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Saturday
Jul042015

8 Ways to Celebrate Savings

Ellie Kay, "America's Family Financial Expert" ®, offers some easy, practical money savers in this Financial UPGRADE to help us become better stewards of our financial resources. With financial wisdom, we can share with people in need and support the Kingdom in tangible ways.

"Saving money can be a lot easier than you think," Ellie says, "if you know when and where to use the right websites and apps."

I (Dawn) have appreciated Ellie's budgeting and saving tips in the past, and this post has a few ideas I hadn't thought of before!

Ellie continues . . .

I just returned from Barksdale AFB, where we had the latest Heroes at Home Financial Education event. I absolutely love traveling around the country giving these events to our Heroes and Heroes at Home! 

There are several apps we always love to recommend (RetailMeNot, TravelZoo, etc.) because they are so easy to use and save money. But one of the things I love is that we are always learning more and more websites and apps through these military families we encounter.

According to James 1:5, if we lack wisdom, we can ask of God who will give it to us.  

So let’s CELEBRATE the savings with a few of our favorite ideas, that can help you become wise in the use of your money.

1. Organize your Inbox: Sign up for emails from your favorite stores and brands because they frequently send out sales, deals, and coupons to get you back into the store! But if you don’t want to get 20-30 emails in your inbox every morning, sign up for Unroll.Me. You are able to unsubscribe from lists through this email that you no longer wish to see.

2. Budgeting: Mint is a great site and app for budgeting that I recommend quite frequently. You are also able to pay your bills and see your credit score. Also check out GoodBudget (formerly EEBA) if you are an envelope system family, and for sharing budgets with members of the same household.

3. Gas: Waze is my favorite GPS app out there. It calculates the best route using both major highways and side streets. But one of my favorite features in this app is that it tells you the gas prices for all gas stations in your area. It will also calculate how far off your route each gas station will be. TripTik (by AAA) calculates mileage based on most economic route.  GasBuddy is another great tool for calculating a trip cost, gas price charts, and more.

4. Coupons: RetailMeNot is my recommended coupon app for retail stores. But also check out Coupon Sherpa for in store coupons to make sure you are always getting the best deal. If you are a fan of paper coupons, use SnipSnap to take pictures of the coupon and use your phone when it comes time to redeem.

5. Entertainment Tickets: Goldstar is a great site for finding half-priced tickets for shows and concerts in cities around the world. For Veterans and families, take advantage of Veterans Tickets Foundation, which is a great organization that provides free tickets to family members of troops Killed In Action (K.I.A.), our Military and Veterans to sporting events, concerts, performing arts and family activities.

6. Parking: Never overpay for parking in any city when you use BestParking. You are able to search city and airport parking to find and compare the best rates. This is a great tool for both planning trips, and getting a good price on the go.

7. Airfare: Looking for that special price for that trip coming up? Keep an eye out for the best time to fly at the best price with Hopper or BookingBuddy.com.

8. Other Apps – Travelzoo.com

What are some of your favorite ways to be a better steward of God’s resources? Let me know so I can keep spreading the word!

Ellie Kay is a regular expert on national television with ABC NEWS NOW’s Money Matters and Good Moneyshows. Ellie is also a national radio commentator, a frequent media guest on Fox News, and CNBC, a popular international speaker, and the best-selling author of fourteen books including her  newest release, The Little Book of Big Savings (Waterbrook, 2009).

Graphic adapted, Image courtesy of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

 

Tuesday
Jun232015

Differences Keep Marriage Interesting

In this Marriage UPGRADE, Dianne Barker opens up about her own marriage and what she and her husband learned about their “differences.”

“I tiptoed through the marriage minefield,” Dianne said, “until an epiphany changed everything.”

I (Dawn) think every marriage has a minefield, something that can explode into anger and bitterness, so I was eager to hear about Dianne’s “epiphany.”

Dianne continues . . .

Marriage is hard—for everybody. It’s that opposites attract thing.

My husband and I are as different as two people can be. He’s a perfectionist and totally focused while I tend to be disorganized and forgetful.

After checking the oil in my car, he said, “Next time you’re out, stop at the gas station and have one of the guys add a quart of oil.” A few days later he asked about the oil.

“I forgot—but I’ll get it when I’m out.” The thought never crossed my mind again.

The next week I stopped by his parents’ house, where he was working on their lawnmower. As I started to leave, he said, “Go to the gas station and get a quart of 10-W-30 oil.”

“Sure!” I said cheerily and went on my way. Two hours later he came home, agitated and snappy.

“What happened to the oil?”

“I had it put in the car.”

Given the preceding events, who would’ve thought the oil was for the lawnmower! Scowling his disapproval, he stomped out the door to take my car for a complete oil change—perfectionists don’t mix brands and weights.

Personality differences caused contention in our marriage from the beginning.

We had different perspectives about almost everything, and decision-making often ended in deadlock. To solve the matter, I’d agree to James’ decision, but struggle with lingering bitterness, feeling my opinion had received little respect.

Adding two children to the mix increased the frustration. We had to agree, even on small matters, concerning our kids. I couldn’t walk away and pout. Like a soldier in battle, I tried to dodge the minefield—issues that could prove explosive—until an epiphany changed our marriage:

Our conflicts mostly resulted from temperament differences, not malicious intent.

It’s as hard for my spouse to accept my differences as it is for me to accept his.

Although James and I had no training in conflict resolution, we had two factors in our favor. We loved the Lord and we wanted to please Him.

The epiphany led us to four choices that transformed our relationship.

1. Acceptance.

We determined to accept each other AS IS. Marriage requires living with another person’s strengths and weaknesses. Because I need God’s transforming touch, I can be patient with my husband’s imperfections. Acceptance reduces tension and builds friendship.

2. Appreciation.

Learning to appreciate our differences, we noticed the strengths of our opposite personalities actually balance and enrich our relationship. One personality isn’t superior.

God designed us with differences and brought us together to accomplish more for His kingdom than we could do alone. Verbalizing appreciation minimizes irritations and builds respect.

3. Application.

Applying Scripture to our daily walk, we practiced biblical relationship principles.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Extending unlimited forgiveness and unconditional love brings healing and restoration.

4. Acknowledgment.

Recognizing our contribution to the conflict or misunderstanding, we learned to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness. Christ said if we go to worship and remember someone holds an offense against us, we should go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:23-24). He didn’t mention who’s at fault.

Assuming responsibility and seeking forgiveness can nip bitterness before it takes root.

Pleasing our Lord has top priority. That takes care of many smaller issues.

What has top priority in your marriage?

Dianne Barker is a conference speaker, freelance journalist, radio host, and author of eleven books, including the 1986 best-seller Twice Pardoned. Her 2014 book, I Don’t Chase the Garbage Truck Down the Street in My Bathrobe Anymore! Organizing for the Maximum Life, won the Christian Authors Network Golden Scroll third-place award for non-fiction book of the year.

This post is 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.

T-shirts in adapted graphic designed by daleos.net.

Saturday
Jun202015

Modeling God's Love When It's So Tough

We have seen a monumental display of God's mercy this week, and in this Spiritual Life UPLIFT, I want us to focus on the grace of forgiveness.

At his bond hearing, Dylann Roff stood in his striped inmate jumpsuit with a blank expression as family members of the victims he admittedly gunned down at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church said over and over again, "I forgive you."

A daughter of Ethel Lance said,

"You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people, but God forgives you, and I forgive you."

To the astonishment of a watching world, relatives offered words of grace. Mercy. Forgiveness.

It was a painful but powerful testimony to the work of Christ in the hearts of those who love Him.

In Commentary magazine, Abe Greenwald, senior editor of Commentary, wrote, "The late [antitheist] Christopher Hitchens formulated (and forever repeated) a superficially clever challenge to people of faith: 'Find one good or noble thing,' he said, 'which cannot be accomplished without religion.' The astonishing rejoinder to Hitchens comes now from the family members of those who were gunned down Wednesday night in Charleston, South Carolina."

"At today’s hearing for the suspect, the spouses, siblings, parents, and children of the murdered innocents addressed the man being held for this unspeakable crime—and showered him with mercy and forgiveness. Theirs is a model for all humanity and a testament to the unique and transcendent power of faith." 

How can those, so wounded, so wonderfully forgive?

Forgiveness does not mean the relatives approve of Dylann's evil act. Forgiveness releases Dylann to God's hands. Forgiveness prays for peace, but it does not mean we don't need just laws to deal with those who are filled with hate and would harm or kill.

The victims' families are following in the footsteps of the Great Forgiver.

1. Jesus Modeled Forgiveness.

Mark 2:5 - "And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'"

Luke 7:48 - "And he said to her (a sinful woman), 'Your sins are forgiven.'"

John 8:11 -"...'Neither do I condemn you (an adultress); go, and from now on sin no more.'"

On the cross, Jesus forgave a repentant thief, hanging on a cross beside Him (Luke 23:42-43), and He even forgave those who put Him to death! (Luke 23:34)

2. Jesus Taught Forgiveness.

Matthew 6:14 -"For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."

Matthew 18:21-22 -"Then Peter came up and said to him, 'Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him,'“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.'" [Story of the Unforgiving Servant, Matthew 18:23-35]
We see the power of forgiveness in the much-loved parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), modeling the Father's love and forgiveness.
Jesus exemplified and taught the kind of monumental mercy and forgiveness we've seen at Emanuel AME Church.
Dr. Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr., says, "Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that."

As the deadly shots came, the victims were in Bible study. They loved the Word of God. And likely, they too would say to us, "Love and forgive. It is when you are most Christ-like."

Do you struggle to forgive? Can you walk in Jesus' footsteps and forgive by faith?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Ministries, is the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is the Director of the San Diego chapter of Network of Evangelical Women in MInistry (NEWIM San Diego). Dawn is the co-author of LOL with God and contributed "The Blessing Basket" in It's a God Thing. She and her husband Bob have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

 

Thursday
Jun182015

6 Ways to Grin When You'd Rather Grit Your Teeth!

I met Kathy Carlton Willis at a writer's conference and was so impressed with her life, not just her teaching. She shines for Jesus! And in this Attitude UPGRADE, she shares one way we reflect God's light  too.

"Most of us deal with situations that make us want to grit our teeth on a regular basis. Or at least bite our tongues!" Kathy says. "Here are six ways you can grin with grace instead."

I (Dawn) have watched Kathy endure trial after trial over the past several years and noticed how she smiles despite the circumstances. So I’m curious how she’s learned to grin with grace instead of grimace—which is our natural human tendency. Let’s see what she has to say.

Kathy continues . . .

As I sat down to write this piece for you, I started out as an “expert.” I’m the Grin with Grace gal. I’ve studied all the grace words in the Bible. Written a book. Put together a script and performed a 7-session DVD. I should know it all when it comes to grinning with grace, right?

But before I could even organize my thoughts for this article, I received a note that derailed me. Someone cancelling a commitment with almost no notice for me to come up with Plan B. And two days ago the surgeon told me I needed surgery. So I should be doing less, not more. Here’s a perfect opportunity for me to live what I teach—am I really going to grin with grace in this situation?

What often works for me is to laugh. Yes, laugh! It releases negative energy and helps me develop a healthy perspective on the situation. It acknowledges that the problem itself stinks, but it’s not the end of the world.

It’s temporary. I’ll get past this.

And who knows, the outcome might be even better because sometimes my Plan B is God’s Plan A all along.

So I want to share with you some of the words I found in Scripture that partner with grace to help us through life’s messes. And I’m certainly an expert in that—I tend to get in a lot of messes. Some of my own making. Some that I trip into backwards, never seeing the puddle before it’s too late.

Grace partners with glory, peace, mercy, kindness, eternal comfort, and wonderful hope. Each pairing is a vital life partnership.

How do we grow these virtues in our lives so that we’re prepared when a Life Mess happens? Oh—and it’s gonna’ happen!

#1 – Mercy

"Grace, mercy, and peace, which come from God the Father and from Jesus Christ—the Son of the Father—will continue to be with us who live in truth and love" (2 John 1:3 NLT).

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How do I acquire God’s mercy in my life?
  • Do I need to remind myself that it’s there for my everyday needs and not just for my salvation?
  • How does tapping into God’s mercy in my life help me grow closer to Him?
  • How does it empower me to provide mercy to others even when I don’t feel like it?

When you pair mercy with grace, you’re equipping yourself to grin despite the life mess going on around you.

#2 – Love 

(See 2 John 1:3.) Love is like a spring—it must continue to circulate. New love coming in (from God, from others, from self), and your love flowing out. If love doesn’t circulate, it stagnates.

How is love at work in your life right now, and how does it help you receive and deliver God’s grace? 

#3 – Truth

(See 2 John 1:3.) These six virtues that pair so well with grace aren’t merely self-help strategies. They are built on a foundation of truth. God’s Word is truth.

How can you know truth and trust truth more in your Christian walk now than before? Why is truth necessary to help you grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord?

#4 – Peace

"May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace" (1 Corinthians 1:3 NLT).

Peace seems to elude us when we need it most. Like in the middle of a Life Mess.

Why do we find it so difficult to experience God’s peace? What gets in the way of peace—worry, doubt, confusion, or chaos? All of these? How can you convince your heart and mind to believe the message of peace and receive its calm assurance? 

#5 – Comfort

"Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope" (2 Thessalonians 2:16 NLT).

Jesus knows us well enough to know we need a Comforter—and that is why He promised not to leave us comfortless. It’s human nature to need the soothing reassurance of a nurturing presence, especially in the middle of a Life Mess.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are there any areas in my life right now where I could use some extra comfort?
  • What best helps me experience the soothing comfort of God’s grace?
  • Does anything blind me from seeing the comfort He sends or hinder me from receiving it?

#6 – Hope

(See 2 Thessalonians 2:16.) Hope is vitally important to help us through our days. Even days filled with blessings still need hope . . . but those days filled with trials . . . I don’t need to explain why we need hope during our Life Messes!

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I tend to be a skeptical person or a hope-filled person?
  • What sort of light at the end of the tunnel has helped me hold on to hope?
  • What happens when I’m paralyzed in a funk of dark clouds, with no sign of light?
  • How can I find hope enough for even those no-sign-of-light days?

In music, grace notes are melodic and compliment the rest of the musical score. All these traits that pair well with grace are like the harmony parts, but grace is the key. Play the musical notes of these six virtues, add in God’s grace notes, and see what song develops.

If that doesn’t make you grin with grace, it’s time for you to check your heart to make sure it’s still beating!

Which of these six virtues might help you grin when you'd rather grit your teeth?

Kathy Carlton Willis writes and speaks with a balance of funny and faith—whimsy and wisdom. Not many funny girls also have Bible degrees! Kathy’s a pastor’s wife, which gives her plenty of opportunities to grin with grace. She shines the light on issues that hold women back and inspires their own lightbulb moments. Almost a thousand of Kathy’s articles have been published in books, magazines, newspapers and online publications. Visit her website, and check out her latest project, the Grin with Grace Bible Study, published by AMG Publishers.

Article: ©2015, Modified Excerpt from Grin with Grace, AMG Publishers.

Graphic adapted: Image courtesy of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Tuesday
Jun162015

8 Questions to Ask Before You Take on a New Task

All of us have to decide whether to take on more work, a new job, more responsibilities. In this Time Management UPGRADE, I'll just call it a "new task."

Women are expected to be good multi-taskers, but we have to know our limits. And we can't compare our limits with others' limits!

Sometimes new tasks are blessings in disguise, and I'm glad I said "yes." Other times, new tasks take me over the top and I ask, "Why, oh why, did I agree to this?"

I used to struggle when I had to decide whether to take on a new task. Whenever I was faced with this kind of decision, I immediately thought:

  • Will this get overwhelming?
  • What does God think about this?
  • What would Bob (my husband) say?
  • Will this crowd out things I already think are important?
  • Would someone else have more time or be better equipped?
  • Would this be an opportunity I can't afford to miss—something I'd regret if I said "no"?

Every time I asked those questions, I had to ramp down strong emotions connected with them.

It's just the way I am. I tend to start hyperventilating—long childhood story I'll skip here—but the bottom line is, I don't want to be overwhelmed with responsibilities.

But actually, those immediate questions I had can be helpful if I'm driven to examine them before the Lord and with godly counsel from others. And I have to keep in mind: we're all different.  

We have different personalities and skill sets, and we tend to handle work loads in different ways.

What God asks/allows Suzy-Q to do may be totally different from what He asks/allows me to do. What might be a headache for her might be a total joy for me. Or vice versa!

Most of us are content with Plan A until Plan B comes along. Then we wonder if we should move to Plan B. Or choose Plan C — or a fresh combination of A and B.

So how do we determine whether to take on a new task?

I think there are some important questions to ask:

1. Have you seriously prayed about the new task?

James 1:5 says we can ask for direction from God. He delights in giving us His wisdom.

It helps to spread the matter before the Lord. We seek Him not only because we want His will and He knows what is best for us, but also because we need to hear ourselves "discussing" the task with Him. Sometimes when we "talk through" the issue, we hear the answer!

It also helps to lay out the pros and cons before the Lord. That doesn't mean He won't lead you to say "yes" even if there are some cons, but you need to see both sides clearly.

2. What do you think God is saying?

Is there any scriptural counsel? Is there something you need to study out before making the decision?

Proverbs 2:6 says, "For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding" God's Word can give fresh insights.

Once when I wasn't sure about a choice, I ended up studying the topic of "time management." Another time, I studied "patience."

3. How does this new task fit in with your roles in life?

What are your God-given roles? Are you a wife? Mom? Are you single? Each of these roles have built-in limitations ... and wonderful opportunities.

And what are your functional responsibilities? These will differ from woman to woman:  employee, employer, homemaker, caretaking daughter, older woman providing child care, Bible study leader, writer/speaker, etc.

4. If married, what is is your spouse's input about this new task?

How does your spouse think this new task will impact your home? If your partner is a Christ-follower, ask for prayer and specific input. If your partner isn't a believer, ask and listen anyway. Sometimes God gives unbelievers practical wisdom, especially the husband who takes his leadership seriously.

Note: If you are unmarried and/or work in an office, can you seek an employer's, co-worker's or friend's counsel?

5. How does this new task align with your personal goals?

Does it get you closer to your goals or further away? Do you need to step outside your comfort zone? Is there a new skill set you need to learn that might make this otherwise "iffy" task more attractive?

If not, are you willing to work for the required time in a task that has no other purpose than income? (But income might be an important issue!)

6. How does this fit into your priorities for the home?

Your home is important for many purposes: relationships, hospitality, ministry, as a practical picture of God or His provision to others, etc. Will this new task help with that?

Note: If you're working outside the home, how does the new task fit into the original job you were hired to do?

7. Do you need to let something else go in order to begin this task?

Would it be possible to delegate some things to create space for the new task?

8. Would you be able to keep your life in balance after taking on this task?

The quickest way to burnout is a life out of balance.

Think about a "task" decision you need to make and apply these questions. Seek wisdom for your choices with the goal of honoring God in all things (1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 11:36), and ask clarifying questions.

Which of these questions helps you most in deciding whether to take on a new task?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Ministries, is the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is the Director of the San Diego chapter of Network of Evangelical Women in MInistry (NEWIM San Diego). Dawn is the co-author of LOL with God and contributed "The Blessing Basket" in It's a God Thing. She and her husband Bob have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic Adapted, Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.