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Entries in Suffering (8)

Wednesday
Nov212018

"Thank God!" (Even When Life's a Struggle)

As I (Dawn) wrote this Thanksgiving UPGRADE, I was so aware of people I know who are struggling this year. How can they be thankful? 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us it is God's will that we be thankful IN all things—in the midst of them—not FOR all things. (1 Thess. 5:18)

I think this is an important distinction, because frankly, sometimes life stinks. Pain. Loss. Confusion. Offenses. Desperation. Suffering.

Yet we can learn to be grateful in the midst of it all.

I remember the Thanksgiving after America’s 9-11, with the destruction of the Twin Towers and so much suffering. The grief was overwhelming.

And then stories came out that warmed my heart. People were searching for something good in all their pain.

I remember friends struggling last year in Texas with the flooding after Hurricane Harvey.

And yet some reached out to bless others. (I have a personal story of a flood “victim” who turned her loss into a victorious opportunity to help my family in another state!)

I think back to a time of deep personal pain, and how friends and family gathered around my husband and I to help us move forward in so many ways.

Their kindness helped us embrace the future, and I thank God for them.

I think about the wildfires California has experienced in recent years and especially this fall. Homes lost. Deaths. Incalculable pain. So many questions.

And then again, in the midst of calamity, stories of kindness and hope.

While I’m no Pollyanna, I do try to search for things to be grateful for when I hurt—a solidly biblical approach to life’s struggles.

I believe there are times for legitimate lament as well as celebrations.

If you doubt that, search out the Psalms of lament, or even the book of Lamentations. Part of learning to grieve well is getting a biblical perspective on all the pain. It doesn’t erase the pain, but it helps us bear up under the suffering with a sense of hope in God.

Ask God to help you see His good hand and loving heart in your circumstances.

I think this Thanksgiving Day I will meditate—as many others are this year—on some of the things we can be grateful for even when life is tough and confusing.

For that, I go to the solid, unshakeable rock of scripture.

1. "Thank God!"—He is always good. Even when life seems unbearably bad.

Psalm 31:19 - His love is abundant, stored up for those who take refuge in Him.

Psalm 34:8 - Taste and see ... He is good.

Psalm 59:16-17 - God is our fortress and refuge in the day of distress.

2. "Thank God!"—Our lives find meaning when we are centered in the Lord.

Philippians 1:21 - He is the center of our lives and, in Christ, even death is gain.

Philippians 3:7-8 - Even if we suffer great losses, nothing can compare to what we gain in Him.

Philippians 4:11-12 - He teaches us how to face great abundance and great need.

James 1:17 - Every good gift we have is from the Lord.

3. "Thank God!"—Even though tough things happen (because we live in a world cursed by sin), our Father has a big-picture plan of redemption.

Heb. 12:10-11 - Our most painful struggles discipline us and yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

James 1:2-4, 12 - Our trials produce steadfastness and cultivate maturity.

I Pet. 5:9-10 - We may suffer, but the God of all grace desires to restore and strengthen us.

Rom. 8:28 - He redeems His children's circumstances, creating something good.

Jer. 29:11-13 - He desires to give us a future and hope so we will seek Him with all our heart.

4. "Thank God!"—Suffering won’t last forever; but in the meantime, there are opportunities for blessing even in our suffering.

Psalm 71:20 - God will "bring us up" from our troubles and calamities.

Jer. 31:13 - God turned His people's mourning and sorrow into comfort and gladness.

1 Peter 3:13-17 - When we suffer for righteousness' sake—for doing good—God will still bless us.

5. "Thank God!"—There is always hope, because we can go through anything in the Lord's strength.

Phil. 4:13 - We can do all things—everything we need to do—through strength in Christ.

Psalm 18:28-29 - God lightens our darkness and gives us His power and strength.

6. "Thank God!"—We can experience Him—His help and healing—in His many attributes.

One thing is certain: This side of heaven we will all face trials and struggles sooner or later.

In time, we will all feel physical, mental, emotional, social or spiritual pain at some level. 

Thank God, we can learn the truths of scripture now—to prepare our hearts for when troubles come.

Which of these "Thank God" truths can help you most today? Are there any scriptures you could memorize to "store up" for difficult times?

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 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 Julie at Lightstock.

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

Thursday
Apr122018

Three Keys that Unlock Breakthroughs

Kathy Carlton Willis has experienced more in a few years than many people experience in a lifetime, and in this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she tells us how she’s experienced some personal breakthroughs this year. And we can too!

Kathy admits, “For the last few years I’ve been circling a holding pattern waiting for a landing strip.”

Kathy has personally coached me (Dawn), and she certainly shines the light on issues that hold us back. Her insights on what to do when we feel stumped are sometimes uncomfortable, but always on point.

Kathy continues . . .  

What I felt like God wanted for my life wasn’t materializing, and it seemed like others were living the dream I thought God had for me. What was I doing wrong?

The more I tried to fix things, the bigger mess I made. But now as I look back, it wasn’t a mess. It was a process.

This year my dreams are starting to materialize. Now I’m in a position to look back and identify the keys that unlocked my breakthrough.

As I study Scripture, I see a similar process for others who had a wilderness before a Promised Land, so I think I’m on to something.

There’s just one problem. This process includes THREE KEYS we all try to avoid. Now I’m seeing they are necessary parts of our journey.

Key #1—WAITING

I would prefer instant answers, but sometimes it takes time for everything to come together. It takes time for God to mature me into the person He needs me to be to fulfill the purpose He has for me.

No fine design before its time.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12 NLT).

The Message paraphrases it,

“Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around."

Life thrives like a tree when dreams come true. When we give up too soon, we miss out.

Key #2—SUFFERING

Did I have to include suffering as a key to unlocking breakthroughs? Why couldn’t I pick a more enjoyable process? Maybe involving chocolate!

But no—suffering is necessary. It is what prepares us for the desired end goal.

I remind myself when I go through trials (like illness, extreme weather, rejection) that it will be worth it all when I see Jesus bring about His best outcome for my situation.

“In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation" (1 Peter 5:10 NLT).

Key #3—OBEYING

Okay, now I’ve just gone to meddling. Obey? Me? But I am woman, hear me roar!

I resist the word obey. I wanted to put the word trust in its place.

Same idea, but a more positive spin on the concept. Yet God nudged me to keep the word obey. Why? Because part of the process toward breakthrough is realizing I can’t go it alone, and it’s not about what I want, it’s about what God wants.

I show God I can trust Him with the outcome, when I also trust Him with the process.

Even when it seems the next step doesn’t propel me toward the goal. In fact, sometimes His direction goes in a completely different trajectory.

For example, a few months ago, God led me to invite Mom to come live with us. This took a big step of obedience.

Each day are little steps of obedience as I choose to care for her needs rather than advance my own goals. But I know God is in it because every day we have new reasons to grin together.

Psalm 28:7 says, “The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” (Read Psalm 112 for additional inspiration.)

I mentioned at the beginning of the article that God is starting to bring about the desires of my heart.

  • After a dry period of feeling like we couldn’t find a place of service at our new church, we were invited to lead a new small group in our home.
  • A regional ministry invited me to speak for a women’s event.
  • All of a sudden I’m starting to meet new friends, after a year of aloneness.
  • The largest Christian writers conference invited me to be a primary faculty member.

Breakthrough!

Are you looking for a breakthrough? How do these three keys influence your attitudes and decisions?

Kathy Carlton Willis, God's Grin Gal, shines the light on what holds you back so you can grow. She’s a speaker and author with over a thousand articles online and in print, as well as her Bible study, Grin with GraceHer popular blog, Grin & Grow with Kathy is featured on CBN. She and her husband Russ live in Texas with Jazzy, their hilarious Boston Terrier.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of LoggaWiggler at Pixabay.

Tuesday
Oct242017

Lessons Learned During Sickness

Yvonne Ortega loves to help women move forward from the broken places in their lives, having experienced tough times herself. In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, she invites us to think about how we experience the brokenness of sickness.

Yvonne asks, “I hate being sick, don’t you?

"Sickness means I’ll miss events I looked forward to attending. If the doctor says the illness is contagious, I dread it even more."

Going through two years of recurring illnesses, I (Dawn) know what Yvonne means. When we are sick, it's just plain hard. But God brings wisdom in those tough times too!

Yvonne continues . . .

Days of being alone are not my preference. If a cough grips me and makes talking difficult or impossible, that adds to my torture.

One of my friends emailed me, said she’d pray for me to get better soon, and told me to talk to God.

I do that every day in my quiet time. I didn’t need a burning bush experience like Moses had or to be knocked to the ground the way Paul was. I longed for social interaction with my friends in town.

I learned three lessons—or rather had a refresher course in those lessons—during that illness. I offer them to you as tips.

1. I learned to ask for help.

I like to help others, but I don’t like to ask for help.

However, I was too sick to drive to the doctor and the pharmacy. I had to ask a friend for a ride.

I longed for a Green Passion Power Smoothie from Panera, my favorite restaurant. Once again, I had to ask a friend for it. God made me and you as social beings. He made us into the body of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 12:26, the Bible says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 

2. I asked God what He wanted me to do during my sickness.

I sensed He wanted me to listen to a set of mp3s from a conference I had attended. After listening to almost every session and several twice, I asked Him again.

That time, I felt led to take three days as a personal retreat at home. I had planned to go to the beach for a personal retreat, but sickness prevented that trip.

As I rested with my Bible, journal, and pen and listened to praise and worship music, I sensed God’s presence, power, and purpose in allowing me to be sick. I drew closer to him. 

James 4:8a says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”  

That personal retreat blessed me beyond my wildest dreams.

3. I grew in patience.

Patience tops the list when it comes to difficult lessons.

I had hoped to recover overnight.

Unlike instant coffee, instant oatmeal and microwave popcorn, my recovery didn’t happen fast.

James 5:7–8 says, Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

I don’t pray for patience because I don’t want the tests that will follow to help me develop it.

Since I live in an imperfect world with imperfect people, and an imperfect body, opportunities to learn patience will come my way.

I pray I learned the lesson, so I don’t have to repeat the same one.

What will you do the next time you’re sick?

Yvonne Ortega is a bilingual speaker, author, professional counselor, certified teacher, and speaking coach. She is 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’s passion is to help women facing life transitions or challenges move from broken to beautiful through God’s Word. Her books are available on her website, www.YvonneOrtega.com

Graphic adapted, courtesy of mopje at Pixabay.

 

Tuesday
May312016

How to Dream Bigger Dreams

When I first met Renee Fisher, I have to tell you, I was blown away by her youthful enthusiasm. I've watched her mellow through the years, but she still has that adventurous spirit. In this motivating UPGRADE post, she encourages us to dream ... but offers two tough challenges too.

 “Nobody ever told me dreaming big would turn into an even bigger mess than I planned," Renee says, "and I’m a planner!”

I (Dawn) am a gal who dreamed big dreams, watched a few of them die, and am building up courage to dream again. So I read Renee's words with interest, nodding my head in agreement with her fresh wisdom.

Renee continues . . .

I am a type A planner. I crave order and organization. I hate admitting that I don’t have it all figured out.

Dreaming is scary because it requires risk.

Thankfully, I am an adrenaline junkie and thrive on going for adventures. No matter how hard the journey gets—I’m in it for the long haul because I’ve seen God fulfill my biggest of all big dreams of getting published and marrying the man of my dreams.

Last year, said man-of-my-dreams and I moved four times.

Yes, you read that right!

First, we sold our home in San Diego, California, to move into an apartment in Austin, Texas. Second, we bought a home in Austin. Third, we sold our home in Austin to move to Houston. One week after living in that apartment, we were forced to relocate into another apartment home in the same complex.

Sound confusing? Check!

Sound exhausting? Check!

I moved to Texas to help my husband dream bigger dreams.

Unfortunately, things have gotten much worse before they’ve gotten better. Now that we are in Houston, things aren’t getting any better. That job we hoped would bigger and better? It’s not!

Some days I hold theological discussions in my head with God on the topic of dreams.

I ask,

“Why do you seem to bless my dreams and forget about my husband’s?”

“Don’t you care about him too?”

I wonder how you dream bigger dreams.

  • Do you stop when you face obstacles?
  •  Do you plan harder or shut down completely?
  • What happens when your dreams are going well, but a spouse or close friend or family member’s dreams aren’t?

These are just a few of the questions my husband and I have been asking lately. There are two challenges we have accepted that remind us why we dream bigger dreams—and hopefully you too!

1. Get Organized.

Dreaming doesn’t require a Type A, B, or even C personality. God created all of us with unique gifts and talents. There is no right or wrong way to use those talents as long as they are glorifying Him.

The key here is to ask for help to get organized.

Maybe you’re feeling confused or exhausted like me—or maybe you’re unsure of where or how to begin dreaming bigger dreams. The first thing that helps me get organized is to literally clean my house so that I have space to create and dream. Journaling helps too.

2. Ooze Confidence.

Confidence does not have to be a name it and claim it, or fake it until you make it game. First, I’m stealing a line from Paul in Philippians 3:10, ESV.

He writes, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”

Did you catch the and?

If you want confidence and the power of the resurrection, you must also suffer. You must participate in the sufferings of Christ. I think the danger of dreaming bigger dreams is that believing the prosperity gospel is true.

You cannot have the confidence to pursue your dreams without first suffering.

I know these two challenges are probably not what you wanted to hear. You wanted to read a flowery, cliché, or cheesy post about dreaming bigger dreams.

I’m not your girl! Sorry! In fact, it’s not what I want to hear now either.

When I find myself fighting God about my dreams, I am reminded that I am a child of God, and as His child I will never give up on the adventure of being with Him.

The things I am learning while dreaming bigger dreams with God are priceless. Some days are easier—and more fun than others, but I wouldn’t trade the adventure for anything.

What is one thing that holds you back from dreaming bigger dreams?

Need help thinking through your dreams? Get Renee's new eBook The Five Secrets to Writing Your Dream at www.ReneeFisher.com for FREE by subscribing to the blog to get it!

Renee Fisher is a spirited speaker, coach, consultant and author, who published her first eight books in under eight years. A self-proclaimed "Dream Defender," Renee is passionate about calling dreams to life in others. A graduate of Biola University, she lives in Houston, Texas with her handsome husband and their fur child named "Star."