Grace Upon Grace

George Casarez grew up in a good home. During his early years, he was involved in school and sports, especially baseball which his dad coached. The negative behavior that many students participated in did not lure him. That changed however, when his parents began to have problems in their relationship, and at 17, George began to drink and experiment with marijuana. His parents eventually divorced, and even though George had the opportunity to play baseball in college, he decided to take a semester off after high school. That semester quickly turned into a couple of years. During that time his involvement in drugs escalated to cocaine and meth. He did briefly attend college at one point, but dropped out. Jobs were difficult to hold onto. Things only got worse as time went on. He started to hang out with someone who introduced him to stealing which helped to support his drug habit. As a result of all that he was involved in, George spent some time in jail. The bright spot during these years was the birth of his two daughters. His love for them caused him to have a desire to get out of this destructive way of life, but he struggled to make it happen. He was able to get clean a few times, attended rehab, but invariably the cycle would continue. George had attended church as a child, but he didn't know who God was. He had no hope. He never anticipated that his life would turn out like this.

At one point, forced to be sober because he was in jail, George began to take a hard look at his life. He wondered, "How did I get here?" He asked his dad for help, and his dad found a place that would take him. That place was Casa de Vida, a Christian-based addiction and recovery home. Jose Moreno, the founder of Casa de Vida, was able to secure George's release into the custody of Casa de Vida for six months. If he graduated, George wouldn't have to finish his time in jail.

It was at Casa de Vida that George learned about the Christian faith. He began praying, reading the Bible and heard testimonies of others who had been impacted by a relationship with Jesus. He learned that there is an enemy who is seeking to kill and destroy us, but that God's power is greater. George didn't feel loved, and he really missed his daughters. He didn't even want to live if they couldn't be part of his life. About 30 days into his stay at Casa de Vida, he prayed a desperate prayer, asking God what he should do. He heard clearly, "George, I love you; I always have and I always will." These words were so strong, they became engraved on his heart. He struggled for a while longer, but God was doing a work in him, and as Philippians 1:6 says, "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it."

On December 9, 2011, George had another meaningful encounter with God, the One who hears, the One who cares and the One who heals. George knew he had been trying to satisfy his flesh, but he was not happy inside. It was like he was stuck in chains. His parents were praying for him a lot and would eventually be a big part of helping him get back into church and a relationship with God. Again, the desire to be a part of his daughters' lives motivated him to make a change. But this time, that desire was more about what he wanted to be for others. He yearned to be a good dad, a good son to his parents, a good friend to others and a worthy child of God. So, he gave it all up. He relinquished his destructive behaviors, and hasn't gone back since. He didn't deserve another chance, but God is all about second chances. Grace is a beautiful word that sounds soothing in and of itself, but God's grace in action is soothing and powerful at the same time. It's a gift that we don't deserve, but it's something we all desperately need. George believed, and George received the best gift ever - God's forgiveness.

George went to bed that night, and when he woke up the next morning, he knew he was different. But God wasn't done with George. Merely giving up negative behaviors isn't all there is to a transformed life. It's grace upon grace. It's extending God's grace to others as an outpouring of the grace we've been given.

Shortly after this life changing night, George was asked by someone to help out at "Many Meals - Spirit of Santa Paula," a meals ministry for the homeless championed by Kay Wilson-Bolton. He didn't really want to go, but he went anyway. The next thing he knew, he was serving twice a week. He says, "It was like God reached in and took out the garbage inside of me."

Casa de Vida had introduced George to Ventura Missionary. At this point in his journey, George decided to start attending again. He says, "The people are so encouraging, loving and willing to help. God's love inside of them was coming to me." He began attending the Friday morning men's group and going to Bible studies. One thing that helped him to stay clean this time (now 5 years), was that when he was going through a rough spot or trial he would surround himself with wise people. He reached out to the body of Christ and sought godly counsel.

George also started seeing his daughters more. He got a job, and everything began changing for him. However, before he made the change, he had been caught stealing. After things had turned around for him, it was time to go before a judge for a choice he had made in the past. His public defender was telling him that he could probably get him off if he would lie, but God impressed upon George's heart that He would only honor truth. George was afraid that if he told the truth, he would lose the ground he'd gained with his daughters, that he would lose his job and so much more, but he obeyed God and pled guilty. He was sentenced to work furlough, but the program denied him. This would normally mean jail time, but amazingly an appeal was granted. The way God worked in this situation because of his refusal to lie, has left a lasting impression on George.

As George continued to be transformed by God's grace, he was given more and more time with his daughters. Eventually, he was given shared custody, and they now live with him most of the time. George is extremely active at Ventura Missionary. He serves on the Usher Team and at our Wednesday night Student Ministries program. He also serves on the Casa de Vida Board, the very ministry that first pointed him toward Jesus. George says, "He has my heart. Everything the devil stole from me, God gave it back to me and then some...Amazing grace." George's mom, dad, brother, children, aunt and many more have put their faith in Jesus and are saved. His parents both attend VMC. George believes he is experiencing God's faithfulness to Acts 16:31 as he came to God as an individual, and his family has followed suit. George's life was headed toward complete destruction, but it is now a life of grace upon grace.