a City Group for moms with small kids. You can connect with her at the Ventura campus of The City Church and by following her @teamwatson33 on Instagram.

Yes & Amen

Hello there, my name is Anastasia Fomenko and I’m a wife and a mama. You may recognize me from the worship team at the Ventura campus. I love leading worship. The presence of Jesus has transformed my life, so there’s nothing more rewarding than leading people to meet with God where they can find true fulfillment for their life.

I also come alive when I’m helping people discover their value and purpose in life, which is why I’m passionate about small groups. All of life is built on relationships. We were designed to live in community, to know one another deeper than a quick “hello” on a Sunday morning or a nice comment on social media. My husband, Vik, and I have so much fun leading our young adults’ group. Sometimes I feel like hosting is my love language. It’s such a joy having people in our home, which we’ve rented in Ventura for the past few years. The dishes and mess afterward somehow feel comforting, knowing I could bless someone with a coffee or a meal and honestly, who doesn’t enjoy a good conversation?

A few months ago, we felt like God started speaking to us about purchasing our own home. We had no idea what that entailed, but asked God to lead us. We felt like some practical steps needed to be taken to open that door. As we began talking to realtors and lenders, reality quickly sunk in. It would take a BIG miracle for us to own anything in this season of our lives. The list of obstacles was long. Secretly, I was ready to give up but the truth is, I’m thankful to have married such a persistent man who dares to believe and doesn’t give up so easily.

One afternoon, I was driving home from picking up my daughter at school and a worship song, that we both love, came on. She started belting out the chorus as London loves to do, “Faithful You are, faithful, forever You will be. All your promises are yes and amen!” Suddenly, she said, “Mama, I can’t wait for you to get pregnant and have a baby in our new house.” Well, what you may not know is that we’ve been trying to get pregnant for a few years now. Suddenly I was in a pool of tears. The Holy Spirit was so gently reminding me through her words that every promise He has spoken over my family and me is, “yes and amen.” How could I ever forget His faithfulness? One of those promises was sitting in my back seat. When the doctor told us it would be difficult to conceive the first time, London came to us as a perfect little miracle. All of a sudden, no mountain seemed too great, no price seemed to high. Every impossibility became possible with the One who has me in the palm of His hand. “Rest in my promises,” I heard Him say in my heart. It reminds me of the verse in Psalm 116:7 (NLT), “Let my soul be at rest again, for the Lord has been good to me.”

I have seen too much of God’s goodness to doubt Him this time around. I believed God. I wiped my tears and ran inside to remind Vik what he already believed (ha!). In a matter of weeks, a condo became available that had dropped out of escrow (of course, because it was waiting on us). The price was almost too good to be true and the financing came together miraculously. With the year coming to an end, and the holiday craziness, it didn’t seem like there was much hope left. But isn’t it just like God to give us this Christmas miracle? We closed early in December and Vik went to work renovating and constructing. Our amazing home is coming together just in time for the New Year.

Can my story serve in this new year to remind you that your Heavenly Father is big and faithful? He does what we can’t do by ourselves. If He’s given you a promise, don’t let circumstances or impossibility take that away. I’m thrilled to believe and see more of those promises unfold in my family. His Word is truth and that’s the only truth we need to believe. I pray you experience your own BIG miracle this year! 💛

IMG_0100Anastasia Fomenko is mother to London, wife to Vik and a licensed pastor at The City Church. Together, Vik & Anastasia minister to our California Coast Bible College students and the young adults in their City Group. She offers voice lessons and inspires us weekly with her passionate worship on the Ventura campus worship team. She’s just ventured into songwriting and is set to release her first worship single early this year! You can follow her (and London) on Instagram and sign up for a City Group here.

The BIG Bible Journey of 2018

I was so excited when Pastors Jude and Becky announced the BIG Journey Bible reading challenge for 2018, like SO excited. I’ve always loved my Bible. As a pre-teen I encountered Jesus in a truly powerful way and was so thankful to have people around who told me that the Bible is the greatest source of truth and direction I could find in this life. I have great parents, pastors and access to incredible books and podcasts but nothing has been there for me like the Bible. When I look back at the big decisions in my life, every moment has a scripture, a promise, the word of God confirming or guiding the way I should go. Some choices (like two cross-country moves) had an incredible amount of risk attached to them, but I had peace because of a word from God. Reading my Bible on a regular basis reminds me who God is, how much He loves me and how much He wants to work in my life. It creates a starting point for so many conversations with the Holy Spirit about the things that matter to me most: my marriage, my kids, my purpose in life. The Bible also gives me a clear head! Since the enemy’s greatest power is to deceive us, reading the Bible makes us so much less susceptible to the lies of discouragement, doubt and fear.

But…I’ll be honest, since giving birth to my three kids, I’ve struggled to make time to read my Bible like I used to and I miss it! I’ve started more YouVersion Bible reading plans than I care to admit, always clicking the “Catch Me Up” button three or four times before giving up all together. Sometimes when I sit down to read after being away for awhile, that nagging voice of condemnation tries to tell me it’s not worth it because I’ll never be as consistent as I “should.” BUT, when I open the pages (or the app) in that early morning when I manage to wake before my kids or late after everyone goes to bed, the word never fails to speak to me. It’s usually not complicated and it’s always encouraging or inspiring. This year, I’m filled with excitement to start anew because the only thing better than reading the Bible is reading the Bible TOGETHER with my amazing church community.

I’m excited to talk about what I’m reading with my family (we even bought this kid’s version of the One Year Bible for my seven year old) and with my City Group. Every week this year, Pastor Jude and the preaching team are going to share from what we’re reading. Maybe you’ve tried reading the Bible and have been discouraged by portions that were difficult to understand. I’ve been there too. That’s why it’s so cool that we don’t have to do this alone. We’ll be able to take time in our groups and on Sundays to ask the questions and get some answers. I know God will speak to us.

This year, we’re believing for BIG things as a church and my family and I are believing for some BIG things in our own lives. I have some questions for God about dreams and words and things He put in my heart and I believe He’s going to speak to me. Right now, we’re all asking ourselves how we can live our best life in 2018. I believe that the Bible is the answer! The Bible enables us to become like Jesus. The more we read his words, the better we know Him, the better we know ourselves, and we’re transformed (Romans 12:2). There’s plenty to be said about resolutions and weight loss plans but nothing truly changes us like the Bible does. There is no greater gift!

I know Christmas is over but I’m still thinking so much about the life of Mary. In my last post, I talked about her willingness to say “yes” to God. My family and I recently went and saw The Star, a kids movie about the birth of Jesus. I loved the way they depicted Mary in the film. She was kind and joyful and full of unwavering faith. My husband Tom, shared something about Mary with me that he read in Tim Keller’s book, Hidden Christmas. In Luke 2:19, after the world marveled at the story told by the shepherds, it says “But Mary treasured all these things in her heart and often pondered what they meant.” That scripture summarizes the attitude I want to have toward my Bible this year. It wasn’t about mental analysis, Mary was full of wonder and allowed the words to go deep into her and define her. She embraced the life God set in front of her and allowed His words to bring peace and confidence every step of the way.

I believe God wants us to experience His word in the same way. I hope you’ll join us on this journey of Bible reading in 2018. We’re going to talk about it a lot here on Beautiful Stories. You can purchase the One Year Bible we’re using (or get the one with lots of space for journaling and note-taking like I did) or you can simply download the plan for free on the Bible app. This is sure to be such a life-changing experience for all of us. We’ll be here to help and encourage all along the way. I can’t wait to hear how God speaks to each one of you.

XO Bethany

 

Ventura Fires: How Can I Help?

Monday night was a life changing moment for so many people in our community.  The stories that I have personally heard have been heart wrenching for me.  One of the families in our church has three little kids and had only three minutes to evacuate.  They left with nothing more than their lives and the clothes on their back.  As a pastor the weight of how we can help our community became a little overwhelming.  I stood in my closet whispering the prayer, “Lord, now is the time for the church to be your hands and feet.  Give us wisdom in all that you have called us to do.”  I know many of you feel the same way.  You want to do all you can to make a difference.

Here are some practical things we can all do:

Pray:  Prayer is the best thing we can do. Pray specifically for the following:

  • 100 % containment of all the fires
  • Wind will cease
  • Every need of those displaced will be met
  • Salvation for those who need Christ, that He would be their comforter
  • Wisdom for the church in all that we can do
  • Join our Thursday night prayer meeting tonight, December 7th from 6-7pm at both our Ventura and Agoura campuses.

Give:

  • Give tax deductable donation by texting ‘thecity’ to 77977  or visit our website
  • Give to the giving tree this Sunday, we are collecting gift cards to either purchase gifts for displaced kids and single parent homes.  Suggested places to buy gift cards to are Target, Walmart, Visa Gift cards, etc
  • Funds for individual families you may know have been set up online. You can access these via social media

Love: 

  • Volunteer to distribute necessities through the church. Join the team by helping at shelters with the Red Cross here or helping receive and distribute supplies with the City Church here.
  • Be available to open up your home for those in mandatory evacuation.
  • Reach out to neighbors and people at church who are affected by the fires.
  • Invite people to church so that they can come in contact with the presence of God and we can surround them in love and provide any supplies they may need.

I believe God calls the church to be an unstoppable force for help and good in times of tragedy. Let’s come together to be the fragrance of God to our community!

2 Corinthians 2:14 “God makes his grace visible in Christ who includes us as partners of his endless triumph.  Through our yielded lives he spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere we go”

Thank you for loving our City!

Becky Fouquier