Exceeding Great Joy!

When people gather in Jesus' Name, something beautiful happens. What takes place in the She Believes Women's Bible study is no exception. The group is led by Pam Brackley and Keri Loughlin, two ladies who obviously love shepherding those who come each week. Pam says, "The Word changes lives, the Truth changes minds, the Promises change hearts and Prayer changes everything!" She Believes began as a group for women who had "never attended a Bible study, never wanted to, and didn't think they needed one." I recently visited this group at the end of their meeting. It happened to be a day when a young woman had come for the first time, burdened with life and looking for something to ease that burden. Before I arrived, she had been loved and encouraged by these wonderful women and had given her life to Jesus. I was blessed to be a part of a sacred prayer time facilitated by Keri and Pam that included a celebration of this new sister in Christ. She Believes is full of stories like this, including those of the two ladies I had come to interview that day.

Ali Fox met Pam several years ago through Ventura Missionary School.. Pam frequently invited her to the She Believes Bible study. In the beginning, Ali wasn't ready to take that step, but over time life brought a number of challenges. Her marriage was struggling and eventually ended. She had other emotional burdens as well, including a family member's addiction. Ali says that in the midst of her despair, a text from Pam just "showed up." Ali was finally ready, and accepted the timely invitation.

Everything was different for Ali after that. The feeling of peace that she had from gathering with that group of ladies was so different and on a higher level than anything she'd ever experienced. She was blessed beyond words by the wisdom "that group of warriors" was giving her. She and her ex-husband began seeing each other again, which of course is a tremendous blessing for their two children. Life still has its challenges, but Ali says now there is a "spiritual thread through it all."

Colleen Smith grew up attending a different type of church, but mostly on holidays. "Religion" was not an integral part of her life. Five years into marriage she got back "into" church. She and her husband didn't think they would be able to have kids, and it was a heartbreaking struggle. Colleen had some family friends who attended church, and she knew they had something that she didn't. She'd always had a curiosity to find out what that was, but just didn't take the time. So with this current challenge, she and her husband began attending the church her friends attended. As soon as they went, it felt like home. They began going to Bible study and getting involved. Church became a big part of their lives.

Then, after 17 years of marriage, Colleen and her husband were blessed with an incredible gift. They were able to have a daughter, and she was instantly the light of their lives. However, three and a half years later, Colleen's husband passed away. Her church family rallied around her and she doesn't know what she would have done without them. She says, "They kept me grounded, kept me honest, circled me...I can't ever repay them for all they did."

Eventually, God brought another gift into Colleen's life, her present husband, Henry. He considers Megan his own daughter, and they have become a loving family of three. They attend Ventura Missionary Church, Megan is active in Youth Group, and Colleen is a committed member of She Believes.

Looking back over her life, Colleen says, "I always knew I had a religion, but I did not have a relationship with Jesus. Now I do because I know Jesus!" Colleen had wanted to be baptized for some time. Baptism outwardly expresses that inward relationship with Christ. This past fall, her daughter, Megan, mentioned that VMC was doing a baptism at the beach on October 1, and that she was planning to be baptized that day. Colleen said, "How about if I do it with you?"

Colleen then received a She Believes group text that Ali was going to be baptized. She texted back, "Me, too!" And a third She Believes member also had the same plan! The next thing you know, a rousing round of texts was plinking with celebratory words, and commitments to be there for the joyous occasion. Ali's family of four and Colleen's family of three were baptized together. Pam was right there in the water with them, face beaming. Keri actually baptized the third She Believes participant, Ashley, along with Pastor Doug. Ali says, "What an incredible moment of friendship. To see faces that came that I'd connected with on such a deep and personal level. And Pam was in the water with us! She was so instrumental in my journey and never gave up on me. It was magical! Words can't do it justice. It was the ultimate spiritual experience." Colleen says, "The feeling of elation and joy is unmatched!"

Hanging out with Christians doesn't stop hurt from inserting itself into our lives, but when you consistently gather with a group of believers who will journey with you through the pain, pour into God's Word with you for answers, and then celebrate the blessings, the lows are filled with hope, and the highs are sweeter. When you have a front row seat to the stories God writes in the lives of those you've come to love as sisters and brothers in Christ, the exclamation points of those stories don't just bring a smile or a little amusement, they are marked by layers of exceeding great joy!