Catching Up with Katie Venti

Today Pastor Katie Jane Venti is here for a chat. She and her husband, Phil relocated their family from Seattle, WA to help plant The City Church in 2011 and they now serve as pastors and Phil as an elder. Katie also works at City Christian School. They have three great kids, Jackson, Benjamin and Jefferson.

What’s your life like these days? I am a wife to Phil, and mom to my three boys. I volunteer with groups and teams within the church (some seasons more than others) and volunteer with my kids’ sports teams (baseball season can get a bit tricky in our home). I just moved to a new position at City Christian School as the school administrator and am loving my new job. I also am still able to teach some in our middle school as well.

What do you love about what you do at work and church?: What I love most about my role at the school is seeing our students and families meet Jesus for the first time or grow closer to Him. There is nothing I love more than seeing middle school students come to our school unsure of their relationship with Jesus and graduate full of life and confidence in Christ. There is honestly nothing more rewarding. At church, I love seeing individuals and families find a home within our community. My life was transformed through serving in a local church and I find so much joy seeing that happen for others.

What’s the best thing you’ve read recently? Why?: “Stay the Path” by Bobbie Houston. This book was so encouraging! The stories of ministry and what God can do if we simply continue to obey even when we may not feel like it, really reminded me of why I want to always be connected to and serving in a local church. It also made me excited to see what God has planned for our church. I know if God can do what He did in Hillsong Church in Australia and around the world, He can do it here through The City Church!

Best thing you’ve listened to? Why?: I kind of get behind on the music scene so I am still stuck on Hillsong United’s Wonder Album. I can not stop listening to “So Will I (100 Billion X)”. There are a few lines in the song that say:

God of salvation

You chased down my heart

Through all of my failure and pride

On a hill You created

The light of the world

Abandoned in darkness to die

And as You speak

A hundred billion failures disappear

Where You lost Your life so I could find it here

If You left the grave behind You so will I

I can see Your heart in everything You’ve done

Every part designed in a work of art called love

If You gladly chose surrender so will I

I can see Your heart

Eight billion different ways

Every precious one

A child You died to save

If You gave Your life to love them so will I

When I don’t seem to measure up to what I think I should be, these words ring through my spirit and remind me that it’s not about what I’ve done or can do, but that it’s all about God. Through my failure and pride, He is chasing me down. All my failures, all the things that make me feel insufficient don’t matter, they are buried in the grave. And I get to leave them there, because Jesus left the grave! Talking about it makes me excited about what God is doing.

I get behind and will probably keep this song on repeat for the next year, so let me know if something new comes out!

Funniest thing that has happened to you lately: My life is a constant comedy routine! Between the burping and farting of my three boys there is a lot of laughing. One of my favorite things about the holidays we just had is time my family got to spend together and all the laughing we got to do together. My dad always had a saying, “Whether it’s good or bad, just chuckle. It will all pass.” I want to enjoy my life; and laughing with my husband, my family, my friends makes every season and situation joyful.

How has God come through with an answered prayer or testimony for you lately? Always on the top of my prayer list are my three boys. I have been praying for specific areas for each of them and have seen God do so much in their lives. I don’t know why it surprises me, but I am always surprised when I see how miraculously God answers my specific prayers. I feel like the more pointed my prayers are the more I see them answered.

What scripture or truth about Jesus, has been particularly meaningful to you lately and why? I have been barraged lately with scriptures about God’s love. A constant theme in my heart has been that love wins! I think of 1 Corinthians 13:8 where it says, “love never fails” and I try and remind myself in everything I do always begin and end in love.

I Am Enough

A WILD Devotional

“Who does God say you are?” Pastor says from across the room, in my W.I.L.D. (Women of Influence in Leadership Development) class. “What plan does God have for your life?”

I’ve been given 5 minutes to answer two questions that have had me perplexed for my entire life. So, I do what any good student would do, I “Google” it. Surprisingly, as I am typing, “Who does God say I am” automatically comes up in the search engine. Apparently, I am not the only one looking for that answer. I mean, I am a daughter, I am a wife, I am a mother…but does that really define WHO I am or does it describe the different roles that I play?

Scrolling through the results I see wondrous answers like “I am loved”, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”, “I am a branch of the true vine”, “I am a whole new person, with a whole new life”:

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLV)

THERE IT IS! Through Him, I have become a whole new person, with a whole new life. For the first time in many years, I have embarked on this journey of discovering who I am, and what God’s plan is for my life.

Through this wonderful “W.I.L.D.” (pun intended) experience I have found a way to identify my gifts, discover what my passions are, and grow more comfortable sharing these things with others. I have been able to grasp and believerealize that I am who I was created to be and that I am enough. I look forward to every week with these amazing women that are driven to grow in their faith as much as I am.  I find that every time these women share, I am empowered, inspired, and motivated to seek more of Him.

Please join me in this prayer: “Lord, thank You for Your love. Thank You for reminding me that I am who You say that I am. Thank You for calming the waters in my life to open this door for me to experience Your goodness. I pray that other women feel encouraged to take this journey into discovering their gifts and passions through You.”

Luhrs_Family_13Atalie Luhrs is wife to Bryan and proud mother of six amazing children (Quentin, Zoe, Zali, Zannah, Quincy and Quaid). They are actively involved in the Agoura campus in Generation Church, women’s ministry and administration. Atalie is passionate about caring for people, administration and organizing events. Keep an eye out for Atalie’s City Group coming soon!

Coming Home

It might seem crazy to some to willingly pack up a 1 year-old in my 1st trimester of pregnancy and spend 2 hours in the car trekking across town just to spend a couple hours with a few, seemingly random, ladies, but that’s exactly what I found myself looking forward to every single week. Let me back up a bit. I had recently fallen head over heels in love with this amazing God-man named Jesus. I was a member of a wonderful church and I was devouring every teaching. I had at least 10 different versions of the bible and I was desperate to know every single thing about, and to spend every single moment soaking in, all that I could find out about this Jesus of mine. I was completely enthralled, and being an introvert by nature, I spent a season so fully satisfied with the Bible, books, songs, and quiet times (as much as I could fit with a 1 year-old anyways). I was so full of this new love that I couldn’t imagine needing anything else but Him.

But, SHIFT happens.

That amazing church I was going to at the time had well over 15,000 people attending on a weekly basis. It was genuinely difficult to connect with people on Sunday mornings, and for a long time I was ok with that, until I felt myself longing to know more about these people I would be doing life with…forever. That is what led me to stepping out of my comfort zone (#introvertsunite) and getting in the car. I found myself happily packing up diapers, toys, snacks, and all the things we would need to make this 2-hour roundtrip journey to find out what small group was all about.

That’s where I met Nicole.

I didn’t know what to expect when I rang her doorbell for the 1st time. I mean, this was a total stranger that I had found in the small groups section of the church website. The door opened and her vibrant energy preceded her. Nicole greeted me with a genuine smile and open arms; you would have thought we were long lost friends by the way she welcomed me in. There were a couple of other women at her home that day. All were equipped with stocked diaper bags for their little ones- we were all around the same age and in the same season of life. The next few months would bring us into close relationship as seeds were planted in our hearts, tears were shed, triumphs were celebrated, and obstacles were overcome- together! Nicole made her home a safe space for us. She invited us to dream. She sparked vision in our lives. She cultivated community. She was the most honest and authentic person I had ever met. This was small group, a place to feel welcome, to connect, and to grow. This was community.

I was intrigued and inspired.

I would soon go on to lead a small group. Nicole and the other women I met with became my support team.  We encouraged each other as most of us went on to cultivate and create these safe spaces of community for other women. These women became more than people I passed by on Sunday mornings. They became my friends.

They became my sisters.

Fast forward a couple of years (and a couple more children) later, and I found myself living in the suburbs of Los Angeles. It was a whirlwind cross country move that completely turned my world upside down in some ways, and right side up in others. I spent the first 2 years in L.A. desperately struggling to manage three children age three and under, trying to be a somewhat decent wife to my husband, battling and losing the fight with post-partum depression. My passion for my greatest love had only intensified in the storms of this season of my life. Jesus was my greatest strength and my ultimate comforter through all of the craziness, but I was not thriving. I was barely surviving. My wonderful husband was, and still is, amazingly understanding and compassionate. He gently nudged me to get out of my solitary space, my comfort zone, and meet new people. I found myself bottoming out after my 5th move in less than 5 years. I don’t know how I didn’t see it sooner, but I suddenly knew one thing for sure.

It was time to find community.

After much google searching and YouTube videos on churches in the area I found Pastor Jude Fouquier and The City Church. Up and dressed in our Sunday best we made a short drive to the Agoura campus to check it all out. Through the double doors someone nice pointed me to the children’s check in area. I swear the lady at the check-in table had a smile that lit up the whole lobby.  She was this beautiful blend of warmth and bubbles. There it was again, a genuine smile and open arms. She introduced me to her equally radiant red-headed friend and they promptly invited me to the moms’ city group that very week.

I went.

I’ll spare you all the details, but there were laughs, lots of tears (from me) and this overwhelming sense of love and belonging. I didn’t know these ladies at all, but in just a couple of weeks their prayers, encouragement, and support would completely alleviate the depression I had been fighting. I felt like the clouds parted, and once again I was surrounded with love from these wonderful ladies who were as in love with Jesus as I was. I had no idea that the bonds that I would form over the next year of meeting for city group would be some of the most encouraging, purpose driven, thought provoking, and inspiring connections I could have ever imagined.

Jesus knew.

I would have been completely content to just have Jesus. To be filled to the point of overflow with his love that he was so generously lavishing upon me. I had no idea that loving him meant there was more. Loving him granted me access to his amazing family. Loving him rsvp’d me to an eternal seat at the royal table. Loving Jesus gave me VIP access to those he loves with the same passionate intensity with which he loves me.

In the depths of his love for me I found family.

My heart has expanded in ways I never knew were possible. Innately, loving my husband and children is easy; they are mine and I am naturally invested in them. But, this new found ability to love and be love, to welcome, encourage, champion, and support people because of our common bond in love with Jesus is mind blowing. My small group leader in Atlanta would suddenly pass away not long after our move to Los Angeles, but she opened my heart to community, and I could never thank her enough. The lovely ladies from The city church moms’ group have become my forever friends, my sisters. My heart burst with passion for my Jesus, and because of Him I am excited to welcome any and all.

To pull out a seat at the table.

Where we are all connected.

Where we all belong.

 

Won’t you join us?

 

img_0064_0Linda Edwards is wife to Bernard and mother two three amazing children. She is passionate about seeing women discover their destiny in Jesus and connect in community. You can see her smiling face at the Agoura Campus of The City Church serving on the worship team, in City Kids and at her City Group.

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.

Believing BIG in 2018

The theme this year for our church is one simple word, BIG.  I love what Pastor Jude says: We think BIG so we can believe BIG, so that we will live BIG.  We serve an incredibly BIG God. I love the scripture Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT “‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord.  ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you can imagine.  For just as the heaven are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.’”

Our lives are going to be BIG this year as we tune our ears into God’s thoughts.  I love the verse before this passage, Isaiah 55:3, “Come to me with your ears wide open.  Listen and you will find life!”

Let’s tap into God’s thoughts so we can see BIG things happen. Let’s open our ears wide to listen to Him and obey whatever He tells us to do even if it sounds ridiculous and beyond our own ability!  This is where BIG happens!  Think of Noah in the Bible, God had asked him to build a boat and even gave him specific instructions how to do it.  This doesn’t seem like anything unusual because we see boats everyday.  But Noah had never seen a boat, or even rain, before!! It says about Noah in Hebrews 11:7 TPT, “Faith opened Noah’s heart to receive revelation and warnings from God about what was coming, even things that had never been seen!  But he stepped out in reverent obedience to God and built an ark that would save him and his family”

On the mantle of my fireplace is a sign my friend Lisa gave me that says, “Pray Big.”  Everyday when I wake up, this reminds me to not just pray small, safe prayers but to believe for BIG things!

My challenge for all of us this year to see BIG is to :

  1. Open our ears wide to listen to God.  Let’s walk with God closer by taking the time to not just list our prayer request but to listen for instructions from God.  Maybe He will ask you to do something that’s never been done like He did with Noah!
  2. Obey whatever He tells you.  Big things don’t happen until we activate what God is telling us to do!

One of the ways we can begin to see BIG things this year is to rehearse the BIG things God has done for us in the past!  As we go on this journey together, we are going to take the time to share more of the miracles God has done in our lives so that we can be motivated to believe for BIG things!

The following is a story of faith from my own life that I hope will stir you to listen and obey God even more.

January, 1992

Jude and I were living in Springfield, Missouri and I had a two year old and six month old.  Life was really good and easy for us there.  Our church loved us as their youth pastors.  It seemed like everything we touched turned to gold.  Exciting things were happening among the families of our church because of the youth ministry.  I had amazing friends and the cost of living was so cheap!  We had bought our first home here.  It was a brand new home that we paid $66K for.  Our house payment, including taxes and insurance, was $550.00 per month!  I remember thinking, “How can afford this?”  Ha!  Those were the days!

I could have stayed there forever and had a fun, easy life.  But, as Jude and I began to seek God about the new year, He began to nudge us to step out in faith to do something we had never done before.  One day, after an amazing youth service the previous night, Pastor Wendell Smith called us about the possibility of helping him start a church in Seattle, Washington.  We had never been to Seattle and barely knew Pastor Wendell.  We had only been with him a few times but God dropped the thought into our hearts that one day we would work with him.

As we began to “open our ears” like Isaiah 55:3 said, we began to tap into God’s thoughts and God’s ways.  I remember saying to God,  “If this is you, don’t just speak to my husband but speak to me.”  You see, in the natural it would have been a stupid move because we were not promised a job and the cost of living was double what we were paying.  We had built success in seven years of pastoring and this move would mean starting all over again.  All of our pastor friends thought we were crazy to even consider it!

God began to speak this thought to me, “You can either be comfortable or you can trust me and obey me and you will truly find your life.”

Once again, I was moved as I read my Bible in Proverbs 1:20-21 ESV: “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets SHE raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

This scripture confirmed to me that it was the will of God to leave all and move across the country by faith.  I know this scripture seems obscure and, at the time, I wasn’t sure what it all meant. I just knew that this was one of the same scriptures God had given Pastor Wendell and Gini to confirm that they were supposed to start the church.

Looking back on this scripture over 20 years later, I realize that one of the BIG miracles I received in Seattle was healing from stuttering.  It was the first place I was able to speak for God.  Wow, God thoughts are higher than our thoughts!  He knew what His plan was for me and, as we stepped out and sold everything we had, I saw a BIG answer to my prayers.

Our church here, in Southern California, is full of people with countless stories of God’s faithfulness. As we go on this journey together, it is my hope to both hear and share more of the BIG things that God has done in our lives.

In fact, as we enter a season of 21 days of prayer and fasting on Monday, January 8th, let’s believe together for God to do more BIG things. I would love for you to take a minute and write, in the comment section* below, something BIG that you are believing for this year. I want to believe with you! Let’s pray for each other and celebrate His faithfulness as He answers us and takes us into another amazing year!

Here’s to BIG things in 2018!

XO,

Pastor Becky

*If you don’t see the comment section below, click on the title of this post so that it will open as it’s own page. From there you should be able to comment as well as share on your own social media accounts.

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

 

Twenty Eight

Has God ever winked at you? Could there be a unique way He is revealing Himself in your life? I was born October 28th, 1980, and it wasn’t until many years later that I recognized how God was speaking to me personally through the number 28. About a decade ago, I began to notice that I would often check the time exactly on the 28th minute of the hour. This caught my attention and amused me greatly. Could God be winking at me? Could He be affirming me and reminding me of His constant presence in my life? Eventually I shared my experience with my husband, who attributed these occurrences to a subconscious phenomenon. That was code for, “I think you’re a little crazy.”

Over the years, my encounter with the number 28 has expanded far beyond the clock. In fact, my husband now acknowledges and celebrates these unique encounters with me. A cashier says, “Your food will be ready shortly. Your number is 28.” An unfamiliar girl approaches me and asks, “Can you help me find my last scavenger hunt clue? It’s number 28.” I repeatedly open my email box to find 8,228 unread messages (don’t laugh!). I am writing this post on the 28th day of the month. In 2008, I turned 28 on the 28th. While traveling dark, unfamiliar Michigan highways, I looked to find my next exit was 28. How much further to go? 28 miles. What street to turn on? 28th St.

On and on it goes. It’s as if my attention is constantly and continually being wooed to the number 28. Some may call it coincidence, but I believe it is Jesus. He is wooing me, seeking me, and finding me in the everyday moments of my life. He is bringing comfort and clarity to the dark, challenging places and reminding me of my significance in the seemingly insignificant and mundane. He knows me intimately, loves me deeply, and is teaching me to practice His presence always.

In the Bible we read, “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!” (Psalm 139: 17-18 NLT).

Dear Reader, I pray you know the deep love of Jesus and the unique way He’s pursuing you. Your experience may not be exactly like mine but I guarantee Jesus wants you to know how much He loves you. How might God be winking at you?

Amy MukesAmy Mukes is the wife of Eric Mukes and together they have four amazing children whom she teaches at home.  She is passionate about education and literacy and also desires to equip parents with practical tools to raise their children with the gracious love of Jesus. Amy is currently developing a City Group that will be filled with experiential, interactive learning where parenting skills and family life will increase and flourish under the Gospel of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. To find out more about City Groups, click here.

 

 

 

Delight Yo’ Self

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

This verse has always intrigued and challenged me. I mean, right here before me, I literally have the key to getting my heart’s desires. But it has proven a difficult key to turn. The key is to “delight myself in the Lord.” Whaaaaat? Delight myself in the Lord? Really? I can delight in ice cream. I can delight in a day off with no responsibilities and money to blow. I can even delight in my job – when the students are on task and my lesson plans are on point – no problem. But delight in the Lord? How does one do that?

I thought I had it figured out (see previous post entitled “Jesus Time”).  Things were going well…until two months ago.  Two months ago I was employed. Two months ago I had more than enough money to pay my bills. Two months ago I was on schedule to complete my master’s degree. Two months ago… And now? Now, none of those things are a reality. In short, I have not really been in the mood to delight, which has left my relationship with Jesus brittle and dry.

As I came to Jesus tonight, this verse popped in my head, and (If I’m honest) I was discouraged.  “Lord, “ I asked, “ how am I supposed to delight in anything when everything is so…just…yuck?”

The Holy Spirit replied, “Well, first the verse doesn’t say delight in the good times or when you feel like it. It simply says delight.” Okaay…. Talk about a brain bomb. That got me thinking. As I continued to pray and meditate on the verse, the Holy Spirit went on to explain that delighting doesn’t just happen on sunny Saturday afternoons after all the bills have been paid, my work is done and I got to sleep in. I should be delighting at all times.

“But…how do I do that?” I asked. I honestly could not see how to delight in anything –even Jesus- when I felt so unsettled and discombobulated. Truly, all I wanted to do was lock myself in my room and binge-watch TV over a couple of gallons of Rocky Road until all of my worries magically disappeared.  Delighting was very much far away from what I felt like doing – and I told the Holy Spirit as much.

“Fair enough,” He said.  “It’s actually impossible to delight and worry at the same time so I can see how you feel that way.”

Another brain bomb dropped. Isn’t it great how the Holy Spirit just does that?

“You have to give up your worries before you can delight.” He went on to say. “Give them to Me. I’ll take them – then instead of spending your time worrying you can spend your time delighting.”

This obviously sounded like an unfair trade in my favor and if He wanted my cares, worries, fears, and anxieties He could have them. So I gave them up. I laid them at the feet of my Lord. I literally went through the list of worries that keep my mind spinning throughout the day and pictured myself laying each one at the throne of God. It took a minute but as I wrapped it up, racking my brain for anything I may have missed the Holy Spirit gave me this warning, “Now, leave them there. Do NOT pick them back up.” Boom – another bomb. It’s like the Holy Spirit knew my heart. Like He knew me and made me or something. I have a tendency to go back to my worries. Mull things over. Try to work things out. And He knew it.

“OK.” I said, and saw myself walking away empty-handed as my worries sat before the throne. In reality, I picked up my Bible and turned to Psalm 37:4. I had only memorized that one verse and wanted to see what the rest of the chapter read. I was delighted (pun intended) when I read just before verse 4. It read:

“Trust in Adonai and do good;

settle in the land, and feed on faithfulness.

Then you will delight yourself in Adonai,

and he will give you your heart’s desire.“ (Psalm 37:3-4 CJB)

After reading the verses, words echoed through my mind.

Trust – Settle –Feed – Then Delight.

Trust – Settle –Feed – Then Delight.

Trust – Settle – Feed – Then Delight

I am to trust in the Lord by placing all my worries before Him, trusting that He took the worst things in life; sickness, poverty, suffering and more, on the cross so that I could live free, able to enjoy the best of this life.

I am to settle in this time, in this moment. I am to be present, looking not to the past or the future for peace and hope but only to Jesus who is the beginning and the end and everything in between.

I am to feed on His faithfulness that has always secured the strong, loving relationship between us. I am to find my sustenance in Him.

Then…I will delight. Then…I CAN delight.  And my God is so good that when I delight He promises to give me something that only He can truly give…the desires of my heart!

So as I sit here, just minutes after this illumination from my Best Friend, the Holy Spirit, I am more than encouraged. I am expectant. I expect that, not only will the situations I face work out, but I expect that in the process I will be able to delight. Here. Now. Tomorrow morning when I wake up and my situation remains the same…I will be able to delight. I will be able to delight because by the help and power of the Holy Spirit I will trust. I will settle. I will feed and then…I will delight.

I Don’t Believe in Coincidence

I don’t believe in coincidence.  I believe everything in my life is and was mapped out by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not to say He doesn’t allow for free will and choice.  He just knows ahead what choices we finite humans will make, since He lives in all time and space.  God is everywhere at once, and is the greatest chess player in the universe!   

I won’t waste your time with fancy words.  I’ll tell you the facts of life.  Well, of my life.  

Why?  The only reason for me to open my book, called “life,” for you to read, is to give you hope.  The same hope that I have. Not just fleeting, momentary, feel good, positive vibes.  Eternal hope.  

We all go through mud at some point in this life.  I have a blessed life.  God has planted so many beautiful flowers in the mud of my garden that I no longer see the mud, except through the lens of how it has helped an amazing array of flowers bloom.  

I was 2 years old when my dad beat me so bad I had to be put in a hospital.  Now, your mind can go in all sorts of directions.  The main one, I suppose, being, “What a monster of a dad.”  I’m not in denial, believe me, but my dad was no monster.  He was a young father who lost control in a horrible fit of rage, in one moment.  He never lost control, physically, again with me.  Ever.  When I was 35 years old, my dad called me up and told me just that. “Katherine, I need you to know when you were a toddler I put you in the hospital because I beat you so bad.  I never touched you again after that.  Ever kid.”   He carried that huge, torturous, bad father moment, knowledge for all those years.  It was a great relief to both of us when he spoke it out.

Unbeknownst to dad, my mom had told me what happened when I was 18.  I never said a word to my tough, larger than life, John Wayne, construction working father.  Nope.  That was not going to happen.

He was too closed-minded, in my view, for me to bring up such a sensitive, wound-opening subject.  

Do I remember any of it?   I remember getting into mom’s makeup.  I remember dad asking me if I got into mom’s makeup.  I don’t remember telling him no.  I also have no recollection of him beating me.  Completely blocked it from my mind.  Too painful.  

I had a psychiatrist do some role play with me over my dad when I was 21. Yes, I had to see a psych doctor for evaluation after trying to kill myself. That was my life.  I don’t know that I really wanted to die.  I just didn’t want to hurt.  So much pain was bottled up inside that I had no clue how to release it,  how to deal with it.  For the first time, a light came on.  I began to understand the affects that pivotal moment had on young, naive Kathy.  By getting into my mom’s makeup, I was getting in touch with my femininity.  I was trying to be a woman, like mom was, and “pretty myself up.”   When I was beaten for that, it spun my young, unmolded mind into a whirlwind of doubt and shame over who I am.  Am I ugly?  Is that why I was beaten?  Am I shameful? Pitiful? Bad?  Since a 2-year old doesn’t have the capacity of mind to understand, it all gets bottled up to deal with later on in life, when our brains can function well enough to take it in and analyze it rationally.

The first time I walked into the church, I felt the spirit of Jesus immediately.  He captured my heart in a moment!  I knew!  This was it!  This was what I was searching all those empty years for.   My best friend had called me earlier that day and excitedly yelled through the phone, “Kath! You’re not gonna believe what happened to me!!”  My mind autoed on what guy she would tell me all about next.  Instead she land-blasted my thinking with, “I went to church and was filled with the Holy Ghost, Kath!  You have to come check it out with me tonight!!”  I was intrigued.  I was also put off.  ‘Shrug.  Another “Christian” story.  Boring.’  But there was that something in her voice.  What was it?  It peaked my curiosity.  “I have to tell you, I’ve been to every church in the area, and I’m turned off by churches.” I dryly replied.  She was persistent.  I went.

My husband, Dean, was sitting at the coffee table, cutting a line of ‘coke’, with his good buddy, Bob, who had served in the military with him just months before.  Dean looked up at me in surprise as I came downstairs all dressed up.   “Where you goin’?”  he asked me.  “I’m going to the church down the road.  Ruth invited me and I told her I’d check it out.”  I quickly replied, to end the conversation.  He shot back, “Don’t come home preaching to me!”  His buddy asked me what church I was going to, and I dismissively replied, “I think it’s some Pentecostal church,” (with no clue what the word even meant).  He said something so profound in that moment, something we wouldn’t comprehend fully until later.  “If she goes to that church, it will change your lives forever.”  Then they went back to their lines as if he never said it.  I found out later Bob was a Pentecostal pastor’s son.  God grows us all through many expressions of church but thinking about it makes me laugh, because there are no coincidences in life.

There is another Bob I have to give credence to.  He’s another of Dean’s buds from the military.  Bob came over one day, long before the day I stepped in that church, and while waiting for Dean to get home, he and I casually sat across from each other, snorting cocaine, smoking and drinking and chatting about nothingness.  Then Bob brought up the big taboo.  Religion.  He asked me what I believed, and I easily told him, while doing a line, “I’m Christian.”  Bob laughed, and somberly injected some truth into my stubborn mind that I would never forget.  It would haunt me for a long time.  I kicked Bob out of my house immediately over what he spoke, and told him never to come back.  I told my husband not to let his sorry friend back in, ever.  Bob simply and with ease said, “I would never sit here doing what we’re doing and call myself a Christian.”  ‘HOW DARE HE!!  Who the {expletive deleted} did he think he was? (side note:  my husband was a sailor, and I cussed worse than he did) Coming in my house and thrashing my belief like that.  I checked the Christian box on any and all documents, (back then you had questionnaires on pretty much any form you filled out, that asked your religious belief), and I was just that, Christian!’  

Like I said, Bob’s words stuck with me.  ‘I’m a Christian, right?  Of course, I have to be a Christian.  I’ve received the Lord in my heart at just about every church around here.  So I have to be!’  It was Bob that helped me begin to break down the walls of pride and ask serious questions of myself for the first time.  If you’re out there, Bob, thank you.

Another serious incident happened to me when I was a 2 year old.  Those “terrible two’s,” man!  The rubella measles went inside and swelled my brain, which put me into a coma.  On the seventh day, the doctors told my parents I wasn’t going to make it, and to come say last rites over me.  My Grams flew in from Illinois.  I was sprinkled by a Lutheran minister (Grams faith), and left there to die.  I still have the bald spot from that time to prove it.  Mom said they didn’t move me due to the sensitivity of the illness.  I also have dystonia from that brief, nine day, period of life.  Dystonia sucks.  But dystonia does not have me.  It makes my head jerk “no” when I don’t want to say NO.  The positive is, I’m not saying “yes” to everyone.   

When my dad called to tell me about the beating, he also told me this,  “Kid, when the doctors told me you were going to die, I went and prayed all night long with the Pastor across the street from us on Nyeland Acres.”  Mom had already told me that cool happening also, but I didn’t share with dad how I already knew.  I gave him the honor of the moment, and thanked him for loving me so much to do that.  I always knew that was the reason I came out of the coma.  My dad, who died of liver failure from alcoholism, my larger than life father, who tossed profanity around like it was candy, prayed for his baby girl, and God heard.  There are no coincidences.

I don’t know where you are reading this today, or what you believe about life and Jesus, but I do know that He loves you just as much as He loves me. You are not reading this post by coincidence. He wants you to know that He chose to go through the unthinkable by dying on the cross so that He could welcome you into an amazing relationship and life with Him. If you want to be in a relationship with Him and know what this is all about, all you have to do is ask.

Prayer:

God, I realize now that you love me and I believe in You. I want to have a real relationship and life with you. Please help me know what it means to be a Christian and to actually follow you. Show me how you’ve been working in my life even up to this point and help me to become the person you created me to be. Amen.

 
Kathy's picKathy Hageman, by God’s grace, is a mom of four amazing sons, two daughter in loves, and grandma to two precious granddaughters. She and Dean have been married for 33 wonderful years   She’s passionate about teaching and helping women to realize their full potential in Christ.  She has been involved in women’s ministries for many years and leads the “Breakfast & Bibles” City Group with Pastor Becky.  This post is an excerpt from the memoir she’s writing, titled, “I Don’t Believe In Coincidence”.

Hope

“Hope” settled on my heart as my “word of the year”… and I wasn’t excited.  Really, God? Hope? Why not CERTAINTY or STEADFASTNESS? Hope is… weak sauce…

It was early 2016 in Los Angeles and we were “getting on our feet” with shaky legs, having battled a bad financial situation.  George was finally at a stable job and we were grateful.  But this new job’s commute was killing our family time with Daddy. The boys started taking turns pretending to be him at the dinner table. Slowly, George became more discouraged. We were both in bed every night exhausted, dying to regain intimacy and, conversely, alone time.  And then Hope.  Hope said, “Relax.  There is no more you can do than what you are already doing.  Keep driving the kids, keep cleaning, keep meeting with your small groups—keep praying, keep dreaming, keep learning—and hope.  Hope that the future is bright– that the little things you’re doing today, will make a huge difference tomorrow.”  Hope is the confidence that better is coming.  

But the Lord says, “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

So George and I prayed — desperately.   We prayed for the next step; we prayed for wisdom.  And bit by bit the inexplicable peace came.  Peace that trusted—God’s got this.

Eventually, George got a new job.  It paid more and it was two blocks away!  The time we saved  was tremendous!  He was home to eat dinner with us, he could work out, and afterschool activities were easier to plan.  I told him, “We can never go back to you having a long commute again.”  And then, as if to test me, George was offered a job with Ventura County.  The commute would be long if we stayed where we were and moving would save us that precious ‘Daddy time.’  For us, the answer was almost instantaneous.  We would move to Ventura. We said goodbye to our friends, our schools, our comfort zones. We knew from past experience we couldn’t trade time with Daddy.

Though both fear and excitement gripped me, Hope whispered, “God’s got this too.”  I do my part and the part I cannot do, He covers. Jesus went to the cross to take my fear and uncertainty. He became my everlasting Hope, giving me confidence for the future.

Prayer:

Father, help me lay my burdens before you.  Remind me how big you are and how you have already given us victory.  Help me to hope because I know “Hope” is not a wimpy word.   

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Christine Meier is mother to three amazing boys and wife to George. She is a Child Development Specialist and has her Master’s in Human Development with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education. She teaches the two year olds (who adore her) at the City Kids Preschool in Ventura. Christine is passionate about marriage and family ministries, particularly around the issues that pertain to women and children. She and George co-lead a fantastic City Group for families on the first and third Fridays of the month. For more information, or to join her group, click here. 

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