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And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson

 

Thursday
Jul262018

Focus on the 'Beneficial'

In this Choices UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson shares a principle that helps her make a lot more wise and godly choices.

I reached out for another Dove candy. Now there’s nothing wrong with a Dove candy. I love the dark chocolate, the milk chocolate and all the other new flavors. (I'll be honest. I love just about ANY kind of chocolate. Don't even get me started on See's. But let me tell you my Dove story.)

I reached out for a chocolate, nestled in my crystal candy dish, and I heard this little voice in my brain. . . 

“Now how is that going to help you?”

“What do you mean HELP me?” I asked the voice.

“I mean,” the voice continued, “I know you want the chocolate. I know you even crave the chocolate. It’s inviting and there’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Right—so what’s the problem?”

“An hour from now, is it going to be something you'll be glad you ate?”

I wanted to say, “Of course.”

But I stopped short, my hand poised over the candy dish.

Why? Because another voice (and I believe it was the Spirit of God) reminded me of a scripture.

Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians 10:23:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.

“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

In other words, there are lots of lawful (morally legitimate or permissible) things we are free to do because God is generous to His children and we live under grace.

"But...", Paul says.

It's that word "but" that stopped me from taking a piece of candy.

Now there is nothing sinful about a Dove candy. In fact, sometimes it might be a good and right choice.

But in that moment, when I thought about it, I knew this was not the time for a chunk of chocolate.

But how often do I even stop to THINK about it.

As I am thinking about food and a lot of other issues in light of Paul's words, I’m noticing:

  • Not everything is good for me.
  • Not everything is advantageous.
  • Not everything is helpful.
  • Not everything strengthens my body.
  • Not everything builds up my character.
  • Not everything edifies my spiritual life.
  • Not everything is a good example to others.
  • Not everything shows sensitivity and deference.

For years I’ve written about choices. We make them every day. And as I’ve said, we make so many choices without a thought.

I’ve found the toughest choices are about the things that are OK, but not necessarily the best for me.

I don’t have to get crazy and legalistic or endlessly dissect every option that comes my way. But there's something I should do.

I need to consider what is best for me, is a blessing to others and is a means to honor God.

I need to think about how I can live well and help others live well, and how I can please the Lord.

Beneficial choices are “favorable or advantageous, resulting in good.” They have positive benefits and are valuable, profitable and rewarding.

Who wouldn’t want that?

This topic of things being beneficial was a powerful concept for Paul. In 1 Corinthians 6:12, he gave more insight, writing:

“Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial.

“Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything.

There's a lot more at stake than we think!

How do we focus on what is beneficial so we can make wise choices?

1. Ask God for wisdom.

The sovereign God knows what is best for us. He knows how our bodies and our lives should operate. He wants to help us know too, but we must pray and ask Him for wisdom (James 1:5).

I remember hearing a “missionary story” years ago. A missionary prayed for some special foods he was craving, and when a crate arrived from the states, he opened it with great excitement.

Imagine his dismay to find bags and bags and bags of white rice. He said he struggled with godly contentment in that moment.

But sometime later, he became gravely ill and the doctor prescribed—you guessed it—white rice! The missionary thanked his Father in heaven for sending exactly what he needed ahead of time.

Rather than asking amiss (James 4:3), let’s ask God for what is right and helpful, the most beneficial. HE KNOWS what we need!

2. Give Yourself More Beneficial Options.

When I decided I wanted to become healthier and lose weight in the process, one of the first things I did was reduce and eliminate the unhealthy options in my kitchen and replace them with lots of good, healthy “eats.”

When constantly faced with something that’s NOT beneficial, it’s only a matter of time before we’re tempted to give in to temptation.

But stocking our pantry with healthy options invites a healthy focus. We still have to choose wisely, but it’s smart to give ourselves positive, healthy alternatives.

A Helpful Note: While you consider the "options" in your life that can help you conquer your unhealthy or ungodly habits, be careful not to make room for the enemydon't give the devil any opportunities (Ephesians 4:27). Is there something that needs to go?

3. Set Your Heart on the Master.

The early church struggled with what to do regarding food sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 10:23-33). In that context, Paul said everything is permissible or "lawful" (v. 23), but—as I said earlier—he also didn’t want to be "mastered" or dominated by sinful habits (1 Corinthians 6:12) and he didn't want to be a stumbling block to anyone coming to Christ.

Paul didn’t want habits and choices to hinder him or destroy his testimony and ministry.

He wanted to do all to the glory of God and with a spirit of gratitude (1 Corinthians 10:30-33).

Likewise, we don't want to be enslaved by sexual immorality, lying, gluttony, arrogance or any other sinful patterns. We want to do all things to the praise of God's glorious grace (Ephesians 1:6).

Another disciple, Peter, knew that whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:19).

Rather than be overcome, we can be overcomers in Christ.

When our hearts are set on the Master, we will live in freedom and not want to BE "mastered" by enslaving choices and habits. In Christ, we can make choices that are beneficial for our own lives and the lives of others.

We might mess up a lot and make unbeneficial, enslaving choices—I certainly do—but what direction are we moving. Toward obedience and contentment? Or toward wilfulness and foolish discontent.

  • Instead of focusing on your weaknesses, focus on Jesus, your strength.
  • Instead of focusing on what you can't have, consider all you already have!

4. Don’t Forget God’s “Benefits”

When we think about something that is beneficial to us, we don't want to forget the One who gives us these benefits!

He blesses us simply because we are His children. He extends great mercy. He gives great grace. He saves us and then transforms us.

We already are so blessed. Let's never forget that.

In Psalm 103:1-5, the Psalmist praises God because He:

  1. Forgives all our sin;
  2. Heals all our diseases—in eternity, if not now;
  3. Redeems us from the “pit” of destruction in hell;
  4. Crowns (lavishly surrounds) us with His faithful love and mercy;
  5. Satisfies us with good things; and
  6. Renews our strength.

We are such discontented people. We want more and more, and forget our abundance in Christ. I am thankful for all of these things the Psalmist listed and so much more. I am so blessed.

Yes, God saved me, is changing me, and He desires to satisfy me with good, beneficial things.

Sometimes He might bless me with "white rice"—because He knows what I need.

And sometimes He might bless me with a yummy Dove candy—because He loves me and delights in giving good gifts.

What are some of the benefits you are enjoying as a child of God? How can focusing on those benefits give you a different perspective for change and spiritual growth?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator the blog, Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Heartsand a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Wednesday
Jul252018

Communicate Well with that 'Irregular' Person

Kathy Collard Miller speaks well to relationships, and especially how we get along. In this Communication UPGRADE, she offers biblical insight into communication skills we all need.

“Someone has said, ‘An irregular person is anyone we don’t get along with,’” Kathy says. “But we should remember someone may be calling us their irregular person! And maybe it’s because our communication skills could improve.”

That is so true! I (Dawn) discovered that when the Lord opened my eyes about someone I thought was too direct and a bit critical in our conversations. As it turned out, I was hyper-sensitive and reactive—something I needed to change.

Kathy continues . . .

It’s easy to think negatively about someone when there is a lack of harmony between us.

“After all, if she weren’t such an irregular kind of person, she wouldn’t misunderstand me. All my other friends understand me. It must be her."

I’ve been studying the biblical book of Proverbs and communication is an important topic in that practical book. Let’s see what insights God offers us for better communication. Maybe we are more irregular than we think.

There are always skills we can learn.

1. Talk less than you think you should even if you feel defensive.

Proverbs 10:19 urges us, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (ESV).

How true, how true. We all are able to hold our tongue and, at that point, things are going well.

But then we reach our limit and we try to defend ourselves with many words.

Most of the time, many words get us in big trouble.

The more we say, the less we are heard and understood. One temptation is adding points that aren’t relevant to the current topic.

“Oh, and by the way, I’ve been meaning to tell you also about how a month ago you….”

Our many words have now become more complicated and the real issue is harder to deal with.

Less is more in relationships, and especially with someone we aren’t connecting with well. Let’s ask God to help us speak less than more.

2. Keep your voice soft.

Of course such advice as “keep your voice soft” seems impossible, but it really is possible to learn. You’ll be motivated even more when you begin to see the advantages it brings.

Proverbs 15:1 tells us, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

At the time of dealing with someone who seems against us, we feel powerless. They won’t listen nor heed what we’re saying. Everything within us wants to be heard and by golly, we’ll raise our voice to make it happen.

DON'T.

It’ll be the hardest thing ever, but don’t. Instead, use the “broken record technique.” Just say the main point over again in a normal voice.

For instance, “I hear you think I said … but I really said ….” When the person raises her voice and is defensive, again repeat softly, “I hear you think I said … but I really said…” Repeat again as needed—softly!

This is extremely hard but it is possible in God’s power. As a result, you’ll see anger is less likely to be stirred up and there’s a better possibility of a positive conversation.

3. In the end, God must be the one we depend upon to protect us.

After all we’ve done, our efforts may not gain us what we want. Our “irregular” person may respond more aggressively, and we wonder what they are thinking of us. Is it even worse than before?

Our only peace must come from the truth of Proverbs 30:5: “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”

Our words haven’t gained us what we wanted, but God’s Word never goes wrong. The Lord knows the truth about us and our intentions, and He will protect us according to His loving will for us.

We can trust Him.

What can I do to help communicate with the person who seems irregular to me? When my efforts don’t turn out the way I’d prefer, how can I find God as my refuge?

Kathy Collard Miller is the author of over 50 books, her most recent is No More Anger: Hope for an Out-of-Control Mom (Elk Lake Publishing, Inc.). She loves to speak at evenats and has spoken in more than 30 US states and eight foreign countries. Learn more about Kathy at www.KathyCollardMiller.com.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Pasja1000 at Pixabay.

Thursday
Jul192018

Connection 101: Girl-friendship Is a Gift

Deb DeArmond cares about relationships—all kinds of relationships. In this Friendship UPGRADE, she offers insight to help us cultivate our friendships with other women.

It’s the test," Deb says, "of any friendship: the vacation without husbands, kids or other friends to cushion the shock of 24 hours together. On the ocean. In a cabin. For seven days."

That sounds heavenly to me (Dawn), but I'm sure there could be challenges. It's important we learn to grow up in our friendships.

Deb continues . . .

It was a bit on the early side of the Alaska cruise season, so Cindy and I landed an incredible upgrade with spacious digs, attentive staff, and a week of total luxury.

Fabulous meals, beautiful ports, and interesting folks on board.

And a lot of togetherness.

Girl-friendships, even for Christians, have often been challenging.

“Am I her favorite? Does she like me best?”

Remember in third grade, when the “new girl” was introduced to the class? We eyed her nervously, concerned she’d replace us in our bestie’s heart. We worked for that position and protected it fiercely. 

Step back, newbie. She’s mine.

We may be adults, but women still compete for that top spot—and the enemy will try to use these relationship needs against us if we’re not careful. 

I’m blessed to say it’s something Cindy and I have not struggled with.

Why not?

She and I are an unlikely twosome. Californians, now living in Texas. Close in age, married 40+ years. Adult kids and grandbabes. But that’s about it.

We’re wired differently, choose different hobbies, and we think differently; our needs and preferences are dissimilar. We’re an odd couple.

But that doesn’t mean we aren’t compatible—we both love God and His Word fiercely.

God created us to need others.

  • Read Genesis. Even though God was with Adam from the start, He saw the need and created Eve.
  • The disciples numbered twelve, but three—Peter, James, and John—were those Jesus held close in the best and worst of times.
  • David and Jonathan.
  • Ruth and Naomi.

It’s a biblical pattern. We need relationship.

Cindy and I discussed our friendship on the cruise. That it’s risen to the level of importance it holds in our lives is surprising.

Here was our Alaskan epiphany: we don’t compete. With one another or for one another’s affection, time, and that all-important top spot in one another’s life.

We’re never fearful the other is “cheating” on us with other friends.

We have other friends. Close friends. And we’re grateful for each of them: colleagues, neighbors, quilting buddies, and writing partners.

We don’t see one another as often as we’d like. But we do life together, just not usually in the same place.

We don’t live in one another’s pockets. We can’t. She recently moved three hours away, but the distance has deepened our relationship.

We’re more intentional about staying connected.

So maybe that, too, is a gift. If we need one another—for any reason, day or night—we’re available and fully present.

We’ve confided in one another, knowing it’s “in the vault.”  Trusted. No judgment. A genuine gift from the Lord.

How do we do it? Here are three tips we discovered.

1. We have healthy expectations of one another.

She doesn’t need me to provide what only God can deliver. I’ve not made her the center of my emotional well-being—that’s His job.

Sometimes when women are lonely or need encouragement they turn to their bestie instead of God. Not in addition to God, but instead. If that one gets mixed up, it’s a quick trip to trouble.

2. We rely on one another—for companionship, truth telling when needed, mercy (always needed) and the joy of experiencing life with one who helps to make the other better.

I can count on her to sharpen me, challenge me and pray for me. She depends on me for the same.

3. We are champions for one another.

Because we don’t compete, we can genuinely celebrate the other’s success. Everyone needs a cheerleader!

God expects us to grow up, and that includes our friendships.

“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11 NLT).

I’d like to have the energy and youthfulness I had in third grade or the calorie burning ability of days playing hopscotch. But I’ll take grown-up God-given relationships over those schoolyard alliances any day!

Which of those three tips need improving in your own friendships?

Deb DeArmond’s passion is family—not just her own, but the relationships within families in general. Her first bookRelated by Chance, Family by Choice: Transforming the Mother-in-Law and Daughter-in-Law Relationships explores tools and tips to building sound relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. Book #2, I Choose You Today, helps couples strengthen their marriages. Deb's newest book on marital conflict, Don't Go to Bed Angry, Stay Up and Fight! was co-authored by her husband, Ron. They live in the Fort Worth area. For more about Deb, visit her "Family Matters" site.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of RawPixel at Pixabay.

Tuesday
Jul172018

Finish Summer with a Flourish

Talk about getaways, and Letitia Suk's your resource! In this Rest and relaxation UPGRADE, she suggests ways to not regret one summer day. Finish this season with a flourish!

"Summer’s not over yet but in a few short weeks, the kitchen calendar will rapidly fill up again," Letitia says. "How can you still check off at least a few items from your seasonal bucket list before the leaves begin to fall?"

I (Dawn) don't want to end up on Auguest 31st with adventures left undone. I'm glad Letitia reminds us to be proactive about each special day.

Letitia continues . . .

Throughout what feels like the endless Midwest winter, I entertain myself with thoughts of summer.

None of the other 266 days of the year seem to hold as much possibility as the 99 days of summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The words of Ecclesiastes 8:15 (NIV) seem especially apt for this luscious season: So, I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.”

So often, though, half way through the summer, I realize most of my "looked-forward" items are in the “yet to do” category.

Without some intentional planning, they'll never happen.

How about you?

  • Read your summer novel yet?
  • Flagged down the ice cream truck?
  • Had a glass of iced tea on the patio with a new magazine?
  • Visited an al fresco café for lunch?

Maybe you’ve got that all covered. But in case you need some ideas, here are ten ways to SAVOR the last half of summer.

1. Take yourself out for breakfast and fantasize how you would like to spend the rest of the summer.

Don’t worry about it being realistic! That part comes after the brainstorm.

2. Grab your calendar and set up a couple play dates just for you. 

Lunch with a friend? Art gallery or flea market? Get the invites out now.

3. Plan to prepare easy meals and eat outdoors as often as you can.

Everything tastes better when dining outside in your back yard, front steps or wherever you can find a spot.

4. Change up your usual reading to something lighter.

Try a new-to-you devo or Bible reading plan for early summer mornings.

5. Plan an enjoyable adventure like a long bike ride, an afternoon of hiking, paddling a canoe.  

It's OK to invite the family to join you!

6. Find an outdoor concert and pack or pick up a picnic to bring along.

Live music seems to show up everywhere in the summer. It’s fun to bring your husband or friend but going alone works too.

7. Watch a favorite movie outside at a park district venue or on your laptop in your own backyard after the kids are down for the night.

8. Take an excursion to a local farmer’s market and try a new recipe with the vegetables you bring home.

Salsa anyone?

9. Play in the water with or without a child at the beach or local pool and just enjoy the sensation of the water, sights and sounds.

10. Plan something to look forward to in the fall just for you.

The anticipation will help sustain you when the fall frenzy is about to begin.

When we are filled from life giving pursuits, we can draw on that reserve for the mayhem and meltdowns down the road.

What starts off looking like self-care ends up as other-care as the spillover from time well spent easily fills into those around us.

How do you savor summer? What summer-only event or activity can you add this week?

Letitia (Tish) Suk, invites women to create an intentional life centered in Jesus. She is a blogger and author of Getaway with God: The Everywoman’s Guide to Personal Retreat and Rhythms of Renewal. Tish is a speaker, personal retreat guide and life coach in the Chicago area. For more information about Letitia Suk, visit her webpage.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Jill 111 at Pixabay.

Thursday
Jul122018

The Pulse of Prayer in Grief

Sally Ferguson writes with clarity and sensitivity, and this post is no exception. In this Grief UPGRADE, she shares how prayer is the lifeline for believers who grapple with the devastation of grief.

"I curled up next to my 95 year old grandmother, as we contemplated how our lives had turned upside down," Sally says. "Her only child, my mom, had died suddenly of heart failure."

I (Dawn) think every loved one's passing bring's grief, but the sudden loss is especially hard. I remember my prayers when my daddy passed unexpectedly into eternity. I felt like I mumbled prayers only the Spirit of God could understand; I was in so much pain. Sally understands this and has a good word of encouragement for us here.

Sally continues . . .

Facing the loss of his business partner and wife of 54 years, my dad entered no-man’s land of mental collapse.

I felt like I had not only lost one parent, but two.

The ensuing months of doctor visits with Dad, hospital stays and tests brought a diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s. His ability to function was enhanced by a multitude of drugs, and his subsequent move into my home was brightened by the presence of my toddling granddaughter.

In the worst of times, I saw my grandmother and my father rely on the Lord. That night cradled next to my Gra’ma, I glimpsed a window into heaven when I heard the most intimate prayer of a child relying on her heavenly Father for her needs.

In days when Dad was not able to express much else, he could respond with prayer that made more sense than a lot of the words I’ve uttered.

What is it about a lifestyle of prayer that ingrains a habit so deeply in the heart and enables one to call out to God, even in the midst of the unthinkable?

On my friend’s deathbed, her practice of prayer was still a priority. But it was for others, not herself.

At 54, her body was ravaged by cancer, but her mind still held on to the promises of God found in Christ. As different ones visited in her hospital room, Jodie bowed her head and lifted an earnest request for each one gathered around her bed.

Her pleas for their protection and guidance were fueled by the urgency of her own mortality.

I met with my 91-year-old writer friend, Bea, the second week in December. By the third day of January, she was gone.

Bea and I had prayed over many manuscripts and life needs, and each time she prayed, I knew she was talking to a Friend.

Memories are sacred treasures we hold in our hearts.

I walked through the deaths of four prayer warriors in a little over four years.

Mom, Gra’ma, Jodie and Bea left an indescribable void.

I am still observing my dad’s reverent conversations with the Lord and the miracle of his mental health being restored.

Is God still there? Does God still care? Absolutely!

As a young adult, I heard my pastor say, based on Matthew 6:8, “He knows and He cares.” I have continued to see that truth play out in my life as the Lord has walked me through suffering.

Living in the shadow of death, it helped to know God worked in the lives of others who were familiar with pain, and He would be there for me, too.

The trauma of grief is one each one of us faces in life, yet the pulse of prayer runs through our veins with hope in the Resurrection of Christ.

From foxhole to hospice care, we all return to prayer in our greatest need.

Our Creator installed that default mode, so we would know how to call out to Him.

Indeed, Ecclesiastes 3:11 says He has placed eternity in our hearts. The link of prayer may be more noticeable in crisis, but it is available every day of our lives.

When we pray, hard times cannot crush us, because we know Who to lean on.

I have not yet reached the other side of my crisis, as we continue to grapple with my dad’s health. But I am stronger for the journey.

Faith in God was modeled for me and proved true as He held on to me through the devastation of loss. On the days when grief covered me with a blanket of despair, my heart still knew to call out to God, my Safe Tower.

Suffering also earns you the right to be heard.

People listen, because there is respect for one who suffers.

Grief hurts. But compassion for others rises out of vulnerability.

What would I want others to learn from my journey with grief?

  • Life is precious.
  • We have a legacy to leave to those who come behind us, and the mantle of responsibility for that heritage has been passed on to us.
  • When loss is devastating, my heart’s desire is to let others know God is always there and He always cares.

We find Him in the pulse of prayer.

How have you modeled prayer for your family?

Sally Ferguson loves organizing retreats and seeing relationships blossom in time away from the daily routine. Her coloring book, What Will I Be When I Grow Up? (Warner Press) and ebook, How to Plan a Women’s Retreat are both available on Amazon.  Stop in for a chat at www.sallyferguson.net