By Kristin Bonham

 

 

We have all been through a lot the past few weeks anticipating and guessing where Hurricane Irma would make landfall and what impact it would have on our Tampa Bay Community.  As we watched and waited and realized that while our city would not take a direct hit, our state would. And prior to that, Barbuda, St. Martin, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

 

I describe the anticipation as emotional whiplash. Chris and I are in the middle of a move and were focused on protecting our home for the new owners. Some friends with young children were concerned about fear and anxiety in their kids when the storm hit. One of the guys working on our house moved his mom to Tampa General Hospital for the storm. She has been battling cancer for many years and is now in Hospice care. Everyone had their own concerns and as we’ve heard each story, we have gained perspective.

 

While we were spared the worst of the storm and our discomforts of no power or air conditioning are nearing an end, some people have lost everything.  As things get back to “normal” around here, things for them will never be normal again. Rebuilding lives for folks in the island nations, the Florida Keys and other parts of our state will take years.

 

I have been overwhelmed. I have been walking in circles several times over the past week and I know if I am, others are even more. I find myself waking up praying for my friend’s dad who is the Mayor of Key West. For Matt who is about to lose his mom to cancer. For my cousin in Houston while she and her family clean up and start rebuilding after her home flooded. I pray for those who are picking up the pieces trying to save anything from their life before Irma and who are trying to figure out their next step.

 

While I have the ability to spend time with family and friends, there are folks working tirelessly to restore power and bring healing to communities. They are sleeping on floors and missing important family moments to be here for us. I gain perspective when I think about their commitment and sacrifice.

 

Beyond those I’ve texted with and called, I have relied on Social Media to see where my community is and how they are doing. I have loved seeing the stories of people coming together, opening their homes for other families (some they didn’t even know prior), and serving neighbors and strangers following the storm. I gain community when I take time to really see those around me.

 

While Hurricane Irma has passed, there are many individuals, communities and countries who are still in the storm. I’m asking, Jesus, fix it. Come and bring all of You into every situation, every individual, every nation in upheaval. Bring peace. Bring hope. Holy Spirit, bring comfort and bring practical help. Let us take the opportunity to see You in the midst of chaos and gain more of You.

 

“God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in sea storm and earthquake, before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God of angel-armies protects us.”  Psalm 46:1-3

 

By Kristin Bonham

 

Beautiful Girls Night Out was this past Monday night and it was amazing to see so many ladies come out! We had a fun night with Paige and Ashley opening with The Pew. Our theme this year is Choose Beautiful and the message was all over the room via our section leaders!

 

Hearing 1000 women worship Jesus together is something I look forward to and honestly, it wrecks me! What a Beautiful name it is, Jesus! I love that we get to come together for just a few hours and be encouraged and receive.

 

 

The dilemma came as we arrived and we were choosing which door to walk through, Average or Beautiful. How do we see ourselves? What do we believe about ourselves? Suzanna Garcia gave a powerful message of believing in the Beautiful in our lives starting with the Beauty of finding Jesus. She was vulnerable and funny and challenging.

 

 

I don’t know why I’m so surprised at what happens when we have a Panel Discussion at our events! I think it’s because they are not scripted, these ladies have said yes to something that is not comfortable for most of them, and God exceeds any expectations I could ever have. This panel was my favorite! (They are all my favorite until the next one  😉 )

 

 

Chrissy, Deborah, Becca, Sharon, Toni, Natalie, Indera and Sharon… Wow! The messages that were delivered through their vulnerability are things that will stay with me. Each one coming from their life experience brought the message of Choose Beautiful to life.

 

If you are not connected to a group of women, you can get involved at your campus by going to Beautiful Monday Nights! Every campus is launching on Monday, September 11th with the exception of South Tampa. They are meeting once a month and launched 2 weeks ago with 140 women!

Beautiful Moms meets on the Van Dyke campus twice a month starting Thursday, September 7th at 10:00 AM. If you are looking for a daytime connection, come to the Van Dyke campus for Beautiful Tuesday Mornings starting September 5th at 9:30 AM.

 

We have lots of opportunities to connect to a Group and you can see them all at GFConline.com/groups.

 

By Becca Christensen

 

 

This summer I took a break from writing and am overwhelmed by all that the Lord has done in that time.  Let’s catch up.  So meet me in the aisle of our Ybor campus on a Sunday morning where I have my hands raised and tears streaming down my face as the worship team leads us in a song that is new to me: Hills and Valleys by Tauren Wells.

 

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

 

Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!

 

It has been a summer of high highs and low lows.  This summer has included a three-month cancer scare and achieving one of my loftiest goals ever, 4 months early.  My sister is realizing her dream of adopting a child and was matched with a birth mom. Meanwhile, my friends lost a child.  It has been a summer of triumph, pain, loss, joy, celebration, and mourning.

 

It has been a summer of hills and valleys.  So what do I have to offer up from the top of the mountain and the depth of the valley?  I am overwhelmed in this season by the faithfulness of the Lord. I often worry that in really vibrant spiritual seasons the Lord is preparing me for hard things.  As it turns out, I wasn’t wrong.  This summer was tough.  It was tough but it was also beautiful and rewarding.

 

I can honestly say I have seen the Lord’s goodness as sweetly in the heartbreak as I have in the celebrations.  The peace, the love, and the grace He has shown me in seasons that have humbled and broken me have shown me just how good and faithful our God is. As I lay in a doctor’s office facing my fear of very large needles (in my neck!) to have my thyroid biopsied I was praying for other people – believing already that God is God over my own health.  There were a few tears and some serious nerves, but my heart and soul were at peace.

 

From time to time I like to half jokingly ask my Dad, ‘Does being an adult ever get easier?’  As you would expect, the answer is consistently, no.  It doesn’t.  The same holds true for the Christian walk, it never gets easy.  There’s no coasting.  There will always be valleys.  What does change is how you handle them.  For me, I have pressed into the Lord in the hard times and I have celebrated the best of this summer knowing they were a gift from Him.  He has answered so many prayers during the good and bad of this intense summer.  He gives and He takes away – but He remains through it all.

 

So as this fall promises to bring new celebrations and challenges with it, how will you press into the God of the Hills and Valleys?

 

 

By Amy Hafner

 

 

“I spend my time with God at 4:30am,” a wise pastor once said to me. “Well, mornings just aren’t my thing,” I replied. I went home thinking, “I want to give God my best and my best is in the evening.”  When I did study his word, pray, or worship Him, evening would be the time.

 

About a year later I was feeling empty in my relationship with God.  I wasn’t absorbing His Word.  Sure, I was reading but I didn’t feel His Word was speaking to me. My heart wasn’t changing.  To be completely honest, time with Him was boring and I was doing it to check it off my giant to-do list. I didn’t enjoy it at all.

 

One morning, while getting ready for my day, I prayed, “Father I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, I want to know you better, I just don’t know how.” A few weeks later, I went to a conference with my husband.  The theme that kept popping up to me was, if you really want to know God, you need to know God’s word.

 

I heard a woman speaker there, who was also an author.   She had something about her that I wanted.  She could quote more scripture than anyone I had ever met.  She had so much confidence, so much joy, and so much energy and I wanted it too.

 

I went to her breakout session and she hammered home reading the Bible and reading it in the morning.   She talked about the One Year Bible Plan and I felt God convicting me.  Committing to this was something I needed to do and I needed to do it in the morning.

 

“Seek first the Kingdom of God” Matthew 6:33

 

Remember, I don’t like mornings. I didn’t want to wake up earlier.  Mornings are “ugly” for me. Then something hit me, God’s unconditional love for us.  He doesn’t care what any of us look like in the morning, if we have messy hair or if even we are grumpy.  And personally, that was probably why I should be hanging out with Him first thing!

 

 

No matter what side of the bed I roll out on, if He is on my side, my day is better and my day has more meaning.  Hopefully, if I don’t fight Him, I will do His will, not mine, which I’ve learned is such a better plan.

 

When God is on my mind first thing, He tends to be on my mind all day and I am continually in prayer.  I’m able to be a better, wife, mother and friend.

 

If you have been struggling with your relationship with God, pray.  This has been a journey for me and the beauty of it is that He has a unique journey for you! He wants to know your heart. He loves you, and He is waiting.

By Ashley Kuczynski

 

 

We were smack dab in the middle of our “Believing Jesus” study by Lisa Harper and deeply engaged in the book of Acts.  A member in my GFC summer group asked, “How do you all feel about asking for help?”  The verse in Acts 2:32 says “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared in everything they had”. The community of the early church was such that what was literally mine was also yours and the pool of resources were distributed based on need. The early church lived together, worked together, ate together, worshipped together, and met the needs of each other together.

 

This summer I’ve been reminded time and time again that God is the God of community. In fact, He’s the creator of community with the climax of creation and the original community… The Family. Following the creation of community throughout the word of God are testimonies of His mighty power in the presence of our togetherness.

 

The Israelites were delivered from slavery together, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survived the fiery furnace together, Gideon and his soldiers were delivered from a fierce enemy together, the walls of Jericho fell when a group or community of men marched around them, and Jesus would not even begin his ministry until he had assembled a group who would be with Him in ministry.

 

As I reflect back over the times in my life where I have audibly and tangibly witnessed involvement from God, it has been in the presence of other believers in Community.  God literally arrives when we are in the presence of each other. His word says that where two or more are gathered in His name there He will be (Matthew 18:20).

 

 

In January at the Fearless conference, I attended the “Organizing Your Home” breakout session. After teaching methods and organizing hacks were shared by the speaker,  our session was opened for questions. A woman named Felicia raised her hand. She proceeded to explain that she’s a single mom of twin 10-year old girls, works full-time, is also in college struggles in organizing her home because it takes time that she truly does not have.

 

Another woman in the group named Mia, a complete stranger to Felicia, piped up and said, “I’d like to help you. I didn’t know why the Lord told me to come into this session but He told me to come in because He had something in here for me”. The interaction was sweet and I remember it well.

 

Several months later I ran into Felicia at a Saturday night service. As we caught up and connected in conversation, she proceeded to tell me how Mia had honored her offer and had started to come over and help her in organizing her home. She said their was an instant bond as they connected over shared single motherhood and this new friendship has made her feel less alone. Felicia said that she went to the Fearless conference expecting and knowing that God was going to do something big, but that something manifested in an unexpected way and has confirmed how much God really does SEE our needs.

 

For me, the question is not how I feel about asking for help, but rather, am I surrounded by those who recognize when I need it? I was reminded that worship takes on many forms and sometimes it’s two new friends connecting together while cleaning and organizing a home.