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And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson

 

Tuesday
Jun192018

Righteous 'to the Core'

In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson reminds us to guard our "heart"—the center of our spiritual life.

"Maybe," Dawn says, "I was trying to be cute in Sunday school—I don't know—but the Lord sure  zeroed in on my 'clever' quip."

My Sunday school teacher, Dr. Dirk Van Proyen—who is also a deep and godly seminary professor—began class with an illustration before expounding on Matthew 15:1-9 and related scriptures about how Jesus dealt with some self-righteous Pharisees.

He held up two apples. They both looked solid and inviting on the outside. But then he described how some apples become rotten from the core out. The rottenness is only discovered after we bite into the apple!

He then explained how the Pharisees stalked Jesus and tried to trap Him with a question about His disciples supposedly not following the Pharisees' "traditions."

But Jesus didn't fall for their distortion of truth. He pointed out the Pharisees' hypocrisy.

They were "rotten," Dr. Van Proyen said, "to the core!"

My teacher made his summary statement about what we could learn from the day's lesson, and class was officially over. As usual, a well-taught class challenging us to seek God and live according to the truth of scripture.

But then I raised my hand. I just had to say it.

"In other words, we need to be RIGHTEOUS to the core," I said.

Ordinarily, such a display of "brilliance" would have earned me one of the professor's coveted whiteboard stars. The class was obviously impressed.

But since it was the end of class, my husband simply leaned over to me and said, "That would normally have gotten you a star."

I smugly thought, "Yeah, I WAS pretty clever with that one, wasn't I? Bet NO ONE ELSE thought of that."

Nearly strangled myself patting myself on the back.

Then I got home and the Lord hit me squarely in my pride.

"Daughter, you need to be sure that you really ARE 'righteous to the core.'"

And I knew exactly what God meant.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with being clever and wise. But it's wrong to gloat, to think we're "one up" on anyone else. We're to let others praise us, the Bible says, and not praise ourselves—we're only to boast of the Lord (Proverbs 27:2; Jeremiah 9:23-24).

I argued with the Lord a bit. After all, I did let someone else praise me—my husband!

Again, the Lord nudged my heart.

Check your humility, Dawn. Check your heart.

The funny thing is, Dr. Van Proyen spoke about the heart too. I heard it, but I missed it.

I got so caught up in the academics of the lesson, I missed the personal application.

So the Lord had me revisit the lesson. And I saw it clearly. Jesus had a lot to say about the heart.

1. We can be outwardly clean, but in our hearts we can still be rotten to the core.

That was the whole point of Jesus' conversation with those who tried to entrap Him.

The Pharisees delighted in strutting around, boasting about their knowledge. With high-sounding criticism, they laid the heavy burden of man-made rules on people instead of teaching them the simplicity and wisdom of the Word of God.

But Jesus saw their hearts.

We can fool others, but God will always see our core.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our delusion about our own spiritual health, we can even fool ourselves!

The heart really is deceitful, isn't it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

2. We can worship God all we want, but if our hearts are "far from Him," our worship is empty.

As I sat reflecting on Sunday afternoon, I wondered how many times I've attended a "worship service," but—even as a believer—my heart was more Pharisaical than Christlike.

We can go through the motions and do all the "right" things—and still not be righteous.

As I read these words, tears came: "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me...."

Jesus, refering to Isaiah's prophecy, said the judgmental, burden-laying, hypocritical person's worship is "vain" or worthless (Matthew 15:7-9; Isaiah 29:13). It's empty. Fake. A farce.

Oh, dear Lord. Have mercy.

3. We can choose to remain "rotten to the core," or we can turn to Christ who can make us righteous to the core!

Paul wrote,

"God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).

The word "righteous" refers to a person who is morally right or virtuous. The unrighteous, Paul said, will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9a); but—wonderful truth—Christ has become every Christian's righteousness, sanctification (holiness), and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).

In His encounter with Israel's elite, Jesus said our righteousness must "exceed" that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). We can't, like the Pharisees, try to earn our way into the kingdom through our own self-righteousness. We must instead trust in the righteousness of Christ on our behalf (which is positional righteousness).

Our good works (or practical righteousness) must only come AFTER salvation, because all of our own righteousness (before Christ) is like smelly, filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

And, scripture teaches, any good works done with the wrong motivation stink too! (Proverbs 16:2; Romans 8:8; Philippians 1:17; Proverbs 21:27; 1 Thessalonians 2:4)

That's too easy to forget.

We forget we have NO righteousness apart from Christ.

Yes, this side of heaven we will always face the presence of sin; but without God's merciful, regenerating and transforming work in us daily, we cannot conquer sin or live out righteousness. We cannot bear good fruit (John 15:4-6). When we are born of God, our heart changes and we no longer desire to "go on sinning" (1 John 3:9), but there is still a war within and deliverance only comes from our victory in Christ and through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 7:14-25; 8:1-13).

That is why . . .

4. We must learn to learn to walk in the Spirit if we want to live out practical righteousness.

I was a Christian for many years before I understood what that meant. I thought walking in the Spirit was only related to occasional supernatural expressions of the Spirit, as in the days of the early Church. But walking in the Spirit is meant to be our daily practice!

To walk in the Spirit, we must daily—and throughout our day:

  1. acknowledge our utter helplessness to do anything good apart from the Holy Spirit's control and enablement (Romans 7:18);
  2. confess sin and ask God to work—to clean and renew our heart and empower us to live righteously (Psalm 51:10);
  3. die to sin's influence and be alert to the Holy Spirit—trusting Him to equip and enable us to "keep in step" with Him (Romans 6:11, 14; Galatians 5:6, 25);
  4. act righteously—or practice making right choices in accordance with who we are now in Christ (Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:10; Ephesians 2:10); 
  5. and express gratitude to the Lord for any wisdom, strength, power and influence we have—and any right choices we make—because He alone is our righteousness, He alone is our victory, and He alone deserves all glory! (1 Corinthians 15:57)

I "got the message" that day, and I truly want to be righteous to the core. Don't you?

How is your heart today? How is your worship? Are you walking in the Spirit, abiding in Christ?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of the blog, Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and 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.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Marlene_Charlotte at Pixabay.

Thursday
Jun142018

The ABCs to Curing Marital Complacency

I have grown to greatly respect Cindi McMenamin for her biblical foundation and practical expressions of help for women in the body of Christ. Though this article runs in June—when so many are focused on new love and weddings—in this Marriage UPGRADE, Cindi encourages women who have been married for a while and might need some encouragement.

Cindi asks, "Would you describe your marriage as fresh, passionate, and continuing to grow? Or could it be described as stale, stunted, and maybe even a bit moldy?"

I (Dawn) don't think I've ever heard a marriage described as "moldy" before, but it sure got my attention! Who wants a moldy marriage?

Cindi continues . . .

You don’t have to be newly married to experience a healthy, vibrant marriage. In fact, yours can improve with a few adjustments to curb the complacency and keep the home fires burning. 

I know what you might be thinking:

But, so much has changed since we first married.

Or maybe you’re thinking:

I don’t feel attractive around him anymore. In fact, I feel that he barely even notices me.

Those thoughts you have not only have been mine at one time, but they’ve belonged to hundreds of other wives who have written to me over the past 15 years about their frustrations and complaints. And as I sorted through them, I related to many of them, as well.

There were nights I would lie awake next to my husband, who was sleeping in sweet oblivion, and wonder how to turn back the clock and make him see me the way he once did – as the captivating woman he fell in love with.

So many times I wished I could have back that man I married—have him treat me the same way he used to.

And then I realized there was only one way to have that back.

BE the woman I was, and do the things I did when I first captured his heart.

In Revelation 2, The Apostle John records a vision of Christ saying to a First Century church:

You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (verses 4-5).

While that was written in the context of early Christians and their complacency toward Christ, it can be applied to our marriages today.

God is not the only One who recognizes when our enthusiasm for Him has waned.

Our husbands recognize it, too.

They once received our admiration, our smiles from across the room, and our unwavering attention. Then life happened.

Children came.
Work called.
We gained a few pounds.
And a million distractions.

And before we knew it, complacency set in.

In my book, 12 Ways to Experience More with Your Husband, I show wives how to BE and REMAIN the woman their husbands fell in love with so they can experience more in their marriage.

  • More trust.
  • More passion.
  • More communication.
  • More understanding.
  • More forgiveness.

And more of what you didn’t realize your marriage was capable of.

Every relationship needs do-overs or fresh starts.

Here’s yours.

Go back to the basics by following these ABCs.

They will help you curb the complacency in your marriage and start down the road toward removing the baggage and rebuilding love with your husband.

A – ACCEPT the fact that your husband cannot meet all your emotional needs.

Your husband was not meant to fulfill you in every way. 

You must find your acceptance, security, sense of worth, and identity in who God says you are.

As you begin to take that tremendous expectation off of your husband and see who you are in the eyes of your Creator and heavenly Father, you will gain the kind of confidence that exudes beauty and elicits pursuit.

[But if your man doesn’t follow suit, you have done what you need to do to be more able and stable to deal with whatever comes (or doesn’t come) your way—*see note below.]

B – BE the helper he needs you to be.

In Genesis 2:18, we see that God designed woman to be man’s “helper.”

When our focus shifts to “how can my husband help ME?”—and we insist on being needed, appreciated, encouraged and affirmed—we are no longer helping. We are clinging to—and in some ways crippling—our husbands.

Personally, I have found that I am far more fulfilled when I am focusing on being my husband’s helper and companion, than when I’m accidentally being his complainer and crippler.

C – CULTIVATE a “new bride” attitude.

Remember when you were a brand new bride?

  • You couldn’t wait until you and your new husband got off work so the two of you could be together again.
  • You constantly checked your voice mail messages to see if he had called during the day.
  • You had a special sparkle in your eyes when you talked of him and a spring in your step when you walked alongside him.

There isn’t a woman on earth who doesn’t want her husband to continue to treat her like he did when they first married.

But what if we returned to the “new wife” syndrome and starting treating and responding to our husbands the way we once did?

Remember what it was about him that made you fall in love with him, and then ask God to give you back that loving feeling for him.

If you’re waiting for your husband to do something different to win back your heart, I guarantee he will when YOU start responding to him like you once did when you were a brand new bride. 

Which of these ABCs will you focus on this week so you can curb the complacency in your marriage?

Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker, certified Writing Coach, and author of 16 books including When Couples Walk Together (which she co-authored with Hugh, her husband of 30 years), Drama Free, and  12 Ways to Experience More with Your Husband, upon which this article is based. For more on her resources to strengthen your walk with God, your marriage, or your parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.

* For more on how to draw closer to God and see Him as your spiritual Husband who can meet all your needs—thereby freeing up your spouse from your emotional expectations—see Cindi's book, Letting God Meet Your Emotional Needs.

 

Tuesday
Jun122018

Where's My Reward?

Susan K. Stewart is a seriously practical woman who writes books that help writers, teachers and others. I'm guessing she probably doesn't get a lot of praise; but she is a woman of excellence. In this Service and Ministry  UPGRADE, she encourages us to think about service in a fresh way.

“We know we’re called to serve,” Susan says. “but we don’t think about service as a reward. And that’s something we can cultivate.”

Hmmm.... I (Dawn) don't think I've ever truly thought about service that way.

Susan continues . . .

Anne Steele’s hymn, “Self-Consecration,” was published in 1848*. More than 150 years later, the words of the second verse are a prayer I want to not just say, but also mean.

I will resolve, with all my heart,

With all my powers, to serve the Lord;

Nor from His precepts e’er depart,

Whose service is a rich reward.

The striking part of this verse is not the resolve to serve the Lord and keep his precepts. What my heart clings to is “service is a rich REWARD.”

We know we’re called to serve. Haven’t we heard hundreds of sermons? Read dozens of books on a servant’s heart, servant leadership or service as worship?

Many espouse the idea we serve to receive a reward, whether here or in heaven.

Very few say anything about the act of serving BEING the reward.

Often we think of reward as a tangible item, like a trophy or medal.

I get a humorous picture in my mind of us standing on platforms as God directs the angels to pass out the trophies and medals.

Will there be a pizza party when the ceremony is over?

Among the many definitions of service found in Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary are such things as:

  • “the serving of a master,”
  • conduct or performance that assists or benefits someone or something,” and
  • “the habit or practice of serving God or the acts done with that intention.”

How do these definitions apply to receiving the reward of service?

“The serving of a master.”

I don’t think any of us would question our service is to our Master, Jesus Christ. The New Testament is full of references to serving God and others. Even Jesus said He came to serve (Mark 10:45).

So we can conclude we are called to serve. God has even given us gifts to use in service to others (I Peter 4:10).

Conduct or performance that assists or benefits someone or something.”

Service is to assist or benefit someone else.

Again, we look to Jesus for our example. Think about His first miracle, turning water into wine (John 2:1-12). Who benefited? The bridegroom who was lauded for saving the best wine for last. It’s important to note Jesus was not credited with the good wine.

“The habit or practice of serving God or the acts done with that intention.”

Should I say this goes without saying? Our service is to God.

Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount to give in secret, to pray in secret, and fast in secret (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18). He tells us those who do so in public receive a reward from those who see them.

Is it too much of a stretch to think Jesus also wants us to serve in secret?

Paul tells servants to serve heartily as to the Lord, “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward” (Colossians 3:23-24). Paul considered his reward to be the ability to share the gospel (I Corinthians 9:12-18).

Neither of these are what we modern believers have come to think of as rewards.

How then do we develop the reward of serving?

1. Consider our gifts.

If God gave us gifts to serve, we need to consider what those gifts are and how to use them to the benefit of others.

Some gifts, such as teaching, are more visible. Certainly a Sunday School teacher is using a gift that all can see to teach others. If that teacher has the edification of the students foremost that is the reward. Other gifts, like intercession, are quiet, unseen. The pray-er uses the gift for the benefit of others.

2. Go where there is a need.

Serving God and others doesn’t mean volunteering at church.

Caring for children or a loved one, going to work daily to earn a family income, or even picking up trash along a roadside are all silent service. This service certainly isn’t glamourous.

It is, however, a reward.

When a call for volunteers is made, don’t rush to heed the call. Sometimes home-grown activities are our call.

3. Pray.

Well, yes, we should pray before entering into service.

Pray that the reward will be the service itself.

Pray to serve as a God-pleaser, not a man-pleaser (Ephesians 6:5-6).

Pray with me to resolve to earn the rich reward of service.

What will you do receive your reward of service?

Susan K. Stewart—when she’s not tending chickens and donkeys—teaches, writes, and edits non-fiction. Susan’s passion is to inspire readers with practical, real-world solutions. Her books include Science in the Kitchen and Preschool: At What Cost? plus the award-winning Formatting e-Books for Writers. You can learn more at her website www.practicalinspirations.com.

* Steele, Anne. “Self-Consecration.” A Book of Hymns for Public and Private Devotion. (1848).

Graphic adapted, Trophies Photo by Ariel Besagar on Unsplash.

Friday
Jun082018

Tell Me Another

To read Kaley Rhea's writing is to hear her talk. She's real, relevant, righteous and right-on! In this Uplift UPGRADE, Kaley gives us a fresh perspective on the Lord's relationship with us. And it's all good.

"I don’t tend to get attached to things," Kaley says. "My nostalgia-o-meter may be broken."

I (Dawn) thought that was an overall Millennial thing. As an older woman, I'm finding my family of millennials don't want my "stuff." But there's a greater, deeper truth here.

Kaley continues…

Seriously, I’m over here like:

  • First Grade macaroni art? That was years ago; let’s let this go.
  • Backyard clubhouse my dad built? This thing is a rotting deathtrap; burn it.
  • A great, great aunt’s collection of fabric scraps? Why do we even have this?

Somebody—I hope—is reading this and nodding with me, thinking, Yes, girl. Same.

But I know some of you are reading this and going, You cold-hearted monster. Okay, I’ll own that.

But lemme tell you a story.

My sister Allie has a one-year-old little girl named Emerson. Emerson and I, not to brag, are buddies. So because we’re buddies, not long ago I sat on the floor with her while we watched a kiddie program.

As we sat, I found myself getting pulled into this show. I don’t know how it happened.

There was a princess, and she was still learning how to be a princess, and in her moment of victory, I found myself getting choked up. Like I had to pause and take a moment.

The emotions in a preschool animated musical got to be too much, and I had to pull up and do some focused breathing. Me. The unsentimentalist.

You know who made fun of me in that moment? My grown adult mom and sister.

And do you know who else? Nobody else, because Emerson is an emotional person and showed a mature amount of empathy.

All right, it was super funny.

It occurred to me (and Emerson, probably) that I did not become affected when I saw a picture of that animated princess. My eyes didn’t well up when I read the show’s description. Or when I learned her name.

Nothing about that silly show came anywhere close to touching me on a deep level until I learned her story.

Until I saw her struggle. Until I knew her kind, little princess heart.

I do not connect very well or very often to THINGS. But I can connect to a STORY.

Do you wonder sometimes about the different ways God could’ve chosen to relate to us?

He could have said, “I am God, and you are human. Worship me.” And that would’ve been right and just. But we wouldn’t have known Him.

He could have said, “If you possess this amulet or such and such trinket, or say these words to this statue, you may know My favor.”

He could’ve looked at us and been altogether like, “Nah.” But He didn’t.

He gave us His story.

From the beginning of time, through the Old Testament to the cross, the resurrection and the revelation, He loves us so much—has such a desire to connect with us—He wrote it down.

The places. The people. The evidence. The truth.

Does that blow your mind? That blows my mind!

Sometimes I get so caught up in mining the Bible for “What is right in this situation?” and “How does this apply to my life?” that I miss the joy of being swept up by God’s own history.

I forget to marvel over and revel in the God who is present in every page, in every story, in every moment He chose specially to preserve for millennia so my human tinymind could process even a fraction of an understanding of who Jesus Christ is.

Deep breath.

Am I getting emotional now? Emerson, get the tissues!

Wonder at these things with me:

  • What we have is not a religion of relics we have to search out.
  • What we have is not a boss wearing a nametag or a lord bearing a title instead of providing an introduction.
  • We have a God who gave us His stories.
  • We have a Friend who invites us to know Him.
  • We have a Father who proves He has known us since before we knew anything.

All that gets to this cold-hearted monster’s heart every time.

“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord” (Psalm 102:18-22).

How do you approach the Word of God? What story from the Lord speaks to your heart today? Take time to pray and say, "Tell me another, Lord!"

Kaley Faith Rhea is the co-author of Turtles in the Road, releasing soon, with two more novels in the works. Along with writing and teaching at writers’ conferences, she co-hosts the TV show, That’s My Mom, for Christian Television Network’s KNLJ in mid-Missouri. Kaley lives in the St. Louis area.

This post is adapted from Messy to Meaningful: Lessons from the Junk Drawer by Monica Schmelter, Rhonda Rhea and Kaley Rhea.

Tuesday
Jun052018

When Your Last Living Parent Passes

Have you ever noticed that broken people—healed by God's grace—share His truth in a powerful way, straight from their heart? Yvonne Ortega is the author of the Moving from Broken to Beautiful® series.

In this Grief UPGRADE, she encourages us to seek God's caring presence and peace, just as she does.

“‘Dad passed,’ my younger brother said on the phone. For a couple of minutes, I couldn’t say anything," Yvonne said. "Our last living parent passed.

"I felt broken again. Perhaps my brother felt the same way, but he didn’t say so.”

I (Dawn) still have one living parent, but I've thought about this topic many times lately.

I don't think we're ever prepared for a parent to die, but perhaps we can prepare our hearts to continue to live.

Yvonne continues . . .

Daddy wanted to live to be 100 years old. He got close to that, but his body wore out.

He had a massive heart attack on Palm Sunday, seemed to improve, but slipped away nine days later.

His mind also wore out. He had dementia.

I’ve learned three things about my heavenly Father that help me cope with the loss of my last living parent.

1. I’ve learned that God cares about orphans.

Psalm 68:5, in talking about God, says,

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (NIV).

God is a Father to me. As a caring parent, He loves me, watches over me, and guides me. He will fill in the gap.

I can go to Him in prayer, call him "Father," and feel confident that He will be a faithful parent to me.

Deuteronomy 10:18a says, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow.”

God will defend me. When the need arises, I don’t stand alone. I can run to Abba’s arms in confidence and feel safe.

2. I’ve learned to meditate on the names of God.

El Roi means the God who sees me. Since He sees me, God knows I experience bouts of loneliness. As God comforted Hagar in Genesis 16, He will comfort me.

God knows where I am and what I need.

Another name of God is Jehovah Shalom, the Lord is our peace. In Judges 16:24, Gideon built an altar to the Lord and called it "The Lord Is Peace."

I admit, every so often I want to call Dad, but remember I can’t do that anymore. Other times, I tell myself I need to buy more greeting cards for Dad. I used to mail him two cards a week. Then I remember he’s in heaven.

I’m happy for him, but I miss him. In those moments, I call on Jehovah Shalom and claim His peace in my life.

3. I listen to praise and worship music.

One of my favorite Scriptures about the importance of praise and worship is 2 Chronicles 20:21:

“Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.’”

My battle is coping with the loss of my last living parent. God’s Word showed me the most powerful weapon—praise and worship.

I praise God continually that my father accepted the Lord last summer.

Then I fight the battle with God’s love and strength as He brings me to a more beautiful tomorrow.

What will you do when you lose your last living parent or feel lonely because of other circumstances?

Yvonne Ortega is a licensed professional counselor, a professional speaker, and a speaking and writing coach. She’s the author of Moving from Broken to Beautiful® through Grief, Moving from Broken to Beautiful® through Forgiveness, Moving from Broken to Beautiful: 9 Life Lessons to Help You Move Forward, and Finding Hope for Your Journey through Breast Cancer. Yvonne will speak at a Moving from Broken to Beautiful® Conference October 19–20, 2018 in Virginia Beach and would love to bring that conference to your area. Visit her website.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Pixabay.

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