By Dawn Smiling

 

 

I rose early on a Sunday morning and started walking to the finish line.  My son is competing in the Chicago Marathon.  The hotel is miles away from the race, but I am determined to be there to see my son achieve this accomplishment.  Two hours turned into four hours before I received a message that he completed his race.  I was so inspired to see all of the runners.

 

There were competitors who entered the race with enormous challenges. Some where injured, some had physical limitations they had to overcome, some were going after a dream they had yet to achieve. It was amazing to see them finish what they started.  A total of 27,000 competitors, and my son was one of them!

 

I was so inspired by his accomplishment, but when I saw him, he had a slight limp and looked like he wanted to sleep forever.  But I also saw the medal around his neck, along with the other runners who completed their race.  It was worth it. They met their goals even if they were tired and dealing with some aches and pains they didn’t plan for. It’s caused me to think of the race I’m running.

 

 

God wants each of us to complete our race in this life. There will be road blocks and detours.  There will be disappointments along the way.  There may be days when you think you cannot go another mile or even take another step.  You may feel defeated by push back from the enemy.  But Ecclesiastes 9:11 says “the race is not given to the swift nor the strong but he who endures until the end.”

 

How do you compete with all the obstacles and darts that may come your way?  I do it by being intentional in my relationship with Jesus and standing firm in my position as a woman of God.  But the most important think I’ve learned is to run my own race.  No one can wear my shoes and my foot prints are unique to every place that God sends me.

 

It is vital that we run our race with purpose, knowing that we each wear different shoes.  Maybe you are Puma, Nike, or a Sketcher.  Perhaps you are a praying machine, a woman in the word, or maybe your race is to lead a small group or volunteer your time.  Everything we do gets us one step closer to our finish lines.  I want to finish the work that God has begun in me. And I try to remember when I don’t see anything happening, that is when God is doing the most!

 

My experience at the Chicago Marathon renewed my understanding that God does not need for me to do all of the work.  God needs me to be prepared, and ready for where He directs my feet.  The most important part of my race is to not to turn back and not quit. I can feel him helping me when I start to feel those unplanned aches and pains and he gives me endurance to finish.

 

How do you feel God’s help and presence as you to complete your race?

By Nancy Strackany

 

 

During a visit to my sister in law’s, I was sitting on the lanai doing some reading when I overheard a neighbor on the phone. As she spoke I surmised that someone had just sent her flowers, and I was struck by her extravagant thanks. “Thank you, thank you so much, they are so beautiful. It was so thoughtful, it means so much…it is a beautiful bouquet, all different colors, different kinds, thank you, I really appreciate it!” I heard by her words how grateful she was.

 

I sort of wished I had been the one to have sent those flowers, her word and tone made the difference. I consider myself a polite, even grateful person but I knew this unseen person was saying something God wanted me to hear.

 

 

I put down my book and prayed, “Lord, make me more like that person, more like you want me to be. Help me a have a grateful heart, to be kind and generous, a loving person who expresses thankfulness to those around me, to You.”

 

Luke 17:15-17 says, “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.  Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine?”

 

Jesus had just healed ten lepers and of the ten, only one turned back to show his gratitude. Scripture is filled with exhortations to be grateful. Paul reminds us, “give thanks for everything” Ephesians 5:20.

 

Giving thanks is not just about a feeling, Jesus expects us to express it. Unexpressed gratitude expresses ingratitude. Unexpressed gratitude feels like rejection, as if we are entitled, we deserve it. Unexpressed gratitude can choke the heart out of a relationship. Charles Stanley says, “to refuse to pay my debt of gratitude is to live with an inflated attitude of myself.”

 

The recent hurricane has caused many in our area to be thankful that we were spared. It gave us all an appreciation for so much that we take for granted; for me it was my husband for his hard work and preparation, and neighbors who shared their home with us as we rode out the storm together. I was grateful to God for His grace and mercy through it all, for sparing us when not all were spared. It’s caused me to pray, “Lord help me not forget Your goodness. Now that the storm has passed, help me continue to honor you with a humble and thankful heart.”

 

How are you cultivating gratitude in your life?

By Terri Blanchard

 

 

Busy lives and hectic schedules seem to be the norm. There are tasks that insist on an immediate action and people who required a response from us yesterday. Emails, texts, appointments, and meetings, all vie for our attention. And when we just can’t fit one more thing into our already hectic schedules something happens that demands all of our focus and everything else comes to a screeching halt. Crisis comes uninvited.

 

Recently, I encountered several such critical situations. We grieved an unexpected loss. We moved. My husband was in a car accident then a motorcycle accident. He changed jobs and went overseas. We experienced injuries and illnesses. There was financial strain and marriage tension. In the span of five months time we went through seven of the top ten most stressful life events. It was a stressful season.

 

I wish I could say I handled it well but I did not. There were days I found myself sitting with my hands over my face sobbing and asking, “God, where are you?”.  But there was no response, nothing, just silence. The only thing I could hear was the sound of me crying. But I really did not want to hear what He had to say anyway. I was too busy having my own poor me pity party instead. And I admit I was a bit angry. Instead of running to Him, I turned from Him.

 

Eventually, I collapsed. I was physically exhausted and emotionally depleted.  So I prayed again, this time with less anger and more willingness to hear a response. “God, where are you?”. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and waited.

 

Listening for His voice lead me to His Word.

 

The verse, “Be still and know that I am God” came to my mind (Psalms 46:10a). “Be still?”. I had not been still in His presence for far too long. “…and know that I am God”. I needed to be reminded that although my life felt out of control, He was still in control.

 

I dusted off my Bible and opened to the Psalms (my ‘go to’ book during tough times). There I found,“Those who dwell in the secret place of the most High shall abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). I realized I had not dwelled or abided with Him like I used too.

 

I knew what I needed to do.  I made time again to be still with Him and to dwell in His Word each day. I found that each day a new verse would give me new strength. Strength enough for where I was that day.

 

Crisis may not be avoidable but surviving it is attainable. It may not feel like it at the time but I know it to be true. Spending time with God by praying and reading scripture was the comfort I found in my time of crisis.

 

What verses do you find helpful in times of crisis? Feel free to share ones that others may find helpful too.

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.