by Carina Deshotels

I recently finished reading the book, “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo. It’s the story of a little boy’s account of going to heaven and how his visit completely changed his family’s view on heaven.

My mom died when I was four-years-old, so reading the book had special meaning for me. There was a part of the book that I felt came straight from an experience I had a coupleCarina and her mom of years ago – an experience that confirmed for me the power of God’s presence in my life, and that there is so much more to this life than what we can see.

I’ve always loved God, but I haven’t always been in love with Jesus like I am today. My mom laid a strong foundation for my sisters and I, and we never doubted God’s existence. I knew the typical Sunday school stories. I knew one day I wanted a good future for myself, one that included a husband who treated me right, children, to go to church, and live happily ever after. Everything worked out pretty well, except when I had my son, I started to struggle like crazy! I dealt with medical problems, exhaustion and feeling down on my new post partum appearance. My husband and I began fighting and not understanding each other. We constantly compared roles with who had it harder.  Sometimes I would wonder what the future held for us. How could life have gotten so hard? We didn’t really know what we were doing as new parents, but a major factor was my depression. I was also new to the area and was home alone with my baby all of the time.

When my son turned one, we finally had had enough and realized I needed help. I decided to join a small group at Grace Family Church. The ladies there were all different. Some older, some my age, some single, some married, some with older kids. One of the ladies there, Vivian, and I really hit it off. She was different than other “big Christians” I had met in the past.

At the time, I associated being a major Christian with looking dull and boring, and acting that way too. This was part of the reason why I was never able to just dive straight into being all about God. I still wanted to “have fun.” I still had things in my life I didn’t want to give up. But Vivian was truly inspiring and showed me that you don’t have to be someone you don’t want to be to have God at the center of your life. God made me, and when you have Him at the center of your life, He just makes you better, the “you” you’ve always wanted to be. It’s a win/win, but I never realized that before.

So, after a year in the small group, I grew closer with God, grew closer in my friendships, and my marriage was better than ever! About that same time, Grace’s annual ladies retreat was coming up and I decided to go with a few members of my small group.

On the second night of the retreat, the choir gathered for worship. I found myself worshiping in a way I had never done before. I felt as though I was truly worshiping our God with every single word of the song! After the worship, the speaker invited women who felt led, to come to the front and kneel at the stage while the song, “I Can Only Imagine” played. Immediately, I felt like I should go to the front and kneel. This was strange for me because I had never kneeled in church. But at that moment, I didn’t care anymore. I was going to go up front if I felt He wanted me to.

I was the first to go up there. Vivian saw me and came up behind me. She leaned over and said, “Carina, can I pray for you?”

As Vivian began praying, I heard God say, “She is with you.” Suddenly, I felt the air come around me from behind and hug me tightly. I instantly knew the “she” was my mother, and that hug was her big wings wrapping around my body. I burst into a serious cry! Before I could get out my entire thought of, “DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?”, God knew I would not be sure, so He confirmed it again to show me I was not crazy. He said again, “She is with you!”, and her big angel wings came and wrapped around me once more. The air squeezed my body and I felt my angel mother’s Carina and her mom_2touch after 20 years of her leaving this earth, and not having a single memory of her on my own.

I didn’t really know why God gave me that experience. But a few months later, I found out. One day I was looking through my mom’s old trunk filled with memorabilia. Inside was a cassette tape of her testimony she recorded just before she died in 1989. She recorded it with hopes of it bringing others to Christ. I had listened to it before when I was much younger, but only with the hope of hearing her say my name.

On the tape, my mom shared how even though she’d been going to church, she just didn’t feel changed. She hadn’t really given her whole life to Christ. So one night she cried out to God. She wanted to feel the difference if she was to be a child of God – meaning her thoughts and actions would be proof of her love for God. The next morning, she awoke and never felt the same. She described it with a feeling of wanting to love. Her life had changed. She had truly surrendered her life to Him.

That night at the retreat was the same experience for me. I surrendered my own life to Jesus that night while in worship. I knew during that song something had happened that was different. I didn’t realize it then, but my life had been set on fire. My little weekend away wasn’t some temporary revival.

Now two years later, God is using me to lead MOPS at Grace Family Church. MOPS is a ministry for mothers of children ages 0-5. I now get to bless and encourage other mothers in ways that I needed when I was a new mom.Carina Deshotels

In the book “Heaven is for Real,” the little boy who visits Heaven testifies that everyone in Heaven has wings. And in the Bible, God speaks of angels and their wings. I love that I am now a witness that God’s angels aren’t puny. My mama had big wings and covered me well!

I used to wonder how I’d ever love God enough to want to see him more than my mom in Heaven. But that night at the retreat changed the way I see life and the way I see God, Heaven and eternity. It was a supernatural moment and I’d never be the same again! It’s why I have complete peace in my life about my mom dying. It’s why I have peace about when I die and why I have peace when others die whom I know are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. It’s when I became absolutely sure with every cell in my body that my soul would never cease and would forever be with my loved ones and God!

My life is living proof of the change God made in me. And I’m forever grateful for that experience.

 

by Leslee Stewart

One of the things I love most about Grace Family Church is the worship music. I always get to church early because I never want to miss a moment of worship. It’s the time when I feel closest to God. I let loose, celebrate and praise God with everything I have.

Each week, the GFC worship team leads the congregation in some of the most dynamic and diverse praise music out today. Want to praise the Lord with a Latin beat? We got that. Want to worship him with slow strings and an orchestral sound? We got that. Want to jump up and down, and pump your fists for freedom? We got that. There is always a song for everyone.

And now you don’t have to be in church to get the GFC worship experience. The new GFC worship CD, Sold Out was just released. It features some of the best songs from our weekend services. Some of my personal favorites include, “Freedom is Here,” sung with unbridled passion by Casey Bonham, “Rescue” featuring the beautiful, honest vocals of Taylor Bonham, and “Praise You,” with the awesome Regge-style rap by Dondy Telesford.

Originally I bought one copy for myself, but after listening to it for a few days, I picked up three more copies to give to friends this Christmas. I want them to get as sold out as I am!

Get your copy of Sold Out at the Source bookstore in the GFC lobby. $10 for one, or 3 for $25.

by Misty Umholtz

On any given day in my life as a mom of two small children, there is an ongoing list of things in my head that would be ideal to get accomplished in those waking hours.  On top of the daily duties of feeding, cleaning, laundering, grocery shopping, child rearing, etc., there is also the extra projects to get done ie: get pictures printed from the past four months, call a friend I haven’t spoken to in a long time, check on Southwest points, make a chore chart for my 3-year-old daughter and the list goes on.  Then there is always the list of trying to lead a balanced life: trying to fit in a work out, a shower, a quiet time with the Lord, and quality time with my husband. Not to mention the ever so important “want” list of shopping, hanging out with girlfriends, seeing a movie, and reading a book.

Sometimes I wonder, why could God not have given us more hours in the day so we can fit it all in? I have a feeling God knew all along that the parameters of the day He designed were going to pose a challenge for us. Just think back to creation. They only had sunrise to sunset to get all their work done!

I have to believe that the Lord is all knowing and all wise.  I trust that He knows what is best for us and He put the time restraints into place for our good. Instead of asking, “How can I get it all done, Lord?” maybe I should be asking, “What do you want me to get done today, Lord?” As someone who loves to check things off my list, I realize there is more to life than to-do lists in the hours that make up my days, that make up my years. There is fulfillment in knowing I am doing exactly what God wants me to be doing.

Maybe God gave us only 24 hours because we are not suppose to fit it all in.

Lord, teach us to number our days aright so we gain a heart of wisdom.”  Psalms 90:12

 

by Kim Wiezycki

Facebook. Twitter. My Space. Skype. Email. Smart Phones.

Believe it or not, I said no to all of that at one time. And I had a lot of good reasons.  You would probably agree with most of them.  I was concerned about the temptation of being pulled away from my family and responsibilities because I was communicating with others instantaneously. I was worried that some online relationships would not be healthy. I felt I might be opening a door to allowing ideas and people into our home – virtually – that shouldn’t have access. 

After a lot of prayer, and reaching the opinion that all things technological require boundaries, my eyes were opened to the benefits of getting connected to others via all this new technology.  It’s here to stay. Let’s use it for good!

Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us the importance of being with others and how banding with other believers makes us stronger. It is necessary for us to be in fellowship with each other to encourage each other in our faith in all seasons of our lives. Many times we need to be able to reach out and connect but it’s difficult to literally get out because of our daily responsibilities. Modern technology should never be a substitute for meeting with a small group or attending church. God warns us against the dangers of isolation, which can happen if we only communicate via the computer.  Many may misuse the technology which can keep us from being in real, tangible, face-to-face relationships, with others.

However, if used correctly, there are many benefits to being connected through technology. Throughout the day, I get the benefit of seeing a tweet from Pastor Rick Warren or Pastor Chris Bonham. I’ll read a blog post by GFC Beautiful or Beth Moore. Or I may take a moment to watch a video on Facebook about an upcoming sermon at my home church. Social media is a powerful tool. I know people who’ve used it to find a church or research a small group.

All of these online connections motivate me to stay the course daily (Acts 20:24), and they also remind me that I need to be connected to my believing friends, small group, pastors and their wives, and all parts of the church body. EVERY. DAY.

When to UNPLUG.

When I was a young mom of toddlers, my pastor’s wife counseled me on the importance of listening – really listening – to my children. I had a time-consuming volunteer job that I had committed to and I was passionate about. It was a worthwhile ministry and I knew God had called me to have a role in it. It required many hours on the computer several days a week. My children would frequently need me during that time. It was common for me to say over and over, “Just a few more minutes. I’ll be with you in a little bit. Give me 10 more minutes. Later. Later. Later.”  Then, my pastor’s wife showed me that telling them, “Later, later, later,” would eventually result in my kids not coming to me in the future. Why? Because I was teaching them that they were low on my list of priorities. I was teaching them that their need wasn’t as important to me as answering an email or finishing a text and I was shutting them out. She pointed out that my actions toward them at 3 and 4 years old might keep them from coming to me when they are 13 and 14 years old. YIKES! 

As with anything, there needs to be boundaries. Let the Holy Spirit guide you, convict you, teach you. Practice using modern technology with discipline. Learn how to use it for good.  And know when to turn it off.

 

by Paige Eavenson

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to step back in time and see how life was lived before smart phones, iPads and front loading washing machines? A time when women actually hand washed everything from soap they milled themselves? Well if you’re feeling sorry for yourself and all those mounds of laundry you have to tackle, then I recommend a field trip to Cracker Country at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. Not only is it fun and educational, but it will certainly give you a little perspective.

Dipping candlesCracker Country is not a real “country” but rather a living museum with hands-on stations where you can step back in time into Florida’s history and see what it would have been like to be one of Florida’s first rural settlers. 

The first place we stopped was candle making. My kids helped dip their candles in hot wax followed by dipping them in water to cool and harden the wax. They were able to take their candles home as a souvenir.

We saw how pioneer moms made their own bar soap out of pig fat and lye. They used the soap to wash everything from dishes to laundry.  Washing boardThey first used a wash board with soap and water, and then in more “modern” times they used this plunger looking contraption in a wash basin to wash their clothes.  To put it mildly ladies, we have it made when it comes to doing laundry these days.

The kids experienced a little school in the one room school house followed by recess and playing with wooden toys like a Jacob’s ladder. You can purchase the toys along with several other treats in the Cracker Country General Store.

We closed out our tour by visiting the Carlton House where we learned how the Carlton’s and their 10 children lived and did life without all the modern conveniences we have today.

The kids had a great time and I walked away with a new appreciation for all I have and a huge desire to purge. They didn’t have much back in the early 1900s but there was something beautiful about the simplicity of their lives. If you too would like to step back in time and learn more about Florida’s history visit www.crackercountry.org.