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Entries in Upgrade with Dawn (486)

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
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.

Thursday
Sep052019

Trust the Blueprints

Kolleen Lucariello speaks into women's lives in engaging, practical ways. In this Relationship with God UPGRADE, she envisions God as a faithful Contractor, accomplishing His purposes in our lives.

"Sometimes full understanding remains a mystery until the contractor completes the work," Kolleen says. "When you can’t fully catch the vision—you watch, wait, and trust the one with the blueprints."

I (Dawn) have studied blueprints before. They can be so complicated! I've wished I could crawl inside a contractor's mind to figure out what he sees sometimes that I'm not seeing.

Kolleen continues . . .

Every summer our house undergoes a little upgrade. This year, a simple front step soon became a front-porch-walkway-landscaping project for my husband and I, filling our front yard with piles of dirt and sand, black tarps, pavers and lumber.

“I can’t wait to see it finished,” our daughter commented during one visit, “It’s going to look so nice.”

The next comment came from our five-year-old granddaughter: “I can’t wait to see it finished, cause then I will finally understand what you are doing.”  

What seemed obvious to us was not to her.

I can relate. Don’t tell her, but I’ve been confused by some of her art projects, too. Some projects only make sense to the one with the plan.

I agree with her. It’s not always easy to catch the vision until the project is complete. I share the same limitations and I find myself struggling to understand when seasons of difficulty hammer away.

I find myself trying to catch the vision for God’s plan every time life becomes paved with blinding unknowns and overwhelming struggles. This is when I admit  “I can’t wait to see this finished, Lord, because then perhaps, I will understand what You are doing.”

Well, I hope to understand, or it might be—"Please, Lord help me understand"

Years ago, we lost our brother-in-law in a car accident.

I became angry with God for what I perceived as unfair and unjust. I didn’t really care to have understanding about what God was doing; I thought He was just being cruel.

I recognize now how God used this tragedy to lead my husband and I to understand our need for salvation. What might have destroyed our faith, God used to cement it instead.

Several years later, we lost a very close friend in another car accident.

The loss was devastating for us, but we knew God as a Contractor was able to build something good out of the destruction.

When the pain was great I found myself repeating, “I can’t wait to see the good at the end of this, God, because right now, I don’t understand the why behind what just happened.”

I would remind myself of what I knew to be true about God:

  • You know the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
  • You are deeply concerned about us, and are able to turn this bad into something good (Romans 8:28).

Unlike the first time, I didn’t get mad at Him. I didn’t turn bitter.

I refused the invitation to believe God was cruel.

I just imagined my head on His chest while I wept—grateful that He understood my heartbreak, and that I now understood His comfort.

Life is unpredictable. Perhaps this is why the Psalmist reminds us to put our trust in, and reliance on the Lord, rather than relying on our own insight and understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

With my hazy insight and limited understanding, trusting in—while relying on—Jesus is the only option that offers me any peace when life becomes unsettled. After all, He promised that in Him we would have perfect peace; but He also forewarned us of tribulation, distress and suffering, too.

“Be courageous,” He said. “I have overcome the world” (John 16:13).  

Jesus is predictable when life is not. 

God is the Contractor who began a glorious work within you, and He’s the One who will faithfully continue the process of building you into His likeness—adding a few finishing touches here and there (Philippians 1:6).

When you lack understanding, trust the Lord as you do three things.

1. Rejoice that He sees you.  

“I will rejoice and be glad in Your steadfast love, because You have seen my affliction; You have taken note of my life’s distresses” (Psalms 31:7 AMP).

Your distress has been noted!

2. Focus your thoughts.

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you” (Isaiah 26:3 NLT).

3. Find rest.

Jesus said,

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT).

Unload your troubles onto Him.

Sometimes you need to patiently wait, watch the process, and trust something good can come from the mess you’re staring at now.

Even when you don’t understand His vision.

Where in your life are you struggling to understand what God is doing? How can you trust God's "blueprint" for your life and find rest, peace and even joy in Him?

Kolleen Lucariello, #TheABCGirl, is the author of the devotional book, The ABC's of Who God Says I Am; and as a speaker, she speaks into women's lives "one letter at a time." Kolleen and her high school sweetheart, Pat, reside in Central New York. She's a mother of three married children and Mimi to five incredible grandkids—with one more on the way! For more information about Kolleen, visit her website.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Classically Printed at Pixabay.

Wednesday
Aug282019

Whom Did Jesus Praise? Will He Praise You? (Part 2)

In Part 2 of this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson encourages us to consider some of the people Jesus praised while He was on earth.

Jesus might offer us words of praise, but we need to be praiseworthy.

In Part One of “Who Did Jesus Praise?” we saw the praise He shared with to those who would trust Him without “seeing” Him physically, a near relative (John the Baptist) who bravely took a stand against his culture and proclaimed the truth, and a disciple who proclaimed a powerful statement of faith.

In Part Two we will examine two others: a woman who stretched out her hand, and a woman who gave sacrificially… and we’ll think ahead to our praise in heaven!

Again, we’ll consider how we might win Jesus’ praise.

4. Woman touching the hem of Jesus garment

Luke 8:43-48 and Mark 5:21-24; 35-42 tell the story of a woman who had “an issue of blood” (for 12 years!) who touched Jesus’ garment, likely His outer cloak.

Though Jesus simply pointed to her simple act of faith—and He told her to “go in peace” and know that she would be freed from her suffering—a response of love that showed His great love for the woman.

The bleeding woman was fearful. Religious Jews felt it immodest and inappropriate to touch men in public. The woman was also ritually unclean (Leviticus 15:25-27). She could have faced serious consequences when she reached out to touch Jesus’ garment.

Yet she bravely reached out in her desperation.

She had lived for over a decade as an outcast socially and spiritually. So she took a huge risk. She touched the edge of His cloak (Matthew 9:20). This was a special area. Ritual tassels (tzitzit) were on the “corners” of the garment (Numbers 15:37-41).

The Messiah who would come, according to Malachi 4:2, would have “healing” in his wings. Jewish writings say these “wings” represent the four corners of garments with the “wings” or tzitzits. The woman grabbed for one of these wings, which would normally be a great affront to Him.

But Jesus’ response was gentle and loving (Mark 5:34). He told her to take heart, and in a sense, He was praising her fearful-yet-audacious faith. He wasn’t like the proud priests in His day; He was always focusing on the people’s redemption. Jesus was also unlike the Jewish men who did not see women as men’s equals. Paul clarified this when he said “there is neither male nor female,” because all are one in the Messiah (Galatians 3:28).

Like this woman, we need to be brave, bold, and reach out to the Lord to find healing and help in our own time of need. Jesus wants us to do this, and He would praise us when we do.

5. One Who Gave Her All

We find a story about a special, sacrificial woman in Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4.

Nothing was hidden from Jesus’ knowledge. He sat in full sight of the “treasury” in the Temple, the place for voluntary contributions. He observed the rich people casting in their gifts. But he also saw a poor widow who threw in two mites, two small brass coins.

His observation was that the poor widow had given more than all the others. She had given all she had to live on. She gave out of her poverty.

Jesus sees people’s hearts. He knows their circumstances. He sees through facades and how we 'keep up appearances.'

People might laud others who make huge financial gifts, but Jesus took time to praise one whose gift weighed in heavily because of her great sacrifice. He noticed her sincerity and generous heart.

The truth is, Jesus still sees the “treasury” in our giving and living.

The Lord observes our thoughts, deeds of charity, and especially the way we worship.

He sees our motives. He knows whether we give of our time, talents and treasures to be seen by people, or whether we give “as unto the Lord.”

Jesus praised the widow that day. Someday, the feeble efforts of God’s sincere and generous children—gifts made and things done to honor Him—will also be commended.

And lets we think we have anything to give, even the poorest and simplest of us are not excused from gifts and good works (2 Corinthians 8:2-3). God will always know our deepest heart, will and affections. The amount we give is not what concerns Him as much as our willing mind (2 Cor. 8:12).

He accepts and praises our obedience and love, not the measure of our gifts.

6. Will We Hear a “Well Done”?

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this, but it’s something to think about.

In Matthew 25, we see Jesus—by way of a parable—suggest He will praise (commend) and also reward the deeds done for Him, for His glory.

The master in the parable says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

Then he praises the servant for his faithfulness, says he will be rewarded, and he should “enter into the joy” of his master. The “Master” in this parable is Jesus himself. The servant is us, Christ-followers. The Lord will reward those who do their best to serve Him.

Paul proclaimed in 1 Corinthians 15:58, our labor is “not in vain in the Lord.”

In Matthew 25:34, in another parable, Jesus pictured the Day of Judgment and said those on His right—true believers—will enter into God’s prepared Kingdom.

Jesus, in commending Christians, says our love and service to others is the same as loving and serving Him (Matthew 25:40).

Oh, how I long to hear Jesus say “Well done” to me! Do you want to hear that word of praise too?

Observing those Jesus praised, we might again examine our own hearts:

  • Am I being brave in reaching out to Jesus with my needs, especially my desperate needs?
  • Am I sharing sacrificially with my time, talents and treasures?
  • Will I hear my Savior say, “Well done?” (If not, what do I need to change now?)

Again, as you consider these three points—will you win the praise of Jesus?

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 Christianity.com (wiki posts) and 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 Foto Rieth at Pixabay.