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Wednesday
Nov222017

Be Thankful—God Loves Ewe!

In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, Pam Farrel encourages us to upgrade our lives with a little help from the Good Shepherd.

Our Good Shepherd pursues us to give his faithful love and all things beautiful and beneficial,” Pam says.

I (Dawn) have watched Pam in ministry. She knows a little about shepherds and sheep—the kind that go "baaa," and the human "sheep" who struggle and cry out to their Shepherd.

Pam continues . . .

I am a true Bo Peep. I grew up on a Suffolk sheep farm in Idaho.

I was a fourth generation shepherd. If there is something I am familiar with, it is sheep!

So when I read Psalms 23, one of the most familiar of all Psalms, it is very personal, encouraging and comforting.

You may also need comfort or encouragement in your own life right now. There are a few qualities of your Good Shepherd that might encourage you, especially if you are feeling like you are traveling through the “valley of the shadow of death”.

1. The Shepherd is Personal

For example, the Psalmist’s opening line, “The Lord is my shepherd,” became more precious when I became a shepherdess. The relationship between a lamb and a shepherd can be a very close, caring and even sometimes, affectionate relationship.

For example, my first 4-H lamb was a “bummer,” meaning the mother had rejected or abandoned her own offspring.

These kinds of lambs need extra attention, so I fed my little lambie with a bottle twice a day, holding her in my arms like a baby.

I carded her wool, I hand fed her grain, I walked her, and yes, I talked to her.

On cold nights, I tucked her into a warm pen, and if I heard howling wild dogs or coyotes, I got up to go out to check on her.

I also named her, “Bunny” because when she wasn’t in my arms, she would delight herself jumping from rock to rock in our pasture. Ours was an “everywhere that Pammy went her lamb was sure to go” kind of relationship.

2. The Shepherd is a Protector

It is really a picture of my grandfather, father and brother, and their vigilance that I carry in my mind as to what a truly protective good shepherd is like.

Ravenous coyotes, wolves and wild dogs roamed the vast expanse of high desert in the area our family farm was located. These savage dogs would attack and kills whole flocks of sheep in a single night.

To help us keep our sheep safe, we place collars with bells on them. If they we heard an occasional gentle chime we knew our sheep were simply grazing calmly, but if we heard a cacophony of loud jingling, we knew the wild dogs were near by threatening an attack

To protect the sheep, the men in my family would post themselves in the pasture with the sheep. They would wrap themselves in a down sleeping bag with their “rod and staff” within arm’s reach. It was a cold, uncomfortable, thankless job, but it saved the lives of all our entire flock of sheep and their lambs.

To this day, when I picture my God as my Good Shepherd, I see Him as my strong, powerful and attentive protector.

3. The Shepherd is a Provider

When I read, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul" (vv. 2-3), that is exactly the experience of my upbringing.

  • I would often walk barefoot through the deep, lush, green grass of the pasture, as the sheep serenely grazed.
  • I would take a blanket and a Bible, and lie down and spend quiet hours communing with God.
  • I might walk over to the creek, and sit on the simple wooden plank that created a bridge, and sit and rest quietly dipping my toes into the cool stream.

This was my place of solace and restoration, far away from the chaos my alcoholic, raging, earthly father might be creating in our small farm house. 

To this day, resting in an open meadow, or the sound of gently tinkling chimes, remind me of the restorative rest the Good Shepherd can create even in the midst of chaos.  

4. The Shepherd Is a Pursuer

As I have followed my Good Shepherd, I have seen how “goodness and mercy“ has surely followed me the days of my life. 

One could phrase the meaning of “goodness and mercy” as “certainly what is good, pleasant, agreeable, beneficial, desirable, beautiful and best, as well as God’s faithful, loyal, lovingkindness will pursue you.

Wow!

Our Good Shepherd pursues us to give His faithful love and all things beautiful and beneficial.

A recent example in my own life is the writing of this blog. It is an adaptation out of my newest book, Discovering Hope in the Psalms. I was going through one of my most challenging years of my entire life when my friend Jean asked me to edit, then co-author, this study with her.

See... my Shepherd sent goodness and mercy to pursue me, because He knew I was going to need to dwell in the green pastures of His Hope-filled Word to survive my own valley.

With the Shepherd, we can walk THROUGH the darkest valley and not tremble, because the Good Shepherd sees His sheep, knows His sheep and cares for each and every one of His sheep—including you!

What attribute of the Shepherd do you need, to hold on to hope?

Find a wool blanket, spread it in a green pasture near some still water, open your Bible and let the Shepherd send some goodness and mercy your way.

 Pam Farrel is still a shepherdess at heart. However, instead of living on her family farm, she now travels the world shepherding people’s hearts and relationships by speaking and teaching God’s goodness and mercy through the ministry she and her husband run: Love-Wise. She is the author of 45 books. Her newest is Discovering Hope in the Psalms: A Creative Bible Study Experience.

Tuesday
Nov212017

How to Protect Your Peace This Holiday Season

Debbie W. Wilson wisely counsels women on the kinds of attitudes that please the Lord. In this Holiday UPGRADE, she encourages us to forget about people-pleasing and focus on pleasing the Lord.

Debbie asks, "Has trying to please your family and friends drained the joy from your holidays?"

I (Dawn) am sure many of us feel that "drain" from time to time during the Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays. It's not just joy. It's peace too! And self-control. And a lot of other godly attitudes!

Debbie continues

One year, I mentioned how much our son enjoyed going to a relative’s house for special occasions.

“He probably wouldn’t feel that way if you did more,” my Thanksgiving guest replied.

Ouch.

Jesus’ friends Martha and Mary can teach us a lot about the pitfall of trying to please everyone.

Let's visit the sisters before we lose our peace and perspective this season.

Martha Stewart could have been named after the older sister. Martha’s table and foods delighted all the senses, and her culture applauded her.

As is often the case with siblings, Mary was her polar opposite.

Who cared what they ate or when? She was consumed with Jesus. Mary’s choice to learn from the Rabbi flew in the face of her culture and her sister’s expectations.

When we meet the sisters, Martha has opened her home to Jesus and His disciples. While she busily prepared a feast for them, Mary listened to Jesus.

When the banging of pots didn’t grab Mary’s attention, Martha stormed into the middle of the group and turned on Jesus.

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40 NIV).

Mary froze. This probably wasn’t the first time her sister had publicly corrected her. Dare she look at Jesus? Her cheeks burned, anticipating His reproach.

Jesus shocked the whole group. Instead of chastising Mary, He corrected Martha and commended Mary.

“My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42-42 NLT).

He didn’t reprimand Martha for being busy, but for being worried and upset.

Jesus simplified her focus.

Have you ever let details and pressures rob you of the best?

It is easy to be distracted by our to-do lists and miss the reason why we are doing.

LESSONS from MARTHA

  1. A critical spirit indicates a wrong focus. Need I say more?
  2. Martha took her complaint to the right person. Jesus will tell us the truth. The truth set Martha free. He’ll free us from our bad attitudes and wrong emphases too.
  3. We can change. The next time Martha prepared a feast for Jesus, she hummed while she worked (read between the lines, John 12:2-7)! A single focus lightens our work.

Jesus loved Mary and Martha. And both of them blessed Him when they served Him with uncluttered hearts.

But Mary ministered to His soul.

At the gathering the week before His death, Mary anointed His feet with a pint of expensive nard. The fragrance filled the air and saturated His skin and the tips of His clothes. Someone suggested the fragrance lingered through His final week—even to the cross.

Of all of Jesus’ friends and followers, only Mary understood His mission. She believed He was headed to the cross and wanted the fragrance of her love to be with Him in what lay ahead.

And some of His followers criticized her.

LESSONS from MARY

  1. We have to please only One. Spending time with Him reminds us of what matters most.
  2. Choices that delight Jesus may offend some of His followers. On different occasions, Mary's sister and Jesus' disciples found fault with her.
  3. Staying tuned into Jesus nurtures us, ministers to others, and blesses Him! Jesus promised that Mary’s act would be remembered always (Mark 14:9).

As we celebrate Thanksgiving and enter the Christmas season, let's keep our focus.

A year from now, no one will remember the details of our holidays, but they will remember our spirits and love.

What helps you stay grounded in this busy season?

Debbie W. Wilson—drawing from her personal walk with Christ, twenty-four years as a Christian counselor, and decades as a Bible teacher—speaks and writes to help others discover relevant faith. She is the author of Little Women, Big God and Give Yourself a Break. Share her journey to refreshing faith at her blog.

Note: The Christmas to-do List in the graphic is a printable available from babyhintsandtips.com.

Thursday
Nov162017

Why Does Rejection Feel So Bad?

Kathy Collard Miller continually turns women to the Word of God to find truth to combat the lies they might believe. In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, she helps us focus in on the truth about rejections.

"Rejection," Kathy says, "hits like an atom bomb in our soul."

Boom! I (Dawn) have felt the powerful impact of rejection over my entire life. But I've learned over the years how to counter the reality of rejection and my brokenness because of it—with God's truth. That's something Kathy' espouses too.

Kathy continues . . .

Recently I felt sick in the depths of my stomach and my soul when I felt rejected.

Personal rejection can be described as someone refusing to accept what we offer them or they believe something bad about us.

We feel attacked and misunderstood. It can be a very hopeless feeling.

Here are three points for hope.

1.  We can understand where the feelings of rejection originated.

Rejection can bring up the lies we believed or felt about us in childhood. In that moment, we feel as if we’re back being that little girl or boy when we felt horrible, because we were attacked emotionally or physically.

It feels like all the resources and truth we know as adults about God are thrown out the window and we’re back to being voiceless, powerless, or without defense. The feelings are the same even though the situation is different.

In those moments, God offers hope through assuring us we aren’t the child any longer—thinking God isn’t there for us.

Instead, the truth is, God promises to be our refuge, help, protector, and give unconditional love.

We may not see evidence of that like we’d prefer, but by faith we can tell ourselves our loving Savior is “for” us and is defending us more than we realize.

2. Rejection most often comes because the other person feels threatened in some way.

Most of the time, she is reacting out of her own pain or even feeling rejected or worthless herself.

Even if we made a mistake or react in a hurtful way, she is responsible before God to offer grace because He has forgiven her for so much and He offers the strength she needs to make a wise choice.

But so many of us respond to and are responded to by others out of past wounds. Unfortunately, we take the person’s attack personally and blame ourselves.

Certainly we can take responsibility for our wrong choices but regardless, the other person is responsible for their response too. God wants to empower us to not take the attack personally but to offer an example of God’s grace of unconditional love. It is possible.

3. Rejection is the feeling of our worth and value being dismissed.

We believe the rejection is valid, because we believe the lie someone else believes: “She is worthless,” “He is stupid,” “She has nothing of worth to offer,” and many other lies.

But those are lies created by Satan against God’s beloved creation.

We must look primarily to God for who He says we are, not other people.

Not only were each of us created with God’s stamp of “good” at creation, even in our sin He demonstrates we are important and loved by Him through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. That act determines we are never rejected or reject-able by God.

In the first chapter of Ephesians, He says the opposite of rejection.

He says we are:

  • loved,
  • forgiven,
  • blessed,
  • redeemed,
  • accepted,
  • adopted,
  • and many other truths of our identity.

Only believing those truths will counteract the atom bomb going off in our soul and minds when we feel rejected.

Indeed, our audience of One—God Himself—is still seeing us “in Christ” regardless of another person’s opinions.

Jesus demonstrated that many times.

  • Jesus refused to believe the rejection of His own family who believed Him crazy (Mark 3:21).
  • Jesus didn’t respond to the rejection of the Pharisees, His own disciples, and even the betrayal of Judas and Peter.

He knew His identity as God.

Even as a human, Jesus depended on who His Father said He was.

That’s our challenge also.

Which point will you focus on the next time you feel rejected?

Kathy Collard Miller is the author of more than 50 books including Choices of the Heart: Daughters of the King Bible Study Series. She is a popular women's conference speaker both nationally and internationally. Visit KathyCollardMiller.com. Kathy lives in Southern California with her husband Larry (of 45+ years). They have two children and two grandchildren.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of comfreak at Pixabay.

Tuesday
Nov142017

Holiday Hope for Aging Parents

Including aging parents in our holiday plans can take some extra thought, but as Cynthia Ruchti shows us in this Holiday UPGRADE, it's so worth the time and effort!

"Aging parents—and caring for them—can upgrade the holidays for us," Cynthia says. "And it’s about time."

I (Dawn) like that. I like any time we can upgrade the holidays. We do it with decorations and events, but what about the people in our lives? How do we give a meaningful dose of holiday hope to our aging parents?

Cynthia continues . . .

In many families, Grandma and Grandpa once provided the setting for all the holiday memory-making.

Theirs was the groaning dining room table with a feast and decorations that revealed days’ worth of cooking, baking, preparation.

Theirs was the backyard hill for sledding and snow forts.

The presents under the Christmas tree might have crowded against each other with the grandparents’ generosity and homemade gifts.

But now, a hospital bed might occupy the spot a glittering tree once claimed.

The living room of the grandparents’ home is “decorated” with the trappings of ill health and aging—walkers, commodes, lift chairs. The sounds of Christmas music in the background competes with the sound of the oxygen machine.

Or Grandma and Grandpa are in reasonably good health, but living in a small apartment or an assisted living home.

We can change the setting for holiday gatherings. Christmas at Aunt Cheryl’s this year. Or Thanksgiving dinner at the home of Grandma and Grandpa’s eldest child.

But how do we keep our grip on cherished traditions, include rather than exclude the aging, and find new ways to “Honor thy father and mother” (Exodus 20:12 KJV) when the holidays include tasks of caregiving for aging parents?

And how will doing so upgrade our holiday experiences?

I love how God included the elderly in the original Christmas story.

Luke 1 starts not with the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary, but with Zechariah, an aged priest, who by God’s grace had a son despite his wife’s lifelong barrenness. That son—John—prepared the way for the coming Messiah.

Bookending the story of the birth of Christ are other characters of many yearsSimeon, who blessed the eight-day-old infant Jesus in the temple, and Anna, a prophet described as “very old.” She’d been married only seven years, and at the time of Jesus’s birth was an 84-year-old-widow.

Anna was among the first to Tweet the news about the birth of the Messiah.

(She “tweeted” with whole sentences, though, telling everyone she knew, everyone who had been looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem that He had been born, according to Luke 2:38.)

Zechariah, Simeon, Anna—their ages added to the encompassing picture of the Christmas story.

And so can the elderly in our families, even if their needs require special accommodations during the holidays.

  • Encourage Grandpa or Grandma to pray over the holiday meal, if that’s long been a tradition in your home and they are still able to communicate.
  • If you host the holiday gathering at some place other than their residence, consider bringing something familiar to anchor them in the new scene—a favorite afghan, their heirloom nativity set, Grandma’s good china or silverware.
  • Use double-sided name tents at each place setting to boost Grandma’s or Grandpa’s memory about the names of their loved ones.
  • Unless it’s physically impossible, include them in safe but meaningful ways in the food preparation. Some aging parents/grandparents grow restless and uncomfortable around the holidays because it’s a reminder of traditions in which they can no longer participate. Even if someone else needs to yield the knife, can Grandma arrange the vegetables on the crudité platter? If Grandpa once carved the turkey but can no longer manage the task, can he be given the honor of making the first slice?
  • Reserve time for aging parents to tell their stories.
  • Show consideration for their tolerance for noise and commotion. Plan quiet activities in addition to what was once delightful chaos for them.
  • Consider, too, their nutritional restrictions. Rather than making them bypass their favorite foods, find ways to accommodate an extra bowl of salt-free gravy or seedless blackberry jam for their dinner roll.
  • If aging parents or grandparents are confined by health needs to a nursing home facility, give the gift of your extended presence sometime during the holidays. Unhurried. Reminding them, and the staff, that they are treasured, dearly loved. If they live far away from the family festivities, bring video messages from their children and grandchildren, so they know they were thought of, remembered, cherished.
  • Even if you send Thanksgiving or Christmas greetings only by email and Facebook, take the time to send cards to the aging.

God did not tell us to honor our father and mother when it’s convenient.

Or when their needs don’t interfere with our plans.

Or only when they … and we … are young.

What does your family do to honor elderly members during the holidays? In what ways have you discovered that “it’s about time”?

Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed-in-Hope through award-winning novels, nonfiction, devotionals, and through speaking events for women. Her recent book—As My Parents Age: Reflections on Life, Love, and Change—addresses many challenging and tender aspects of caring for aging parents or grandparents. http://www.cynthiaruchti.com, http://www.hemmedinhope.com

Thursday
Nov092017

Face-to-Face Friends Go Beyond Facebook

Leave it to counselor-coach Gail Goolsby to remind us to pursue real friends. In this Friendship UPGRADE, she encourages us to go beyond Facebook.

“As of January 2016, Facebook leads social network activity with approximately 1.6 billion regular monthly users,” Gail said. The average Facebook user has about 340 friends, but are they real or fake friends?”

I (Dawn) think Gail is hitting on a great truth. How we define friends has truly changed in recent years. And with that redefinition comes some difficulties.

Gail continues…

In 2010, TV talk host Jimmy Kimmel proclaimed November 17th as National UnFriend Day.

For UTube, he created humorous videos to help his viewers determine who to dismiss from their overloaded friend list on Facebook.

He playfully demonstrated that:

  • If people posted countless selfies/baby/pet/vacation photos,
  • or if they complained about their health repeatedly,
  • or sent online game invites too many times—

CLICK. They were unfriended.

Kimmel proposed social media users should reflect on what true friendship means, and how to be a better online friend with less people.

A Good Friend is Hard to Find

How do we develop real, meaningful relationships in short phrases, food and family pictures, and emoticons from a cell phone or a computer screen?

What do online friends actually contribute to our lives?

A dozen synonyms from the thesaurus for friendship include: affection, closeness, intimacy, love, understanding, alliance, attachment, company, empathy, familiarity, fondness, and regard.

Can we form a genuine attachment to people that we do not share physical presence with on a regular basis?

Can we read others’ theological debates, political rants, favorite Bible verses, daily updates and hope to become emotionally or spiritually connected?

Let’s review friendship examples and exhortations that come from Scripture and compare them to online friendship potential.

1. Job 2:11 (ESV)

Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him.

The three friends went to sit with Job in his troubles.

Are twenty postings of encouragement on a Facebook wall as powerful as a person in physical proximity to communicate support? I don’t think so.

2. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (ESV)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

Loneliness can be challenging as well as sad. Friends together can accomplish much and share the burden of moving, repairing, cleaning, planting, harvesting, and building.

Typed words alone will not get the tasks done.

3. Proverbs 27:6, 17 (ESV)

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

Online friends can be sincere or not—who would know? Compliments and likes are easy to provide with a few clicks of computer keys or adding cute faces and heart symbols.

To speak the hard truth to a friend that could really help her life situation requires a deep knowing and foundation of trust built over time and shared experiences.

People need facial expressions and eye contact to fully comprehend risky messages and to grow from the interactions.

4. Proverbs 18:24; 17:17 (ESV)

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

How many friends should be gathered, or is quality more the question than quantity?

  • Needed are the companions who stick around when cancer strikes, to tenderly hold up a friend’s weak body after chemo.
  • When divorce erupts or a child dies, real friends offer more than comforting scripture memes.
  • Friends provide meals for the family when the wife/mother cannot get out of bed as well as online prayers.
  • People need to feel a hand on their shoulder or see an empathetic expression of sadness on their friend’s face sitting across the table, not just a teary emoji in a text box.

Face-to-Face Works Best!

Should we unfriend? Forget about spending time sorting your Facebook friend list this month. Close the laptop and get together with actual friends for some real-time activity.

Communicate with the people right in front of you instead of working your fingers to talk to others in cyberspace.

Be a live, human friend, present and engaged with the important people in your life.

Facebook can wait.

What friendships have been neglected or reduced to brief digital messages that need your personal attention and care?

Gail Goolsby, MA, MEd, is a lifelong educator, including past leadership at an international school in Afghanistan. Gail and her pastor husband of 39 years live where the wind blows over the prairie in south Kansas. She counsels and coaches using God’s Word to help others learn to live well. Get to know more about Gail here.

Graphics adapted, social media courtesy of geralt and Best Friends courtsy of cherylholt—both at Pixabay.