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Thursday
Jan192017

Have You Been Skimpy with Gratitude?

Dianne Barker is a super-practical woman of God who cares about relationships. In this Marriage UPGRADE, she offers practical wisdom for better spousal interaction (but the basic premise of expressing gratitude is true for all relationships).

"Marriage can bring out the worst in us," Dianne says.

I (Dawn) don't think anyone will dispute that. While marriage has the potential to grow and bless us, it certainly does point out all the rough spots in our character. Dianne's post today is a good way to deal with some of those "worst in us" days.

Dianne continues . . . 

In younger days, when things didn’t go my way, I’d “have it out” with my husband—in my thoughts. I didn’t dare put my annoyance into words, but in my mind I gave him a hearty tongue-lashing. He had no idea.

And then I’d silently settle my ruffled feelings and sulk a while.

One day the Lord caught me sulking over a disappointed expectation and interrupted my pity party.

You could be praying about bigger things.

I’ve heard the stories.

  • Husband leaves a devoted wife for someone else.
  • Another wife struggles to stay with a husband addicted to pornography.
  • Huge challenges overwhelm the grieving widow.

Yes. I could be praying about bigger things.

I wasted a lot of life pouting over small irritations—wishing I could change this husband of mine. The Lord has a way of putting things in perspective.

Instead of letting marriage bring out the worst in me, I decided to let it bring out the best.

Two choices changed me from the inside out: prayer and praise. I learned to pray about what my husband isn’t, and praise him for what he is.

Grumbling about everything he does wrong isn’t beneficial. Praying—taking concerns to my Father—is a positive use of emotional energy wasted on anger and pouting, which never bring change.

I looked for reasons to praise my husband, express appreciation, and compliment him. I wasn’t sure he noticed until I overheard him say to a friend, “My wife has a gift of encouragement. She brags about everything I do!”

Why not thank him for carrying out the garbage, mowing the lawn, filling my gas tank, and changing the oil?

A heart overflowing with praise and gratitude to the Lord can’t help expressing gratefulness in other relationships.

Listen to this.

“Just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so go on living in him—in simple faith. Yes, be rooted in him and founded upon him, continually strengthened by the faith as you were taught it and your lives will overflow with joy and thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7, Phillips).

Marriage needs constant nourishment. Does your relationship suffer the tatters of neglect?

Like a soothing ointment on a raw wound, gratitude promotes healing.

Begin here:

  • List seven qualities about your spouse to praise God for daily (character qualities, talents, good deeds, spiritual commitment, love for the children, sacrificial work, financial contribution to the family).
  • Pray, thanking the Lord daily for each of those qualities.
  • Verbalize to your spouse at least one genuine compliment every day. “Honey, I really appreciate…” (a deed performed, wisdom shown, patience extended).
  • Express affection every day through words and touch. Say “I love you” and hug each morning before leaving for work. Say “I missed you” and hug each evening after work.
  • Find time to cuddle. If you’ve been ignoring each other, this may feel awkward. Do it anyway. God intended for us to enjoy marriage, not merely endure it.

Going overboard with gratitude will bring out the best in you!

Have you been skimpy with gratitude? If you're married, why not try these five steps to "overboard gratitude" today?

Dianne Barker is a speaker, radio host and author of 11 books, including the best-selling Twice Pardoned and award-winning I Don’t Chase the Garbage TruckDown the Street in My Bathrobe Anymore! Organizing for the Maximum Life. She’s a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Christian Authors Network, and Christian Women in Media. (Post adapted from Help! I’m Stuck and I Can’t Get Out! The Maximum Marriage Maintenance and Repair Kit, available soon at www.diannebarker.com.)

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Ben White, Morguefile.

Tuesday
Jan172017

Catch Me

Kaley Faith Rhea is a young author and TV show co-host with a unique perspective on life. In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, she asks us to consider falling back on the Lord in faith and confidence.

"I’ve never hesitated to do a trust fall. Ever," Kaley says, "But I’ll admit it’s less because I’m a trusting person and more because I’m short enough a fall from this height wouldn’t cause any real damage."

Oh, Kaley, in all my years I (Dawn) have NEVER done a trust fall. I think I'd sooner jump out of a plane than trust that my pranking friends would catch me in a trust fall! But I know you've got something to teach me ... us ... here.

Kaley continues…

In seventh grade I went to a cheerleading practice. Suddenly they wanted me to let my fellow twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls lift me up, throw me into the air and catch me.

Have you ever heard the sound of twelve- or thirteen-year-olds catching another twelve- or thirteen-year-old out of the air?

I will tell you.

It sounds like getting punched in the face.

Oh, I "noped" right outta there. Really put my trust fall record into perspective.

I think I tend to do the same thing with the Lord.

Father, I will trust you...

  • Only as far as I can be sure I won’t get hurt.
  • Or only as far as I have a backup plan in place.
  • Or only as far as I’m really the one in control here.

Which is no kind of trust at all.

In my life I have determined—through a great deal of data analysis and scientific observations—there are three specific situations during which I most need reminding that God is the One in control:

1. When everything feels out of control.

2. When I’ve accidentally convinced myself I am in control.

3. All the other times.

It is so easy when things go wrong to lose sight of the One we can absolutely trust.

Or maybe even to look at God—who is in control, after all—and to blame Him. How could He let this happen? Why didn’t He stop this?

I don’t know the answer every time to be honest. But I do know that every time God is good. He is the source of goodness.

And I do know that every time God loves you. He is the God who loved us enough to send his Son Jesus to die where we deserved to die.

God is good, even in a fallen world. God is love, even when it seems like your fallen world is especially falling apart.

When you are hurting or devastated or even just proud, and you wonder Can I trust God? Can I really trust Him?

While you’re quoting Jeremiah 29:11 to yourself, maybe listen to Paul in Romans 8, too, where he writes, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (verses 38-39).”

Paul—whose life was filled with more hardship than I know how to imagine—had this brilliant, God-given trust that none of those hardships for one moment could keep him from experiencing the love God had for him. He could feel secure in God’s love in the face of everything. He had that assurance because of Jesus.

So I suppose in my life I have discovered—only through a miracle of grace—there are three specific things I need when I am arrogant or weary or battered enough to forget in Whom I can place my trust:

1. I need to focus on Jesus.

2. I need to read about Jesus.

3. I need to ask Jesus to, by His grace, give me the wisdom to trust Him when everything human in me is screaming Jesus may be the answer to a lot of things, but Jesus can’t be the answer to this.

Jesus IS the answer to this.

 If Jesus is the answer in the face of death and demons and “anything else in all creation,” Jesus is the answer to every one of your thises.

Dear Jesus, You are perfect. You love me perfectly. Remind me through your Spirit there is no height I could fall from too high for You to catch me. If I believe You loved me enough to go to the cross, I have to believe You love me enough to catch me when my life or my ego seems out of control. Lord Jesus, I trust You.

Are there any areas of your life where you’ve been reluctant to trust in Jesus? How can you surrender to Him today?

Kaley Faith Rhea is the co-author of Turtles in the Road, releasing this year. 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.

Thursday
Jan122017

What to Do When Your Marriage Seems Stuck

Sharon Jaynes has captured my imagination and challenged my life with a number of books. In this Marriage UPGRADE, she challenges those who have a spouse to consider whether the "romance" has faded ... and what we can do about that.

"Sometimes we can get so busy taking care of life," Sharon says, "that we forget to take care of love."

I (Dawn) know without a doubt how busyness can kill the spark of married love. I've seen it happen too many times. But it's not enough to diagnose a problem; we need a solution.

Sharon continues . . .

What do you do when you’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’ in your marriage?

Maybe you truly adored your husband in the beginning, but now you can’t remember why. Maybe you honestly admired his finer qualities, but now you can’t remember what they were. Maybe you appreciated his wonderful attributes, but now you take them for granted.

Between taking out the garbage, paying the bills, running the car pool, mowing the lawn, disciplining the kids, and folding the laundry, sometimes the passion of marriage gets lost.

It happens to all of us at one time or another.

We can get so busy taking care of life that we forget to take care of love.

None of us got married so we could have a long list of chores.

If you’re like me, most likely you got married because you were madly in-love and couldn’t imagine life without your man! You got married because your heart skipped a beat every time you laid eyes on him. You couldn’t wait to tie the knot and build a life with this incredible person God had miraculously brought into your life.

Maybe you still feel that way. But maybe you could use a little reminder—a re-stoking of the romance.

In the book of Revelation in the Bible, God had this to say to the church at Ephesus:

“I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4, NIV).

Ephesus was one of the most loving churches in the New Testament, and yet somewhere along the way they lost that initial thrill of knowing Christ. Their love for each other and for God had grown cold.

So how do you get that lovin’ feelin’ back?

God gave the church two simple steps, and I believe we can apply them to our marriages as well. “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:5a, NIV).

REMEMBER how it was in the beginning.

RETURN and do the things you did at first.

For most of us, life is just daily. However, the accumulation of small struggles can nibble like termites to undermine the foundation of what appears to be a healthy structure as surely as the unexpected, earth-shaking rumble of sudden disaster. And routine, even good routine, can rob us of the joy and passion of marriage… if we let it.

One day I took John’s words in Revelation to heart, and decided to remember and return by romancing my husband for fourteen days straight.

Everyday wasn’t earth-shaking romance, even though there was some of that.

  • One day I simply put a sticky note on his bathroom mirror that said, “I love you.”
  • Another day I placed a box of Red Hot candy on his car seat with a note that said, “You’re a hottie.”
  • One morning I warmed up his towel in the dryer and had it ready when he got out of the shower.

And you know what happened? At the end of the fourteen days, Steve had a skip in his step and smile on his face like a Cheshire cat.

And what happened in me? I can hardly describe the love that welled up in me, as I loved my man well.

Hear this… I changed.

I don’t have a big, bad personal story of how God took a terrible, tumultuous marriage and miraculously transformed it into a storybook romance filled with white-knight rescues, relentless romance, and rides into the sunset leaving all danger and darkness behind. Although our marriage has been all that at one time or another, it’s no fairy tale.

Our marriage is a daily journal, one page after another, one day after another. I'm guessing just like yours.

Some entries are smudged with tears; others are dog-eared as favorites.

Some days are marred by unsuccessful erasures that couldn’t quite rub away hurtful the words said; others are finger-worn by the reading of precious events time and time again.

But on those days when I see my marriage slipping back into the mundane cadence of passionless routine, I pull out my list of ideas, and put a smile on Steve’s face.

And that’s my challenge to you and to me today.

What do you need to do to love your husband well today?

Sharon Jaynes is a conference speaker and author of 21 books. Click here to read a sample chapter, watch a video, or download free resources for her latest book, A 14-Day Romance Challenge: Reigniting Passion in Your Marriage; or visit Sharon’s blog and learn about her other resources.

 

Tuesday
Jan102017

Survive Life's Firestorms (without Smelling Like Smoke)

Joanie Shawhan knows about life's firestorms. As a nurse, she's seen people shaken by their struggles, and she's also survived her own trials. In this helpful Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she shares crucial steps to survival.

“A firestorm blasted my world,” Joanie says. “I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.”

I (Dawn) haven't had to face that—you likely haven't either—but there's no doubt you've gone through a personal firestorm, or you will. Let Joanie's words encourage you.

Joanie continues . . .

Firestorms—those unexpected, devastating losses that disrupt our lives. It may be the loss of a loved one, health, job, home or dream. The derailment may be temporary or have lasting effects.

How do we not only survive but also overcome these catastrophes?

During the ovarian cancer firestorm in my life, I discovered three steps to survival based on the fire safety principles of stop, drop and roll. But how do we rise out of the ashes without smelling like smoke? Hence the fourth step—rise.

1. STOP

When a firestorm erupts, our daily activities halt. All of our energy, strength and resources shift into crisis mode.

After an ultrasound for what I thought was a uterine fibroid, my doctor strode into the room and announced, “You have ovarian cancer.”

I froze. Surely this isn’t happening to me. Surgery and chemotherapy consumed me for the next six months. Cancer threatened my health, my job and my future.

When all I had was questions, I found I also needed to stop and listen to the One who had the answers.

2. DROP

Smoke rises in a fire so we drop to the ground. The air is fresher, our visibility clearer.

So too, in a life firestorm we drop to our knees in surrender and prayer, seeking God, humbling ourselves before Him. Our sacrifice of praise and worship mingles with our tears.

As I wrestled with the Lord about going through chemotherapy and sought His direction for my treatment, I sensed His voice whispering, “Go through the process.” The Holy Spirit strengthened me to endure the treatments—treatments which were worse than the cancer itself. I could not even focus to pray and read my Bible.

All I could do was drop into my Father’s arms like a child and cry for mercy.

3. ROLL

We roll to douse any lingering flames.

In a life firestorm, the flames of anger, bitterness and unforgiveness will cloud our vision and scorch our lives.

As we draw near to the Lord, we roll our cares onto Him: our pain, grief, anger, fears, doubts, loss and loved ones.

We stretch forth our hands, grasping for a reason. “Why? Why? Why?” But the answers slip through our fingers like a vapor.

I don’t know why I got ovarian cancer, the rarest and most deadly of female cancers. But I needed to allow my desire for answers to be extinguished with the flames.

4. RISE

God desires not only to raise us up out of the ashes of our brokenness, but also give us beauty for the ashes (Isaiah 61:1-3).

Through thanksgiving and praise, we shake off the ashes and exchange the lingering smell of smoke for the fragrance of Christ.

We recognize that all we are comes from Him. We reflect His glory.

I lost myself to ovarian cancer, but in losing myself, I found a new purpose and calling in my life—to write encouraging articles for women undergoing chemotherapy and advocate for and educate women regarding ovarian cancer.

Because of God’s power we are able to come through the firestorms in our lives without smelling like smoke.

But surviving a firestorm does not imply that everything is “all better” and the wound is healed.

Some heartbreaks and losses permanently char us.

True triumph is not a return to life before the firestorm, but a heart attitude—is God still God despite my pain and loss?

If so, then we will be able to proclaim, along with Job, I know that my redeemer lives” (Job 19:25 NKJV).

How has God brought you through the firestorms in your life?

Joanie Shawhan is an ovarian cancer survivor and a registered nurse. She writes encouraging articles for women undergoing chemotherapy. Joanie also speaks to medical students in the Survivors Teaching Students program. Visit her website.

Graphic adapted, courtesty of ZoranD at Pixabay.

Thursday
Jan052017

A New Year's Resolution Makeover

Nali Hilderman is a smart, successful college professor, but she knows how to make truth practical. In this New Year's UPGRADE, she points us to seek God and allow scripture to speak to our hearts.

"As we turn our thoughts from the outgoing year and focus on the new," Nali says, "I propose we have a makeover in any resolutions we make for the New Year."

Nali's suggestion intrigues me (Dawn), because I've made many resolutions over my lifetime, and so few of them lasted. Maybe a "makeover" is exactly what I need.

Nali continues . . .

As women most of us tend to enjoy the idea of a makeover. Be it a make-up facial, a weight-loss plan, or someone cleaning or organizing our house, we love the idea of a new, fresh perspective on something ordinary. 

I don’t know where the tradition of New Year’s resolutions began, but it seems that most of the time they tend to focus on us and what we want out of life. 

I do not necessarily think that is a bad thing, but as believers, we don’t live life solely for ourselves— WE live life for the Lord! 

What if, this year, you turn your focus to Christ and ask Him for His resolutions for your life instead of your own resolutions! 

I have been doing this for about five years now and it’s been amazing to see how each year has had a God-ordained theme to it. 

For 2016, the word that kept coming to my heart and mind in prayer was “rest.” For the first several months, I assumed that it meant I needed to rest physically and emotionally from a very busy and fulfilling job as a professor. 

Yet, as the months of the year progressed and God walked me through some painful personal and family issues, I realized His notion of rest was much deeper than I thought. Over the past several months, I was invited into a deep, soul-level rest of the knowledge of who Christ has made me to be and to find my identity in Him. 

This theme has challenged and guided me as I’ve navigated things this year. I know I am different now for it, and am grateful to see His hand at work.

I am excited for YOU to try this New Year’s Resolution plan. Here are a couple of simple suggestions on how to do this:

1. Remember God as your "Ebenezer."

In the Old Testament, God was Israel’s Ebenezer. Ebenezer means "stone of help." 

God commanded the leaders of Israel, through Samuel, to set up memorial stones in public places to commemorate how God had provided for and rescued the children of Israel (see 1 Samuel 7, especially verse 12). 

Take time to think about and write down how God provided for and blessed you LAST year.

A joyful and grateful heart for God’s blessings in 2016 will go a long way towards seeing Him as protector and provider in the New Year. 

2. Make time for a Retreat and ask the Lord for goals for the New Year.

This does not have to be a “long” retreat; even just a few hours of concentrated time will suffice. But think through and ask what things the Lord might have for you in the coming months and year. 

Ask if there are any passages of Scripture that might serve as a guide. This can provide a clear vision for how you are to invest your time, finances, resources and energy—and is usually far more exciting than “spend two hours at the gym every day”!  

You can do this for yourself personally, but you might also want to try doing this with your spouse and/or children. One year, my friend and her family decided they were going to focus on "being generous." That was their focus word for the year. So they set aside a part of their earnings each month and looked for people that God wanted them to provide for.

Note: if you need further help on how to do this check out a simple book called One Word. It teaches how just one word can impact you. 

3. Enjoy the New Year!

The best part about the New Year is that is a chance to restart, refresh and realign. 

Taking time to examine your life can be an exciting thing, especially if you walk into the new season with a renewed sense of purpose from the Lord. God is at work in you, my friends!

"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).

The Lord has work for you to do—exciting work, faith-building work, challenging work, difficult work.

Will you make a goal to remember Him as He worked in 2016, and join in asking Him to guide you purposefully in 2017?

Nali Hilderman is a professor of American history at San Diego Christian College and Director of the college’s Dr. Henry Morris Leadership Program. She studies women’s history and Christian theology, trying to make sense of how to be a confident, successful Christian woman who does not buy into the secular feminist mentality. She attends Journey Community Church in La Mesa, CA.