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.

 

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?