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Stephanie Shott

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Susan K. Stewart

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Letitia "Tish" Suk

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Janice Thompson

Teri Thompson

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Joan C. Webb

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And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson

 

Saturday
Sep212019

Choosing Joy in the Midst of Chaos

Julie Watson is an amazing woman. She has faced situations that could rob her of joy and peace, things that could have led to her defeat. But she is an overcomer, and in this Attitudes UPGRADE, she shares how she has found joy—and we can too.

“Decisions, decisions. Choosing joy in the midst of life’s messiness is quite the feat," Julie says, "but oh, so worth it!"

I (Dawn) have watched Julie cope with huge changes in her and her husband's life over the past few years. I can testify that she has found God faithful, and in the midst of the messiness of life, she has found God's unlimited joy.

Julie continues . . .

Ah, summer. If you’re a mom, you’ve likely just finished it. If you’re anything like me, you planned to have a great summer filled with fun activities: places to go, things to try, people to visit, etc.

And, if you’re still like me, you probably jumped for joy (to some degree) when it was over!

My HOPE is always to have the best summer, but my REALITY typically falls quite short.

I don’t know about you, but one can only take so much arguing, teasing, fighting, not listening and disobedience.

  • Behaviors get stretched to new limits when the TV and tablets are turned off because someone (or two) is grounded, and it’s too hot to go outside to play.
  • Boredom reaches new heights when Legos and Matchbox cars are the primary imagination booster to combat such yawn-inducing, brain-frying monotony.

In these instances, children often create their own “fun” which loosely translates into CHAOS for mom! And, not just any chaos, but the kind that horror stories are made of, such as: burning ants with a magnifying glass outside becomes a small brushfire (fictitious example), or a sister’s toothbrush is used as a toilet brush in a fit of assumptions, rage and revenge (a factual example from my summer).

This summer I did things differently.

Since the kids would be attending a new school, I had three whole months to work with them on the high expectations this new school has for its students.

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays we worked on math (the subject everyone is scared of at my house).

Tuesdays and Thursdays, I put their imaginations to work and had them write their very own books!

Since all three of my kids LOVE to read, I thought it was time to make them the authors of their own imagination destinations. Funny enough, they really loved that idea and dove right in!

But, oh my goodness, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays just about sent me over the edge.

The frustration and tears shed are almost too hard to relive… and I’m talking about MINE!

Trying to find even moments of joy became increasingly difficult.

The longer the summer dragged on, the harder it became. I had done some wonderful studies on joy in the past, and am still in the midst of one now. So, why was I struggling so much with finding joy in this summer chaos?

Joy is a choice, plain and simple. It’s not something given, bought, earned or found.

1. We have to RECOGNIZE who the author of joy is.

That’s Jesus. By taking our place on the cross and forgiving us our horrible sins we don’t deserve forgiveness for, He created an institution of joy within our own hearts when we accept Him.

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).

(Also see Isaiah 61:10 and John 16:24.)

2. We have to CHOOSE to be thankful for everything He has done for us.

Being grateful for our abundant blessings is the fastest way to create joy in the midst of chaos.

Even being thankful for the chaos teaches us how to cling to our Lord and Savior during the most trying of times!

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

(Also see Habakkuk 3:17-18; Galatians 5:22-23; and 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18.)

3. We have to SHARE it and spread that joy with those who need it.

In my estimation, that’s pretty much everyone!

Joy spreads like wildfire when you act in love and compassion toward another.

If we could share God’s love with others and act towards them with that same love, the world would change, one person at a time.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

 (Also see Proverbs 15:23 and Romans 15:32.)

In my case, I needed to choose to be thankful for these three little lives He had placed in our home and hearts after 17 long years of waiting.

He allowed us to become parents to some pretty amazing kids who were grateful to find a home with loving parents willing to help them with their schoolwork.

But, why had I forgotten to be thankful for them this summer? 

Because I had focused too much on the temporary frustrations and didn’t choose to be grateful for my lifelong blessings!

Are you struggling with choosing joy in the midst of chaos? Is there something you’re forgetting to be grateful for that will increase your joy meter? Reach out to a sister-in-Christ to pray with you and make a better choice for yourself today.

Joy is right there for the choosing and sharing!

Julie Watson worked in women’s and children’s ministries for 10 years as a Development and Executive Director before becoming a stay-at-home mom to three beautiful children. In 2016, God created a beautiful forever family when she and her husband, Shawn, were able to legally adopt the children. Julie now helps others find hope and freedom from emotional eating & unhealthy habits as a C.O.P.E. Certified Health Coach.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Pixabay.

Thursday
Sep192019

A Christian Response to Suicide

Note: This article is run to coincide with National Suicide Prevention MonthSeptember 2019. If you or someone youi know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or call 911 immediately.

Susan K. Stewart offers practical solutions to real-world problems. In this special Health UPGRADE, she encourages people to take a biblical view of a tough issue: suicide.

"'I tried to hang myself.'

"Shock does not convey my feelings," Susan says, "when my son spoke these words over the phone."

I (Dawn) recently tried to help a neighbor whose nephew took his own life. As I shared words of hope with my neighbor and her sister, I saw first-hand the deep, stigmatized pain in those left behind. I'm grateful for people like Susan who help us understand positive, biblical ways to address suicide and encourage others.

Susan continues . . .

I am the one in the family who remains calm during a crisis, falling apart afterwards. I tried to sound calm and collected. All I could manage “Why did you do that?”

This scene came flooding back when I heard over the phone just days ago, “Judy committed suicide.”

The family member who called went on to explain the circumstances, but I didn’t hear. My mind was back twenty years when I received the call from my son.

The shock of the news; the relief my son was still alive.

While I was processing the memory, the caller made another statement that gave me pause: “She was so religious. I didn’t think she’d ever do something like this.”

Yes, our loved one was a Christian. Yes, she did rely on God. Yes, she took her own life. Does that mean she wasn’t a “true” Christian? Does that mean she missed out on eternal life?

Why is it non-believers think believers won’t end their lives?

Why will some Christians condemn Judy for taking her life and also my son for attempting?

The church I grew up in taught suicide was an unforgivable sin because it is the taking of a life, murder, for which the person is unable to seek forgiveness. I couldn’t reconcile the love of Jesus with the shunning of families whose loved one had died at their own hand.

I later learned the only unpardonable sin is the blasphemy or, as it is translated in The Message, “when you reject the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 12:31). Total rejection of God.

If some churches teach the taking on one’s life is unpardonable, no wonder those outside the church think someone who is “religious” would not do such a thing. Why would a Christian do a such thing and not be able to be forgiven?

In Judy’s case, physical pain was so overwhelming even the heavy doses of narcotic prescriptions couldn’t overcome it. Her physical pain caused emotional and mental pain for which she was seeking relief.

What can we do to help believers and non-believers through the tragedy of suicide without guilt or condemnation?

1. Treat the family of a suicide victim as we would any other family grieving.

Prepare meals, offer to sit silently, pray with them, offer a comforting memorial service.

This family is facing a double burden:

  • grieving the loss of a loved one, and
  • reconciling the act itself.

They may be dealing with the belief their loved one committed an unforgiveable sin.

2. Understand the unique nature of the death.

Suicide is different than other deaths because of misunderstandings and stigma attached. The family members may be embarrassed or angry with themselves for not recognizing the classic signs.

Some families do not want the suicide revealed. While this sets up a veil of secrecy, which in itself may be destructive, we need to be respectful of their wishes.

3. Walk through the process

Immediately following the death, a police report will be taken. Family members and friends will be interviewed.

Having someone sit in support during this process takes the sting away.

Most cases of a suicide require an autopsy will be performed. Sometimes this process can take more than a month. There will be no body to bury for a long while. For some, this is an added burden to the grief.

Often not considered is clean up. Often that clean up will be the task of the family … an unbearable task. Someone may be needed to handle the details.

If the death is in the home, immediate family may need some place to stay. The offer of a quiet bedroom or a place for children to be comfortable may be welcome and better than staying in a hotel.

4. Help find support in the following weeks and months

Death by suicide isn’t ordinary. The grief is different.

Yes, loved ones will go through the various stages, but they may get stuck in the anger stage. Anger at themselves as well as their loved one.

Unanswerable questions are asked. Loved ones need the support of those who have walked the road. If a local group isn’t available, individual support may be needed.

I’m thankful my son’s attempt to take his life was unsuccessful. Although it was painful, the experience changed me.

"As God has comforted me, I am able to comfort others" (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

It isn’t necessary to have experienced a loved one’s suicide to help.

  • Learn how to help.
  • Speak to church leaders.
  • Seek God.
  • If called, step out in faith.

What would God have you do to support those grieving a loss from suicide?

Susan K. Stewart, Acquisition Editor with Elk Lak Publishing, is a teacher, writer, and speaker known for practical solutions to real-world situations. Her books include Harried Homeschooler’s Handbook: Finding Hope in the Havoc, Preschool: At What Cost?, Science in the Kitchen: Fearless Science at Home for All Ages, the award-winning Formatting e-Books for Writers. She brings her inspiring and encouraging messages to online and in-person conferences about homeschooling, writing, and editing. The Stewarts live in Central Texas with their three dogs, three cats, nine chickens, and a couple of donkeys. They have three children and six grandchildren. You can read more of Susan’s practical solutions at www.practicalinspirations.com.

Graphic adapted, courtesty of Richard Mcall at Pixabay.

Tuesday
Sep172019

Three Truths Depression Taught Me

Dr. Michelle Bengtson, a neuropsychologist, speaks and writes with authenticity and hope, because she has walked through some of the tough issues she works with in others. In this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, she addresses the struggle with depression.

“Most people receive from their family certain genetic predispositions: blond hair, blue eyes, an artistic bent, or an engineering mind,” Michelle says.

“My family ‘passed down’ anxiety from one side and depression from the other.”

I (Dawn) do understand “predispositions.” I was an anxious “worry wort” like my dad. But I learned the biblical truth necessary to overcome the pit of worry, just as Michelle has learned how to cope with the valley of depression.

Michelle continues . . . 

Depression is a cruel invisible disease—one that we can’t see but can have devastating effects that hurt not just those who suffer but their families and future generations as well.

As a neuropsychologist, I’ve diagnosed and treated thousands who suffered from the invisible yet devastating effects of depression. My heart goes out to them because I remember the pain, the despair, the wondering if it wouldn’t be better just not to be.

In my darkest times, desperation drew me closest to God.

Desperation made me willing.

I see this same dynamic in my patients and in others as well.

In “Secrets of the Secret Place,” Bob Sorge says,

“While none of us asks God for hardship, we can’t deny the fact that hardship produces desperation, which in turn produces intense intimacy… the wise will seek Him with desperate longing.”

I remain grateful God gives beauty for ashes, and the oil of gladness for mourning (Isaiah 61).

No one wants to endure depression, but I’m honored God used such a dark time in my life to be a light in others’ darkness. 

While I hope I never experience such dark days again, depression taught me three things that I hope will comfort others also.

Scripture says we need faith only the size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20), and what’s more, Romans 12:3 tells us that God has given each of us a measure of faith.

It’s His gift to us. Yet we can choose what to do with it.

There will always be things competing for our attention and our beliefs.

We must choose whom we will serve, what we will pay attention to, and what we will believe.

When I was deep in the valley of depression, I was quick to believe the lies of the enemy, who Scripture refers to as “the accuser of the brethren.”

He delighted in repeatedly telling me:

  • I wasn’t as good as others,
  • I was unworthy of a life of joy,
  • I didn’t have enough faith, and
  • I was destined to always feel that way.

Maybe you’ve heard those same lies too.

As long as I listened to the lies of the enemy, I let depression define me.

As long as I listened to the lies of the enemy, I ignored what God had already said about me.

God was faithful to remind me that:

1. Depression doesn’t determine our worth—God did when Christ died on the cross for us.

2. Depression doesn’t dictate our destiny—when we become Christ-followers and receive Him into our lives as Savior, that secures our destiny.

3. Nothing, not even depression, can separate us from God’s love.

Once I began to recognize the enemy’s lies operating in my thoughts, my circumstances may not have changed, but I could exercise greater gratitude for the truth: Depression didn’t define me, God did.

God declared me redeemed, beloved, esteemed, renewed, adored and healed. Knowing that and believing that brought inner joy despite the sorrow of my circumstances.

I have seen God heal people of conditions instantaneously. Other times it’s a process. Sometimes He heals through prayer and laying on of hands or anointing of oil. Other times it’s through medicine, counseling, or the daily renewing and transforming of our minds.

Yet God always desires for us to seek Him in all our ways and let Him direct our paths.

In my darkest days, I clung to the promise in James 4:8—

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

That’s how we grow closer to Him, and He gets all the glory.

The truth is, I think situations, like depression, often drive us to a strengthening of our faith and a richer testimony of His faithfulness

And in that, there is beauty for ashes.

Have you ever gone through such trials that made you desperate? Trials that strengthened your faith? Hold on to truth!

Dr. Michelle Bengtson studied neuroscience and is board certified in clinical neuropsychology with over 20 years in private practice. She recognized a deep lack of understanding of the call to “renew our minds,” and the transformational effects a renewed mind has on one’s physical and mental health and outlook. Michelle authored Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey through Depression and the Hope Prevails Bible Study; and Breaking Anxiety’s Grip: How to Reclaim the Peace God Promises (released September 2019, Revell). She blogs, maintains a Monday morning radio show, podcasts at GraceandTruthRadio.world, is a frequent guest on Fox News Radio, and speaks at conferences and churches internationally. Visit her website.

Graphic adapted, Pile of Ash from VermontWoodPellet.com.

Thursday
Sep122019

Upgrade Anxiety to Excitement in 4 Steps

Joanie Shawhan is a "choosing joy" sort of person, despite some tough circumstances she has faced. In this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, she helps us choose a positive, godly attitude over one that can be debilitating.

"My heart raced," Joanie said. "Why was I dreading what should have been a fun celebration?"

Joanie Shawhan has been on one of my (Dawn's) big encouragers in a cancer journey, often challenging me to turn my fearful thoughts into faith, and my anxious thoughts to joy. So I'm excited to read her four steps to "upgrading" anxiety into excitement—and I hope you will be too.

So practical. So real.

Joanie continues . . .

Several months ago, my book, In Her Shoes: Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer, was released. With a friend’s help, I organized a book launch party in my home. We prayed, planned, and prepared. Every detail had been taken into account.

But when the morning arrived, I felt anxious, devastated, and drained.

What happened?

First, Mother Nature had overstepped her boundaries.

I was sure by the end of April we would’ve accelerated into spring with any significant snowfall relegated to the rear. But I was wrong! Instead, a massive snow band hovered over the highways my guests would be traveling. The swath shifted every few hours with predictions ranging from a dusting to eight inches.

Several out-of-town visitors cancelled. Would my only guests be my faithful helpers? I feared my launch party would flop.

Desperate, I cried out to God.

Suddenly I experienced an aha moment—sometimes anxiety and excitement can produce similar physiological responses!

The same sensations I was experiencing: accelerated heart rate, rapid shallow breaths, trembling, muscle tension, and butterflies in the stomach can be caused by either anxiety or excitement.

But I was so familiar with these sensations that for me they signaled only anxiety. I had never associated these physical manifestations with excitement.

Would I allow anxiety to rob me of the excitement and joy of celebrating my book release?

I realized I needed to CHOOSE EXCITEMENT.

That’s when I felt the Lord whisper, “Rejoice!”

In anticipation of fun events and celebrations, how do we switch our thought tracks from anxiety to excitement?

Here are a few ideas.

1. Ask God to help us recognize the presence of anxiety.

Sometimes we become so familiar with an emotion or emotional response that we fail to recognize the source of that vague sense of unease or apprehension.

We need to identify our feelings and the lies we believe about our situation in order to respond appropriately.                                                                                    

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts (Psalm 139:23 NIV).

2. Discern if the emotional response is appropriate for the situation.

Since anxiety and excitement can produce similar physical cues, we must determine if the situation is a real or imagined threat.

Anxiety can take us on an imaginary train ride of numerous what-ifs that never happen, derailing our strength and joy.

We need to rein in our runaway thoughts.                                                        

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Philippians 4:8 NIV).

3. Pray with thanksgiving.

Thanking God changes our focus from our problem to the loving God who cares for us.

I had much to be thankful for. The book I had labored over for years was finally in print. I had prayed and placed the details of my book launch party in the capable hands of God and many friends.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6 NIV).

4. Choose excitement.

I chose to use the emotions I associated with anxiety—my racing heart, quivering stomach, and chest tightness—to fuel excitement instead of anxiety.

This choice immediately changed my perspective.

A new joy and strength surged through my body and emotions. I was excited about my party.                                                                              

Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength! (Nehemiah 8:10 NLT)

Rejoicing and choosing excitement over anxiety changed me as well as the atmosphere of my book launch party. Despite the threats of snow, I welcomed a house full of guests. I enjoyed their company, signed books, and gave away fun door prizes.

I felt energized, excited, and joyful.

This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24 NKJV).

How do you upgrade when anxiety attempts to rob your joy?

Joanie Shawhan is an ovarian cancer survivor, registered nurse and author of In Her Shoes: Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer. She has been a featured guest on podcasts, radio, and television. You can find her media interviews, blog, speaker topics, and contact information at www.joanieshawhan.com. Her book, In Her Shoes: Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer, is available at Amazon 

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay.

Tuesday
Sep102019

Seeking Spiritual Discernment Is Brave

Janet Thompson writes solid, biblical books on a number of tough topics—cancer, prodigal children, infertility, mentoring, etc.—and in this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, she challenges us to look at the topic of discernment, which is more than just knowing what to do.

"Imagine a scenario where you observe a situation and your instinct tells you something isn’t right, but you look around and no one else seems alarmed," Janet said. "Everyone is carrying on as if nothing abnormal is happening.

"Do you intervene or do you walk away?"

Good question! I (Dawn) have often prayed for discernment about a tough situaiton, and then when I got that answer from the Lord, sometimes it was truly hard to follow through. I'm glad Janet is taking the topic of discernment one step further, because sometimes we need courage to obey God's direction!

Janet continues . . .

As women of faith, praying for the spirit of discernment can prove to be a brave and bold request in itself.

When we humbly ask God to reveal His will to us for specific situations, even when others may not see what we perceive, God may ask us to perform courageous acts that could be life-saving or forever life-changing.

We can become the brave spiritual warriors that our world needs so desperately.

We tend to categorize “brave women” as those who go into the mission field or into the military. Police officers, firefighters, first responders. Any woman who goes into a dangerous career, willing to lay down her life for a job, cause or belief is superhero—brave in our eyes.

Or we may only attribute bravery to men.

Typically, we don’t consider that “ordinary” women like you and me display real bravery and courage every single day, often in the routines of life.

We may not realize that a courageous heart makes us “superheroes” to those who know us and especially to God.

How Do We Know When God Wants Us to Bravely Intervene?

James 1:5–6 reminds us:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

1. Pray.

Prayerfully seek the Holy Spirit’s wise direction and guidance gleaned from reading the Bible and prayer.

Spiritual discernment and godly wisdom lets God guide.

2. Be patient.

Discernment takes time and effort to develop as we grow and mature in our faith and develop an ability to sense God’s plan and purpose in a given situation.

3. Obey.

Expectantly ask God for the willingness, strength, and desire to take whatever action our discernment dictates and let God handle the consequences.

Some Christians are more sensitive than others to the still small voice of God; but with patience, studying—not just reading—God’s Word, and a desire to know God’s will, we all have the ability to seek and obtain discernment to be braver than we ever thought possible.

Maybe you’ve sensed the pain behind a word or facial movement or body stance. You know there’s a sadness hidden behind, “No, everything is fine.”

Discernment is seeing what others may not see or say.

It’s more than just a hunch, or burying our hunch in denial, even when faced with observable evidence of a problem. When we discern a situation, we have a choiceignore or ask God what He wants us to do about it.

Sometimes, we can wait to take action, but other times we can’t dodge, deny, or dismiss the signs that our discernment is revealing—we’re the ones who must act immediately.

In Everyday Brave, I tell the biblical story of Huldah, an Old Testament prophetess who King Josiah asked to decipher the meaning of the lost “book of the law” found during restoration of the temple. Huldah felt dismay, but not panic, as she resolutely read the words in “the book.” She knew she must bravely tell the king the dreadful consequences of the Israelites’ sin and rebellion.

God wanted her to proclaim the truth, no matter how distressing, from His written Word.

Fortunately, because of King Josiah’s grief over hearing from Huldah about his people’s unfaithfulness to follow God’s laws and His covenant with them, God gave a reprieve of punishment during Josiah’s reign.

Josiah took advantage of God’s grace to initiate a spiritual revival.

Lives saved, spiritually and physically, all because Huldah bravely resolved to interpret God’s Word truthfully, even though it was painful for all to hear.

In moments that require the spirit of discernment, we need to pray for God’s protection and then respond to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. If we ignore the Holy Spirit, we may regret it or even feel responsible for a preventable crisis.

It takes great courage to step out in faith on a revealed truth.

If it’s God’s will, He will be there, giving us the help and reassurance we need when it’s difficult or others shy away from getting involved.

When you act on Holy Spirit–inspired discernment, you’re braver than you know.

So what would you do now when facing a situation you know isn’t right? 

Janet Thompson is an international speaker, freelance editor, and award-winning author. She mentors women in sharing their life experiences and God’s faithfulness. Janet's latest book, Everyday Brave: Living Courageously as a Woman of Faith, releases today, September 10, 2019! Among the 20 books she's authored: Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life Experiences and God’s Faithfulness; Forsaken God? Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten; Dear God, Why Can’t I Have a Baby?; Dear God They Say It’s Cancer; Dear God, He’s Home!; Praying for Your Prodigal Daughter. She founded Woman to Woman Mentoring and About His Work Ministries. Sign up for Janet's blog/free newsletter at womantowomanmentoring.com.

Graphic adapted, Photo courtesy of Bethany Laird on Unsplash.