Last night kicked off the beginning of another semester of Beautiful women’s small groups at Grace Family Church. With more than 300 women in attendance, it was a chance for ladies to fellowship and find out more about the groups available this spring. For many attendees, it was their first time to experience a Beautiful event.

Beautiful spring kick-off

After enjoying some food in the lobby, the ladies gathered in the sanctuary for worship. Kristin Bonham, director of women’s ministry, welcomed everyone and explained how the evening would work.

Beautiful worship

Ladies were given an opportunity to visit different areas in the building where they could meet small group leaders and learn more about their groups. Whether they were looking for an on-campus or off campus group, a specific study, care and support, or a special interest group, nearly all 80 women’s small groups were represented at the event.

Worshipping together

It was a wonderful way to kick off a new semester and many women left feeling energized and excited about the small group they selected.

Beautiful ladies mingle in the lobby

If you couldn’t make it to the kick off, it’s not too late to get in a Beautiful small group! One of the easiest ways to get involved is through Beautiful Monday Nights. This weekly bible study begins on Feb. 6 and meets each Monday from 7-8:30 p.m. in the GFC sanctuary. It features worship, live teaching and breakout tables for small group discussion. This semester’s study is Romans. For more information, contact peavenson@gfconline.com.

If you prefer a daytime small group, Beautiful Tuesday Mornings may be what you’re looking for. This group meets each Tuesday beginning Jan. 31, from 9:30-11:30 a.m. in the GFC gym. After group fellowship and worship, attendees break into separate bible or book study groups. For more information, contact mhinders@gfconline.com.

All other Beautiful small groups and care groups can be found by searching under the category “women” in the GFC Small Group directory.

Veggie Stuffed Peppers
by Leslee Stewart

Serves 2

2 red peppers, tops removed and seeded.
½ cup diced yellow onion
1 tsp crushed garlic
¼ cup diced mushrooms
½ cup diced zucchini
½ cup diced yellow squash
1 tsp Italian seasoning
¼ tsp pepper
½ tsp kosher salt
1 pkg. Uncle Ben’s Vegetable Medley Ready-to-Serve Rice Pouch (can substitute with couscous or favorite wild rice blend)
2 Tbsp capers
½ cup crumbled feta

Preheat oven to 400. After seeding peppers, gently cut a small portion off the bottom of the peppers to make them stand upright while cooking. Be careful not to cut through pepper.

In a large sauté pan, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil. Add in onion and garlic. Cook 2-3 mins. until it begins to soften. Add in mushrooms, zucchini and squash, Italian seasoning, pepper and salt. Cook 3-4 mins. until cooked through. Pour ½ of rice pouch, capers and feta over vegetables. Stir to combine. Remove from heat and pour mixture into each pepper until fully stuffed. Drizzle olive oil over tops to keep moist while cooking.

Cook peppers uncovered 45 mins. until tender.

 

by Julie Jaunese

Grace Family Church might seem large, but did you know that it started 18 years ago with about 40 people meeting in a home on Thursday evenings?  My husband and I were part of that first group. We met that way for nearly four months before opening in a shopping center with about 135 people attending on the first Sunday. 

Let’s talk about a time even further ago in history.  In the book of Acts, the church helped each other as they fellowshipped together.  As they did, they added to their numbers daily.  My husband and I had our first exposure to a small group in the mid 70s.  We went to a church that assigned you to a “cell group” with three other couples.  Yes, assigned us to the group.  This group was pivotal in our growing relationship with God and encouraged us in reading God’s word.  It challenged us; held us accountable.  We had prayer requests every week but also had praise reports.  We saw God in motion, working in each couple.  They didn’t provide child-care, we got a sitter and were there.

Today, Grace Family Church makes it so easy for us to be in small groups.  There are great bible study groups, special interest groups like photography, young people groups, seasoned people groups, couple’s groups, men’s groups, women’s groups, Second Saturday and more.  Pastor Craig has said that attending on the weekend is not enough to get you connected in relationships that will help you grow.  That’s something to think about…. Do you give your marriage an hour a week?  Do you give your job only an hour a week?  How about your children, do you give them only an hour a week?  Profound when you think about it, isn’t it?  The consequence of giving these relationships only an hour a week would be devastating and God wants so much more for us.

Join a small group and you will experience the type of community Paul talks about in the book of Acts.  Acts 2:46-47 says, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”  Their homes weren’t meant to hold 5,000. They were designed to hold a small group, just like the small groups at Grace Family Church.

The church of Acts spells out our heritage from God.  The church in Acts was a church that depended on each other. We depend on each other.  “I need you, you need me, we are a part God’s body…,” are lyrics of a song we sing at Grace. The song goes on to say, “It is his will that every need be supplied.  You are important to me, I need you to survive.”  I need you just as much as you need me to survive in our walk with God and walking out His word.

So I challenge you to get out of your “one-hour-a-week” routine and find a small group. The fellowship and encouragement I’ve received through small groups has changed my life, and they will change yours too.

Beautiful, the women’s ministry of Grace Family Church, will begin a new semester of small group studies on Monday, Jan. 30. Join us that evening at 7 pm to learn more about women’s small groups and find the right group for you.

by Leslee Stewart

So far our Florida winter has been pretty un-wintery this year. With near 80 degree days and cool nights, I completely get why birds and “snow birds” migrate here when the temps get too cold up north. Another unique animal to migrate here each year is the manatee. 

Every winter, manatees make their way to the warmer waters of Tampa Bay. And one of the best places to view them is at Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach.

Apollo Beach Power Station

Recently when the kids had a day off from school, my friend Amy and I loaded up our little ones and headed to the center. From north Tampa, the drive is approximately 45 minutes south on I-75.

The center is adjacent to the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach. Many years ago, workers at the station noticed manatees in large numbers in the power station’s discharge canal. The station uses saltwater taken from Tampa Bay to cool one of its units. The warmed, cleaned salt water is then discharged back into the bay, thus making the water near the station around 78 degrees, almost 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the bay. Manatees, who are warm blooded, flock to the warmer waters next to the station from November to April.

Checking out the Manatees

My family has been to the center a few times. We like taking friends and family who are visiting from out of town. With each visit, we always see at least 50 to 100 manatees in the water. These gentle giants are fun to watch as they slowly come up for air and flip their giant, spatula-like tail on the water’s surface.

Manatee

Another great feature of the center is the 900-foot tidal walk. Stretching out into the bay, this walk passes through a mangrove forest where you often see small crabs, fish and birds amongst the trees. At the end of the walk, it opens back up into Tampa Bay providing more views of the manatees. There’s also an education building, butterfly garden, gift shop and small cafe. We packed a lunch and enjoyed the great weather on one of the many picnic tables at the center.

Walking through the mangroves

But perhaps the best feature is the fact that there is no charge to visit the Manatee Viewing Center, making it a perfect and free way to spend a day around Tampa Bay.

Manatee friends

For directions, hours and more information, check out the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center website.

by Joy Milner

In 1998, I got sick, and it changed my life.  I had been living a healthy, active lifestyle and now I was dealing with physical symptoms that were unexplainable.  I went to several doctors, had multiple tests done, took time off from graduate school, and put being involved in ministry on hold. It was exhausting, overwhelming, and scary because I had no idea what was happening to my body.  I was not alone though.  I had my faith in God and a mom who loved me, cared for me, listened to me, prayed for me, and researched for me.

God led me to a doctor in Temple Terrace who got my health stabilized but I was never the same.  As the years passed, I continued to have faith in God, work full time, and participate in small groups but spent hours and days on the couch or in bed due to pain or debilitating fatigue. I got to the point where I rarely spoke about it, figuring the less people that knew the better. The shame I felt because I was not a wife or a mother was heavy and I thought, “Who would want me?” I felt unlovable. I could barely take care of myself. I was a wild card. I never knew how I would feel or what mood I would be in. A date, a boyfriend or even a husband would never be able to deal with me.

On December 4, 2008, my precious mom, my best friend and the person on this earth who loved me unconditionally, left me to be with Jesus.  I was not prepared “to do” life without her. In addition to that loss, two and half months later, my grandmother, my mom’s mom, passed away.

I battled with significant grief and loneliness. The physical pain in my head and the emotional pain in my heart were almost too much to bear. I had moments where I thought about teenagers who “cut” themselves. I could relate. I desperately wanted another source of pain to stop the pain that I could not control and was getting no relief from.

Little by little, step by step, God rescued me from those dark days.  I wish I could say healing happened on one particular day. I wish I could speak of one particular event or moment in time. But God had a different plan. He led me on a journey to healing and freedom that would take time and a commitment on my part.  

I attended Grace Family Church’s Grief Share class where learning about how people respond differently to loss and grief so powerful for me. I told my dad, sister, and brother in law about the group and they all attended. Because we continued to seek God and his help in the midst of a traumatic loss, God prevented Satan from allowing any major divisive or bitter spirits to attack our relationships.

Throughout 2010 and 2011, I participated in other small groups at Grace and the Women’s Monday night bible study.  Little by little I started being set free from Satan’s lies. Little by little healing was occurring. God continued to teach me, encourage me, redeem me, restore me, and set me free.

As I continued to turn to God for spiritual and emotional healing, He opened up the opportunity for me to attend GFC’s Freedom class. At the Freedom Encounter weekend, beautiful ladies spoke truth into my life and prayed for me. The work that the Holy Spirit did in me was life changing. But I had to show up. I had to persevere. I had to seek God’s help and His healing.

Physically, my headaches were continuing to become excruciating and debilitating and other symptoms were beginning to manifest. My doctor wisely decided to run some more tests.  I wanted answers to my physical symptoms.  The test results concluded that I have Lyme’s Disease.  My doctor has a treatment plan and I am believing for healing!

I am walking out the prayers that my friends prayed for me.  But I had to ask for them. I had to let someone else beside my mom know I was struggling. And I learned to depend totally on my Heavenly Father for strength and peace.

My prayer for you is to not give up. When those dark days hit and you don’t want to get out of bed, it’s ok to spend some time under the covers but don’t stay there.  Reach out.  Tell someone.  Keep looking. Keep seeking. Our God wants to redeem us, restore us, heal us, rescue us, and comfort us but we have to do our part. Maybe it will happen for you on one particular day or during one particular event or maybe it will be like me…little by little. Be strong. Be courageous.

Joy found community, strength and healing through a Beautiful small group. Now it’s time for you to take the first step. Small groups begin the week of Jan. 30. Check the GFC website for more information.