So Long, Butterflies

by Leslee Stewart

Recently I was playing with my son and during a quiet moment I asked him how he was feeling about starting at a new school in a few days.

“I’m kind of scared,” he shyly admitted. “I don’t know anyone.”

His comment reminded me of one I’ve heard lately from a few women I’ve met at church. They’ve decided not to go to A Beautiful Weekend or get involved in a Beautiful small group because, “I don’t know anyone.”

Sometimes the butterflies keep us from experiencing great things.

And let’s be honest, what we call the butterflies is nothing more than fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of rejection. Fear of not knowing all the answers. Fear of things not going the way we expect.

Those butterflies don’t seem so little when we start unpacking all of them. They seem big, bad and scary.

As my son opened up, I began to remind him of other times he’s been in this same situation. The first time he went to preschool. The first time we visited Grace Family Church. He even went to a sports day camp this summer not knowing anyone. I reminded him how much he ended up loving it and begging me on the last day if he could do it again next summer.

Then I told him one of my favorite scriptures, 2 Timothy 1:7, “God has not given me a spirit of fear. But he’s given me power, love and a sound mind.”  

The more we talked, the more his confidence grew. I know those butterflies will probably show back up when the first day of school rolls around next week. But now I know he has more assurance that he will be okay.

In a few weeks, Beautiful small groups will be starting back up and there’s still time to sign up for A Beautiful Weekend. Are you letting fear keep you from experiencing all the great things the Beautiful ministry has to offer?

If so, it’s time to send those butterflies packing. Make this year the one where you step out of your comfort zone, get involved and see for yourself just how amazing Beautiful can be.

On Monday, Aug. 27, we will officially kick-off our next semester of Beautiful small groups. Please join us that night at 7 p.m. for food, fellowship and fun as we unveil all that is happening in Beautiful this fall.


Leslee Stewart oversees communications for GFC Beautiful. She is a wife, stay-at-home mom of two boys and former communications executive. She openly admits she owns too many throw pillows, loves junky old furniture and can sing all the parts of Bohemian Rhapsody. 

A Beautiful Testimony

by Trisha Ferguson

I laugh. I smile. I glow. I am broken.

My name is Trish and I have seven children, one of whom now rests in the arms of our Lord. 

In 2008, we lost our fourth and youngest child at the time, Dakota Mae, in an accidental drowning. I walked away. I turned my back for a few minutes. And not a day goes by I wish I hadn’t.  Our life changed forever.  We spent some 36 hours in the hospital to do all we thought we could in saving Dakota’s life. Prayers chains stretched across the world in honor of Dakota.  We sat and prayed for our miracle. I kept my faith and I believed this was not in vain.  Then there came a time when a decision had to be made.  A decision no one ever should face.  Yet here we were – my husband, Patrick and I, holding hands and praying faithfully.  We never got our miracle, some would say, but then I disagree. We did. Certainly not the miracle we were praying for, but definitely a miracle.  We made the decision to let Dakota Mae be with God and to rest.  And as much as the pain then is still indescribable, there was love, and there was God. 

From that point on the miracle of Dakota Mae and her brief 11.5 months here on earth has never stopped.  Patrick and I united immediately and decided to explain life and death through God’s word to the kids.  We wanted to teach that before Dakota’s birth, her days were written in a book (Psalms 139:16).  Her life and death was known to God. That death doesn’t mean the end, but the beginning of life with God in heaven. We shared that from here we hurt and we grieve, but together as a family we keep living and obeying God until the day our family is reunited in heaven.  As days, weeks, and the months passed we openly talked about Dakota Mae and answered tough questions with our other three children.  We explained how now she was with us always, spiritually, not physically. We chose butterflies as our reminder.  To this day, should a butterfly pass by, all of my children blow kisses and yell, “Miss you Kota, see you soon!”  It just melts my heart. 

It’s been a long four years, but my relationship with God has gotten very REAL. Sometimes it’s easy to talk to Him, but other times I get testy and have lots of questions.  He frequently silences my, “why me” with, “Not why, but for what purpose.”  NOT WHY, BUT FOR WHAT PURPOSE.  That changed it all. Dakota’s death stopped being about my hurt and more about my duty. I knew I had a job and I knew it was to share all I had been taught though my grief. 

But I felt shame.  I worked daily on not blaming, not hating myself.  And honestly God was so kind and gentle to me.  My husband never pointed a finger, only prayed I wouldn’t do that to myself.  Prayer is powerful.  In my home I was safe.  But on the outside, in the world, fingers got pointed, judgments were made against me.  It was hard and I had to allow God to guard my heart (Philippians 4:7). I didn’t spend much time on the hurtful words, but knowing they were out there was enough for the devil.  He was licking his chops, knowing my weakness.  So as I made my way from mourning to joy, I would only share my story with select people who knew me and were closely involved.  I pulled back from opening up with strangers and sharing God’s love, God’s grace, God’s peace and amazing healing.

At the 2010 Grace Family Church ladies retreat, I went to a break-out session on our calling as a Christian, our testimony, our journey.  I was so moved through the session that in our small group I decided I needed to share my story. In doing so I was able to reach a fellow woman hurting.  Death had ravaged her family over the last few years and it was too much for her.  I am not sure what I said exactly, but she needed to hear it.  She broke down and we all hugged, we cried and carried a bit of her hurt and now mine, too.  It was amazing.

In 2011, I went to A Beautiful Weekend again, longing for the same connection and the recharge I had gained from the year before.  I found myself fully aware that in one year I had done little to obey God.  Although He had stayed in my ear and holding my heart, I was not sharing all He was doing for me. 

Well, God got in my face at this Beautiful Ladies Retreat!  On Friday morning, I was able to get away to the beach by myself for sunrise and just talk to the Lord. Being in his presence that morning, I sensed God had big plans for me at the retreat that day. I was excited and ready!

Throughout the day, I found myself deeply moved by all the true and open hearts of the women I met.  It was a safe place.  That night, during the testimonies shared at dinner, God began squeezing my heart. As women shared some of their deepest hurts and regrets, their pain was too real, too close to my own pain. I literally thought my heart was going to burst. I could just feel God and He wasn’t doing His routine, gentle stuff.  This was IN MY FACE.  I swallowed real hard and tried to not become the blubbering cry machine I become when I hurt. 

After dinner I went to a breakout session called, “God’s Miraculous Healing Powers.” The talk began with statistics that show how much the world is set against us; how much we have to break though as women, mothers, wives and Christians.  Then the speaker started sharing how God has beaten all that and more. 

She shared a story about a single father who had to leave his 2 and 3 year old kids with his elderly mother so he could work and support his family.  Then there was mention of an old abandoned pool and my heart squeezed.  I continued to listen and then came the part where the kids are wandering by the pool.  I knew where this was going.  My heart was racing and I was trying to breathe deep and slow.  What followed threw me on the floor and briefly turned my heart inside out.  This young boy had fallen into the pool and was not rescued for quite some time….longer than my Dakota. And this boy woke at 24 hours, no damage to his brain and was fully recovered. God preformed a miracle. As beautiful as that was, and as much as I love a miracle story, this time I couldn’t breathe. A loving hand grasped my shoulder knowing this was a lot on me, and I bolted. I had to get some air. I had to cry to God. I had to know, “WHY WOULD YOU SHOW ME THIS!?”

One of my friends in the session came out and offered to go with me to my room and console me.  I turned her down.  I wanted God and I wanted Patrick.  I am used to dealing with those two in my deepest heartaches.  When I got up to the room I couldn’t reach my husband.  I cried so deep that it truly hurt.  My skin was hot and my tears were flowing.  Unsure of what to do, I knew there was another friend up in her room. I decided to go to her and cry.  My brokenness was consuming me and I couldn’t hear God. 

After reaching her room I entered to find five wonderful Christian women sitting there.  I walked in, quite uncomfortable, because this is not how I deal.  My deepest hurts are private and very personal.  But I entered and curled up on the bed, and shared what had just happened.  Immediately they asked to pray for me.  Then I continued with my confusion, “Why didn’t I get a miracle? Why didn’t I wait longer? Should we have let go?” All the women shared in my hurt, but the things they said in response could only come from God. They reminded me that I am a miracle!  My marriage is a miracle!  They shared how it was to know me, and then learn about me and my loss; that I had touched their hearts and I was a gift and beautiful.  Their words were truly a honeycomb to my heart…the love, the encouragement; the judgment-free nature brought me to the light. As I began to smile and giggle, warmth came over me and then peace.

Throughout the rest of the weekend, God kept reminding me that I am not alone.  If I am willing to put myself out there, He will be sure there is someone to catch me should I fall. That’s why I’m sharing my story with you. The love and peace God gives can get us though the unimaginable. He wants to heal us and He loves to heal us. He hurts when we hurt and He comforts when we need comforting.

That night I went to bed glowing. What started out that day as a delightful sunrise, lead me to yet another lesson from my gracious Father. Oh, how I miss my Dakota Mae daily, but as the years pass and my love and understanding of our God grow, I feel honored to have been chosen.  Chosen to birth that sweet lil’ angel and chosen to carry her memory.  Chosen to show God’s love and peace in the midst of something this world has taught us to be bitter over. 

Dakota Mae’s death has taught me that we own nothing.  Our husbands, our kids, our homes, it’s all on loan.  And at any minute they could disappear.  I am thankful to my husband and my babies that they kept me focused on God to get me through it.  And at the root of my peace is love.  Love from family and friends, and all who prayed and continue to pray for my growing family.  Since the retreat, I have made it my personal goal to share my peace through grace in grief with any and all who will listen.  And to my surprise never do I get the judgment.  I get comfort and compassion.  So, ha!, devil, for thinking you can trick me in to silence!

God is good!

Trisha’s testimony is a powerful example of the kind of fellowship, healing and grace that many women experience at A Beautiful Weekend, our annual ladies retreat. This year’s retreat is Sept. 13-15 at the Sheraton Sand Key in Clearwater. Prices begin at $170 for 4 occupants to a room. Registration closes Monday, Aug. 13. To register or for more information, please visit


A Beautiful Weekend

A Beautiful Weekend is a wonderful opportunity for you to connect with other women, hear powerful teaching and find rest from your busy schedule.  We would love to see you there.  The registration deadline is approaching fast on Monday, August 13th.  Don’t wait any longer to sign up!  

Visit to register.


Save Me from My Vacation

by Debbie Altman

Vacation time away has always been important to our family. I must give much credit to my dear husband, Craig, as he has always been the one to plan them and set the time aside. He does all the planning, and I do all the washing and packing! 

Craig and I are very adventurous and our children were always on the edge as well, so we have had many crazy vacation adventures! You’ve heard a lot of them from Craig’s sermons. Some of his staff actually gets excited when we say we are going on vacation, as they can’t wait to hear our next story! His executive pastor just gets worried….

One of our first stories was going down Butt Breaker Falls, a rock sliding spot in North Carolina. We were with some friends, and the children were about 8 and 10. We should have been alerted to the danger when there were no families or small kids out there, just teenage boys with special pants they’d sewn that had reinforcement in the butt! 

So first Craig, then our son, Brent, then I gingerly walk over the very slippery rocks to get to the point where you will go down the middle, and not OVER the big boulders! We all made it! Our daughter, Dara, was a little scared, but no child of ours was NOT going to go!  So Craig walks out with her and as they approach the spot, they both slip and Dara lands on top of Craig and down they go! Dara’s weight pushes Craig down in the water just enough that he slams his knee on the way down, tearing something in his leg, and our friend and a stranger had to carry him up out of the gorge! We medicated him and threw him in the back seat as we drove home that afternoon. 

One of our problems is that we think we are younger than we are. Our other problem is we were always trying to be frugal so we could even afford the trip, so we couldn’t afford the extras, like the proper equipment! On one cruise vacation Craig didn’t get the fins for snorkeling, and on our way out to the “good spot” he yelled that he had to go back. Brent and I were obviously having too much fun to make sure he made it back without drowning. We later learned that he almost didn’t make it! He had cramped up and was exhausted, and had to get a lady scuba diver to rescue him, holding him around the chest and dragging him back to shore! 

Speaking of drowning…We were in Hawaii for our 25th anniversary, and I wanted to boogie board. The currents are very strong in Hawaii, but Craig and Brent had gone out and done fine. I notice the strong waves, but don’t hesitate to dive in, even when I see that everyone around me in the water is a teenage boy. I was determined to accomplish the feat! Suddenly, I realized I was dangerously close to the rocks.  I started panicking and praying!  I tried to swim away, but was doing everything wrong!  I hailed down an unsuspecting teen boy nearby and he came to my rescue.  The young man told me what to do and within seconds,  I was out of the current and started to paddle in.  Of course, this was not before the lifeguards on shore had sounded their very loud alarm alerting the whole beach that some stupid tourist had gotten in trouble again!  I didn’t hear the siren being in the surf, but the next minute I looked up, there was the most gorgeous hunk of man in front of me…(no, it wasn’t Craig, as gorgeous and hunky as he is….)  I was so embarrassed that I told the lifeguard that I was fine and he swam away.  What was I thinking?! Anyway, I took my time to get to shore hoping that no one noticed. When I arrived at our towel, my son and husband were rolling in the sand holding their bellies in laughter!  Thanks for saving me guys.  And thanks for your compassion when I almost died being smashed into razor-sharp coral rocks! 

Another time in Colorado, Craig signed us up for a bike ride. Dara and I thought it sounded too advanced for us, but as usual, Craig thinks we are all in superman shape and can do anything!  The kids were around 13 and 15.  So off we go.  Again, when we arrive, everyone else seems to have all this advanced equipment, and here we are just in our normal shorts and tennis shoes.  That should have had a clue. We now affectionately call that excursion the, “bike ride from hell.”  There were only two times growing up that our daughter ever said anything very disrespectful. But when she screams out, “I hate you, Dad!” you know we are on vacation!

Later that same day, we were walking through the gambling casino on the way to dinner in the hotel we were staying in.  We decided to let Brent put some nickels in the slot machine.  (Please don’t judge us here…)  Dara warned us that she didn’t think it was legal, (she had read the sign), but Craig insisted that it was okay if he was with his parents!  (We obviously don’t know about this stuff.)  As Brent starts to get very excited about all the nickels pouring out of the machine, a detective confronts us and tells us that we could be charged for, “contributing to the delinquency of a minor!”  (I can see the headlines now, ”Pastor arrested….”)  He paraded us through the casino to the horror of my teenage daughter.   After a very stern lecture, they decided to let us off!  And then my son asked the officials, “Can I keep the nickels?”  I’m surprised Dara ever went on vacation with us again!  

Honestly, getting away from the normal grind and distractions is one of the best things you can do for your family.  In later years we have had the opportunity to do some wonderful trips, but no matter the place, whether camping, or in Hawaii, it is the laughter, fun and adventure of being with family that will always be our fondest memories.  (Oh, did I say “camping?” Someday I’ll tell you about the ONE time we tried to camp!)

Debbie is the wife of Pastor Craig Altman, and together, they founded Grace Family Church 18 years ago.  She is a former RN and mother of a 27 year old married daughter and 26 year old son.  She is also known as “Nona” to her precious granddaughter. Debbie enjoys family, reading and the beach, and is inappropriately competitive at board games.