Stretched

By Leslee Stewart

When I was a kid, one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons was Plastic Man. He was this superhero who could stretch his body into any shape. His body was flexible, bendable, Plastic Manmoldable, pliable. And while my physical body hasn’t done the splits since sixth grade, my emotional “body” has had to perform a lot like Plastic Man over the past few months.

This year, I’ve taken on some additional responsibilities that have stretched me. It’s been exciting and wonderful, but of course, my responsibilities to my husband, my kids, my family and friends still continue.  In taking on this new role, I’ve had some obstacles to overcome but God’s grace has been there to see me through every situation, decision and circumstance.

When God created woman, he gave us this amazing multi-tasking gift. It’s no big deal for us to be cooking, talking on the phone and vacuuming at the same time. Even though he gave us this gift, he never expected us to accomplish life without his help.

But when my life gets busy and I’m being stretched like Plastic Man, the first thing to slip off my “to do” list is time with God.  My relationship with Him gets put on the back burner and I find myself giving him “shout outs” throughout the day, asking for help, but never drawing close to him.

My grandmother used to have this needlepoint hanging on her wall that said, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” That perfectly describes my quiet time with God when I’m stretched thin.

In James 1:5 it says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask of God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

I’ve always loved this verse. To me it’s meant, as God’s child, if I need wisdom about something, I have the right to go to him and request that he give me the answers I’m seeking. And when I’m feeling stretched, I do a lot of asking in those shout outs.

This week God showed me that in this verse, there is a place God draws us to in order to receive that wisdom. The phrase, “of God,” essentially means alongside of God and depicts a very close, side-by-side position next to Him.  Picture it as sitting next to God. In this verse, it is saying; if we want God’s wisdom, we must come right up alongside of him in order to obtain it.

He wants a relationship with us. He doesn’t want to just freely hand out answers to our issues. He wants us to come to him. And the moment we get side-by-side with God, he opens his hand and reveals what we need to know about the situations we are facing and gives us peace in the midst of trials.  

But so often we are too busy with our lives – stretched too thin – to get intimate with God. We want God to meet us on demand, but we don’t want to take the time to meet God’s request that we first draw close to him. He created us to communicate, fellowship and spend time with him. He needs us to seek him, as much as we need him to find us.

So today, God, forgive me for rushing in and out of your Presence – making my demands and insisting on things I need but not taking enough time to sit with You. I’m making a commitment to include You in my schedule today. Not just a quick shout out, but a time of real connection. May spending time with You be the highest priority in my life.

All Things Beautiful

By Vivian Germain

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

What does this mean in my own life? I was 3 months old when both of my parents decided to give me away to my Grandma. My mother did not want to raise a girl and my father, well my father didn’t care for children at all.

From the beginning of my life, it was like someone had put a “rejected” stamp on my forehead. I grew up believing that no one loved me or wanted me. My father’s sister took it upon herself to provide and care for me. She sent me to private school, bought me good clothes and tried to make me feel like I belonged to her.

Vivian GermainDespite all of her efforts, I grew up with low self-esteem, a poor self-image and a whole lot of insecurities. My behavior proved how broken I was and how desperate I was to find someone to love me and would never leave me.

I always believed in God and there wasn’t any doubt in my mind that He was the creator, the Alpha and the Omega, but in my situation He was just too far to be reached. He wasn’t guilty for my hurt nor would I let Him be the solution for my pain. The truth was I didn’t know Him.

I was 23 years old, broken and pregnant, when I ran to God and decided to accept His love, forgiveness and guidance. He became the father and mother I never had. Psalm 27:10 says, “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.” This has been the reality of my life since I received Christ. He has surely shown me the blessings in my situation.

Today, I can certainly say that I’m grateful God spared me from being raised by two drunkards. He gave me a sense of family through my aunt and I am blessed beyond compare. I have an incredible husband that is compassionate and loving, and three beautiful children that fill my heart with joy. I know that God wasn’t just sitting there looking at the injustice that was being done in my life. He knew and He cared. He has made everything beautiful in its time.

When bad things happen to you, whether they are caused by your poor choices or life has dealt you a bad hand, God can turn it around, restore your life and give you more than you can ever imagine. You just have to come to Him. He is waiting with open arms for you!

Hip Hip, Hurray!

by Maria Ausburn

OH MY DEAR!! I just want to get out my pom poms, jump up and down, and scream, “YEA!!”

Let me explain why.

It’s September 12th at 9:28 p.m. and I recently arrived home from our first Beautiful Monday night bible study. It was amazing!

I led a table and every woman at my table was there by a divine appointment. Although women weren’t sure they had chosen this table at the Beautiful launch, we quickly realized it didn’t matter.

As I sat there listening to these women speak into one another’s lives and into my life, I saw how they connected to each other in a way that only God could have orchestrated. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable in the group on the first night! Did I mention that we all just met tonight? Amazing!

At the end of the night, when we gave each other hugs goodbye, everyone felt as I did – connected to another women who once may have been a stranger, but now is a familiar face that may lead to a lifelong friend.

The Beautiful Ministry is for every woman in any stage of life. Beautiful Monday nights are a wonderful way to connect, whether you have been at Grace Family Church in Tampa since its beginning, or you just started attending.

I’m so excited about this new opportunity and can’t wait to get back there next week!

Beautiful Monday nights meet each week in the GFC sanctuary at 7 p.m. This large-group, women’s Bible study offers worship, dynamic speakers and small group discussion at each table. For more information, email beautiful@gfconline.com.

Something Beautiful

By Paige Eavenson

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

If beauty is God’s handwriting, then he was leaving His signature all over Grace Family Church and the women who attended the launch of our new women’s ministry, Beautiful, on August 29th.beautiful launch night

The Beautiful women’s ministry was birthed out of a desire for every woman within our church, young and old, to feel loved, chosen and empowered to do all that God has called each woman to do. After months of praying and planning we were finally able to unveil our new identity.

The night was bubbling with anticipation. As each woman walked through the door you could sense something exciting was about to happen. Many women were sporting their new, “Beautiful” t–shirts, and each lady that entered the building had and an exceptionally beautiful glow about them.beautiful ladies at launch

When the doors opened to the sanctuary, the music was loud, the stage was all set and the women poured in from all directions, all 600 of them! The night kicked off with Kristin Bonham, our women’s ministry director, casting the vision of Beautiful and introducing her team. After an awesome worship time, Grace Family Church members, Rachel Ward, Terri Blanchard and Paula Friesen shared their testimonies on how small groups have impacted their lives. Our pastor’s wife, Debbie Altman, then took the stage to remind us that small groups are the heartbeat of our church and without them the ministry that happens each week at Grace Family would not be the same. The service included time for each woman to visit different small group stations, where they heard from our small group leaders in hopes of finding a group to join.

As someone who has been a part of Grace Family for many years, it was incredible to see God work out all the details and stir the hearts of so many women to come out and get connected. The Lord allowed fun and amazing things to happen at our launch party and I can only imagine what He has in store for the future.beautiful launch connecting

I once heard that if you’re looking to find your place in a community, or this world for that matter, just look around at what God is already doing and join in, offering your own gifts and talents. Ladies, something beautiful is happening at Grace Family Church and I challenge you to invite a friend, get connected and let God work something beautiful in your own life.

Click here for more information on small groups, or you can email women@gfconline.com.

P.S. Here is a link to a few pictures of our launch party in case you missed it. You are Beautiful!

Words with Friends

Learning to speak the truth in love
By Leslee Stewart

One of my favorite ministers, Joe McGee, once said, “Some of the greatest joys in life are things people have said to us. Some of the worst things in life are things people have said to us. Some of the deepest regrets we have in life are things we’ve said.”

Words wield amazing power. They can bless or they can wound. And our relationships are often where we see this play out. Be it between a husband and wife, a parent and child, or friend to friend, often our words are no respecter of persons.

So how do you share the truth without hurting someone you love?

You must examine your own heart to be certain what you have to share is from a place of helping, not wounding.

Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” A friend has your best interests at heart, whereas, even when trying to show affection, an enemy doesn’t. The NIV Quest Study Bible comments on this verse: “These wounds are rebukes or criticism intended to correct. Even though they are painful, they are of more use than the flattery or insincerity of an enemy. Somebody else who criticizes may be trying to harm, whereas friends do it to build up.”

Many years ago, a dear friend was faced with making one of the toughest decisions of her life – a decision that I believed would not prosper her or bring her closer to fulfilling the call of God on her life. As much as I loved her (still do), I knew I needed to speak the truth to her about what she was considering.

For years, she had been an “iron-sharpening” friend to me (Prov. 27:17). She had always challenged me to be a better student, daughter, Christian and friend, and vice versa. I prayed that God would open her heart to hear what I had to say, and that in saying it, regardless of her decision, we would be able to continue our friendship.

One commentary I read on Proverbs 27:6 said, “It is far better that a wound should be probed than covered. Rebuke – kindly, considerately, and prayerfully administered – cements friendship rather than loosens it. The contrary instances only prove that the union had never been based upon substantial principle.”

Wow. I so get that! Have you ever delivered the truth to someone – especially someone you thought you knew – only to have it backfire on you and the friendship crumble? In the situation with my friend, I believed I knew her heart – and she knew mine – but I was willing to risk our friendship in order to deliver the truth.

In sharing my heartfelt concern, my friend wasn’t happy to hear it. She believed she had no choice in the matter and had to move forward with her decision, regardless of the outcome. While this wasn’t thereaction I was hoping for, I knew I had to love her through it anyway.

And as I watched her walk through a very dark time in her life, I did everything I could to show her grace, love and compassion – not condemnation – as she struggled to find her way. Confrontation is never easy, but I believe the wounds of a true friend are always meant for healing.

It’s been almost 15 years since my friend and I had that conversation. The experience didn’t tear us apart. Instead it brought a new depth and respect to our relationship. Recently, I heard a poem that best expresses it:

I love you now.
I’ll love you when,
You’re hard to love,
‘Cause you’re my friend.