Kindness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Great job”

“Well done”

“Congratulations”

“Hang in there, you got this”

“You did it”

“You’re amazing”

“You look great”

“That’s a great idea”

 

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

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

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

His Masterpiece

I love going to art galleries, especially on vacation. A couple of years ago, while on a date in the Gaslamp district in San Diego, Tom and I stumbled into the most beautiful art gallery. The whole experience, from the lighting to the soft music to actual art, was designed to tell a story. Every piece was a progression from the last. The woman guiding us began to tell us about the process of the artist, how he spent years developing each piece. He paid a high price in time and travel to achieve such beauty. I’ve tried my hand at painting a few times but I’ve never spent more than a handful of hours on something. I don’t have the patience! It was clear that art was more than a job for this artist, he had put his whole life into the work. 

I was reminded of this experience when I was reading Ephesians 2:10 (NLT). It says, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Genesis recounts that, thousands of years ago, God took dust and fashioned Adam, then Eve, with the tender love of an artist. He breathed his life into them and told them they were designed by him to be with him, to be like him, to multiply and to share in his work of caring for the creation. Then they failed. They trusted the devil instead of God’s word and it appeared that the work of art had been damaged. But the great artist didn’t discard his work, he improved it. 

Over the course of generations, he continued to love his masterpiece, his people, revealing himself to them through the rise and fall of kingdoms and passage of time. It was a long and costly process, ultimately requiring the sacrifice of Jesus, his own son. He knew his people could never do the things he created and designed for them until they received the gift of the grace of God. When Jesus rose from the dead and the people believed, they took a deep breath of that Holy Spirit of life once again and the masterpiece was complete! 

When I thought about that gallery, filled with absolute perfection, and thought about God putting our lives in an even greater, more beautiful gallery, my heart was filled with gratitude. When we believe in Jesus, we receive the grace of God, we are portraits of grace. I imagined the stories of person after person, lit under that soft gallery light, and the overwhelming feeling of goodness and joy that would be conveyed to the observer. When we allow God to use us to do his good work, to love people, to teach children, to give generously, to pray for the sick and serve one another, we feel God’s beautiful spirit rushing through us. We are truly God’s masterpiece!

Sometimes it’s easy to forget, but I hope you will remember today that the great artist designed you to be displayed in his amazing gallery of life and the work that you are doing out of love for him today is truly beautiful. 

XO,

Bethany

Finding Rest

A WILD Devotional

Surrender is something that I think sounds easy to do at times, but can actually be very difficult. I’ve come across many areas in my life this week that I  realized I needed to surrender to God. I became keenly aware of my own “busy-ness.” I have a desire to love others and serve others, to help where help is needed and to constantly be growing. While these are all good things, they can quickly become dangerous things if we aren’t careful. I have a tendency to say yes to everything just because I know help is needed or because I’ll get the chance to love others. Sometimes I’m just striving to prove my love to God. However, I spend way too little time with myself and with God and way too little time resting. By not allowing myself this time and continuing to do things the  way I’m doing them now, I’ll eventually be running on empty, unable to give out anything, and that’s not beneficial to anyone.

God had completely wrecked my Tuesday morning in the very best way. In an inaudible voice, He told me that I needed to learn to accept the love and blessings He gives me, as a gift to be cherished for myself, not just something to be shown to others. He also spoke to me that I don’t need to  strive  because I already have his undivided attention and unconditional love available to me, whether I do anything or not.

Hebrews 4:9-10 talks about this, “So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world.” (NLT)

I’m so thankful to God for creating this rest and for Jesus who made a way for me to enter into this rest by dying on the cross. He’s made amends for my failures and promises to help me. Now I can serve and love from what I already have, not what I’m trying to achieve.

Hailey O BrienHalley O’Brien is a first year student at California Coast Bible College. She has a passion for people and a passion for music. Encouraging others and speaking into others is important to her because she loves to see people grow into their potential. She loves to be around her family and friends and enjoys frequent trips to Disneyland. In her spare time you may find her songwriting, snacking, or telling really corny jokes.

Keys to a Lasting Marriage

February 14th is right around the corner.  This is the day we choose to celebrate love.  Everyone want to experience romantic love, but not everyone wants to put in the effort it takes to turn one day a year into a lifetime of investment and caring for the person we chose to marry.  Many young couples are willing to put energy into preparing for the Wedding Day, but put little thought and preparation into the lifetime of marriage.  If I’m honest, my first years of marriage to Jude  were difficult simply because we didn’t spend the time and energy necessary to prepare for our marriage.  We went from being friends to being engaged and married three months later!  Jude proposed to me over the phone and I was the one who called him!  A lot of what we learned about marriage was from watching other couples in our lives who seemed to make marriage look so easy.  Well, we have now been married 31 years and have been through every season a married couple will face and we are still together by the grace of God. Sometimes marriage seems like a piece of cake, full of amazing memories and laughter and other times we have to “fight for what’s left.”  

When you have been married 31 years, other couples always ask, “What is the secret to having a lasting marriage?”  Here are a few things I have learned over the years, that may be helpful as you pursue your dream of a happy marriage that lasts a lifetime:

Remember Marriage is a COVENANT NOT a CONTRACT:

Matthew 19:6 ESV “So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together let no man separate.”

For Jesus followers, marriage is about God joining us together. We make an eternal commitment before Him to LOVE our husbands. If we look at our marriage as a conditional agreement, and our spouses fail at something, we want to break the contract. But God offers us His “overwhelming, never-failing, reckless,” covenant love to draw from. The Bible is a love story in itself, one in which we broke the contract, and culminating in a beautiful marriage celebration as we, the church, become His bride. When we receive the undeserved love and forgiveness of Jesus, He fills us with the power of HIs Holy Spirit to love our husbands without keeping score. When we make the decision to grow old together, we don’t make quitting an option, knowing that God is able to help us in every area of weakness.

Be Grateful for the Marriage God gave you!

I Peter 3:7 “Husbands, you must in turn treat your wives with tenderness, viewing them as feminine partners who deserve to be honored, for they are CO HEIRS with you of the  “divine grace of life” so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”

Our marriages are a gift from God. We must view our marriages as an “inheritance” or “gift” to be cherished rather than something we are owed.  Think about it, when we work for something we “expect” to get paid.  If we won a lotto ticket or got an unexpected Inheritance we would be grateful for what we received.  Remember, our husbands chose to love us and be committed to us unconditionally. Is there any greater gift one human being could give to another? I encourage you to be thankful for your spouse because he is a gift to you.

Remember we are better together.  Fight FOR one another not against one another!  

Ecclesiastes 4:9 “Two are better than one because they help each other succeed” NLT

It’s so important to  reflect on the value that our husbands bring to our marriages.  Your husband may be very different from you. Jude is certainly very different from me! Sometimes it’s easier for us to value only the qualities we work to have but countless studies have shown that teams whose players have diverse gifts always have increased effectiveness.  As we make a decision to stop and appreciate the gifts, talents and perspective that our husbands have, we will end finding better success together.  We will often discover better ways of doing things that would have never occurred to us! Remember you started this race with the same vision. You are on the same team going in the same direction trying to accomplish the same goals.  

Remember, everyone has struggles in their marriage but marriages are worth fighting for!  If you are in a desperate place, if you have experienced the heart break of divorce, God sees you and loves you. Please don’t feel you have to fight or figure it out alone. Our church is full of people with beautiful stories of God redeeming the ugliest moments of strife and disagreement into redemptive and joyful and lasting love. This is our year of believing BIG and God is able to do a big miracle in your life and in your marriage. Join a City Group, attend our XO marriage conference in March, reach out to a pastor or City Group leader. We are here to help! Let’s choose to celebrate love and marriage all year long!

I believe in you!

XO

Becky Fouquier

 

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.

Catching up with Keola Bolles

Today Keola Michele Bolles is with us. She and her husband, Steve (who leads our Ventura Campus worship team) are our newest staff members. They have three great kids, Addi, Micah and Judah.

What keeps you busy most days?:  Hahaha, I’m a mom and a wife… so, I do a lot of cleaning up, laundry, and kissing ;). I also work part time at City Church doing the finances and I substitute at City Christian School.

All that kissing! No wonder Steve’s always smiling.

What’s your favorite part of church?:  I love ministering to Women… all women.  I love hearing their stories and loving on them.  What an honor it is to be a part of so many beautiful lives.  There is no greater feeling for me than when the Lord allows me to be a part of someone’s healing process.

What’s the best thing you’ve read recently? Why?:  Oh my goodness… Where do I even begin?!  Obviously the correct and only answer here is the Bible! Lol, but I love reading, and there are so many wonderfully perfect stories that have influenced my life and perspective.  I tried to give five, but Bethany wouldn’t let me! So I’ll have to say “Jesus Feminist.”  This book has influenced me and helped shape me though so many seasons.  As a woman in ministry, it can sometimes feel as though you get lost in the mix, but this book reminds me that Jesus was the original feminist, He is for me and I belong.  I love that this book brings all women together and puts down any division among us.  

Best thing you’ve listened to?:  I recently listened to Jentzen Franklin preach a sermon called, “Worthy is the Lamb.”  It was extraordinary!  I loved how this sermon so practically reminded us that the focus should never be on us.  Good or bad, no matter what is happening, “Worthy is the Lamb.”  God deserves all the glory and credit, and our insecurities don’t matter.  He has chosen us and He deserves for us to give ourselves to developing and changing lives.

Funniest thing that has happened to you lately:  I don’t know…. That’s kinda sad!  Lol! I’m going to have to work on remembering the funny moments!

What prayers is God answering for you? Oh man, God has been in the business of answering our prayers lately in so many ways.  But, I think the biggest way he has come through is with the selling of our house in Florida.  But, honestly, this entire season of moving across the country and transitioning my life to Ventura has been so much fun as we watch the Lord move on our behalf.

What’s Jesus teaching you?: This may sound so simple, but this is the scripture I find myself meditating on the most lately is Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV), “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future.”  When I am confused about my path and not sure how it is all going to work out, God reminds me of this.  It’s like He’s saying directly to me, “Don’t worry about it!  All you need to know is that there is a plan, it is good, and you will like it.”  And, I find extreme comfort in that!

Shaped By The Potter: An Eyebrow Story

I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and looked at myself. Nothing about me said, “cool”. Not my heather gray uniform shirt with its big purple letters emblazoned across the front, announcing to the world that I was, indeed, a student at Alder Middle School. Not my short, adult haircut that said, “I belong on someone’s mom.” And definitely not the wire-rimmed glasses with scratched lenses and stretched-beyond-repair arms. I took my glasses off and straddled the toilet. I let out a low sigh and grabbed the razor. I was gonna do something about these eyebrows. I leaned forward, inches from the mirror. Armed with the razor, I went in. A little underneath on the left, a little underneath on the right. A little at the end on the right, a little at the end on the left. Back and forth for what seemed like hours until finally, I felt satisfied. And then… leaned back for a full view of my newly coifed eyebrows. Oh. My. God. What was left of my eyebrows was atrocious. I had half of one eyebrow and three-quarters of the other. And not even a good three-quarters. I turned around on the toilet, facing the wall, and leaned back. My hands went to my mouth and I let out a silent scream. 
Sometimes life is just like that fateful day in 7th grade. We recognize something about ourselves that we don’t like or that we’ve compared to someone else and we just start hacking away at it. We don’t stop to ask God what He thinks of us or even to consider the goodness and the richness of that quality. We just see bushy eyebrows. But we are so much more than the make-up of our personality or our intelligence or our beauty. We are holy and unblemished, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:4 (NET).
“For He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in His sight in love.”
We were chosen even before the heavens and the earth. We were never an afterthought; He laid out the world for the sake of enjoying it with us. Of course, we’re always growing and learning how we can better serve the kingdom, but stop today, and make sure that you’re hacking away at sin and not the splendor created at the hand of the potter.
Ask yourself these questions:
What trait are you currently battling with today? 
Is it because you haven’t fully accepted it as an asset or is it because God is weeding a particular sin from your life?
Prayer: Lord, you made me. You know me better than I know myself. Show me how You’ll use those parts of me that I find frustrating. Grow me, use me, every part of me. Let me be who I was created to be, a beautiful reflection of You. 
xo Megan
Megan Glenn
Top Photo by Shane Albuquerque on Unsplash

Jesus Time

Have you ever heard someone say they were going to, “Spend time with the Lord”?  Am I the only one who has ever had a problem with that statement? I mean, what does that mean? What does that look like? How do you spend time with an invisible Being?

Years ago, I  moved to Seattle and started going to The City Church up there, I would hear people say that phrase, or something similar to it, all the time. I remember moving in with my best friend from church and she would often go to bed early so that she could spend time with the Lord in the morning. I wanted to know what it was all about. I mean, I was a Christian and it sounded like it was something I should be doing.

Now don’t get me wrong, I definitely said my prayers before meals and before I went to bed. I kept a Bible by my bedside just in case I got an attack of insomnia and needed something to help me fall back to sleep. I had even read through a handful of Bible studies when I was younger (Daniel and Revelation… my mom is SUPER into end-times stuff), and I was a part of a small group. However, the concept of spending time with the Lord by myself, just because, was completely foreign to me.

Back then, I was involved in GC, the youth ministry. I went to my group leader, Ammie, for clarification. She was one who had mentioned spending time with the Lord on several occasions. The conversation went something like this:

“Hey, Ammie?”

“Yeah?”

“What are you guys talking about when you say you’re going to ‘spend time with the Lord’?”

“You mean my ‘Jesus Time’? It means I’m going to set time aside to be with the Lord.”

“Yeah, I get that, but what do you mean?”

“Well…I make God a priority by spending time with Him.”

“Uh-huh. But…” slightly exasperated, “What is it that you DO exactly when you ‘spend time with the Lord’? How can you spend time with God? He’s like, invisible.”

“Oh!” soft chuckle “Well, basically you pray, read the Bible, worship and just…talk to God.”

Now, for those of you who are like I was, this still sounded a little – I’m just going to say it – odd. I mean, aren’t pastors the ones who are supposed to spend hours praying and reading the Bible early in the morning? Like, isn’t that their job?

Anyhow, I decided to give it a try. I had a desire to be closer to God and to live my life the way I saw all of my new friends living, completely devoted to Him. So if this “Jesus Time” was going to do that, then I would give it a whirl.

Ammie gave me some advice based on biblical principles, like having ‘Jesus Time’ in the morning because it’s good to start your day out with Jesus. She also encouraged me to have a “prayer closet” or a special place where I could get away from all the craziness of my house and life. She told me that having worship music helped to set the atmosphere – luckily I had just downloaded the newest worship album onto my brand new video iPod! I set a timer for one hour, sat there in my room at 5-something in the morning, music quietly playing in the background. I closed my eyes and began to pray. When I opened my eyes to look at the clock, a whopping seven minutes had gone by.

“Are you for reals?” I asked out loud. How was I supposed to do this for an hour?!?!

Months passed and I kept plugging away at it. Sometimes I’d start with prayer, other times I’d start with reading the Bible, and still other times I would just sit and sing along with the worship. Ammie (the best group leader ever) would call me in the mornings at 5:00 to make sure I was up early enough to get my ‘Jesus Time’ in. I got into the habit. It became a routine. There were times I would make it the full hour and even times (though very few) that I felt like the Lord was with me and we were actually spending time together. But, if I can just be real with you… for the most part…it was rough. It wasn’t enjoyable. I certainly didn’t look forward to it. And I really didn’t feel like I was growing closer to the Lord.

Fast forward years later. Yes, you read that correctly, years. I moved to California and for almost two years, was still going through the same routine. Although, admittedly, the routine was pretty sparse. One Saturday, after a week or so of being out of the habit, I decided I was going to have some ‘Jesus Time’. So I put on my worship playlist, got out my Bible, shut my door, and began to pray (I had stopped using the timer by this time because…why? Plus it was Saturday and I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be).

As I started going through the motions, something different happened…the Lord spoke to me! It wasn’t audible, but it was very clear in my spirit that this was the voice of the Lord. It wasn’t rough or harsh. No. The best way I can describe it is, friendly. In a very friendly tone, the Holy Spirit asked me a simple question, “Do you like this song?”

I stopped in the middle of my prayer list. “Huh?” I asked.

“This worship song that you are listening to right now, do you even like it?”

I stopped to listen. It was a popular song by a popular worship band. A song we had sung close to a million times before and one I wasn’t particularly fond of. I knew that God already knew the answer, so it was pointless to pretend, “Uh…no. I don’t really like this song at all.” I admitted.

“Well, change it.”

“What?”

“Change it. Put on something you like. And it doesn’t have to be worship.”

Oh. Em Geee, you guys. You have no idea what freedom and joy came with that one simple statement. It was like the Lord had lifted the weight of conformity and rigidity off of me. Of course I knew whatever music I picked had to be something that would keep me in the right mindset, so my gangsta rap playlist was out (just kidding, I don’t have a gangsta rap playlist…well I do, but it’s just the beats – no words). I’d recently started enjoying Americana, folky, jazzy bluegrass, and had a playlist full of decadent instrumentals that I loved to listen to. I put on my favorite song from that playlist and just sat there.

It was like a floodgate opened. I felt the Presence of God so greatly that I laughed, cried, got on my knees, and danced all at the same time. In that moment, God gave me a vision of us together (me as His daughter and He as my Father) that was so sweet and real I am sure we will replay it for real when I get to Heaven.  By the end of the song, I was so full and overcome by joy, I could barely move. I just remember saying, “I don’t want this to end! I don’t want this to end!” I spent the rest of my morning (yes, OVER an hour) just soaking in the Presence of God. I read my Bible, I sang songs, I talked to God and experienced  moments of intense humility and even greater joy!

At the end, the Lord spoke to me. He said, “Shaleta, when you spend time with Me, I want you to WANT to spend time with me! I want you to enjoy the time we have together! I want to hear your heart and I want you to hear Mine. That’s not going to happen if you’re just going through the motions of something you feel you’re supposed to do. I want you to be with me, not because you have to, but because you want to.”

Looking back on that day, my heart races a little bit and I get chill bumps. I had longed for the kind of connection with God that my friends had and when I finally opened up to the Lord and let go of routine and schedule, it was far better than I could have ever dreamed or imagined.

I am grateful for my friend, Ammie who taught me some great principles, like praying before my day begins and having a quiet place where I can feel free to pour out my heart to God. I am even more thankful for my best friend, The Holy Spirit, who led me to a freedom in my relationship with Jesus that I never knew was imaginable.

So for anyone who wants to experience this amazing, wonderful, ridiculously great relationship, I hope you are compelled to go and seek it out! And for those of you who have tried or are still trying but feel like you’re just going through the motions, be honest with the Lord. He is so faithful and GOOD. Maybe you need to change something up. Not big on talking? Try journaling. Can’t find a quiet space in your house? Try going for a walk. Work the early shift? Try driving down to the beach and spending time with Jesus as the sun sets.
Whatever you do, be honest and open to God. He sent His own son to die on the cross so that we could have access to knowing Him in a real and powerful way. He can and will use any opportunity you offer to speak with you.t He wants to! Be real and get ready for the best, most exciting relationship you will ever have!

XO Shaleta

Shaleta Chatman is an elementary school teacher, currently student teaching and working on her master’s degree. She taught the third grade class at City Christian School for many years and has been an active leader at The City Church since the beginning. Shaleta’s passionate about writing and serves on the Beautiful Stories editorial team. She also likes to make us all laugh at every Beautiful women’s event.

IMG_1394