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Tuesday
May232017

Is Growth Measured on a Timeline?

Kathy Collard Miller helps people respond to life's circumstances in godly ways. In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, she tackles the tricky issue of temptation.

She asks, "Do you sometimes feel discouraged when you keep encountering the same types of temptation?"

Do I? Yes! I (Dawn) get so frustrated sometimes when I think I've got a temptation "licked" and yet—there it is again! But Kathy has wise words here for any of us "strugglers."

Kathy continues . . .

Many of us envision spiritual or emotional growth represented on a linear time line.

But looking at it as a spiral or whirlpool can diminish discouragement.

The Growth "Whirlpool"

1. We will keep encountering the same type of challenge or temptation.

We're going around and around in life, and every time we reach a certain situation or person, there's a rock, representing a sinful strategy that hits us, tempting us to behave badly.

If we think there are no rocks, we'll be surprised and unaware of their approach.

2. Knowing our particular sinful tendency will reoccur knocks off the rocks in the whirlpool of life.

For instance, I don’t like to be seen as imperfect. When I sense someone is displeased with me or I’ve disappointed someone, I use anger as a means of pointing to their faults rather than owning my own.

I’ve been tempted in this way since childhood when I unknowingly decided being perfect would protect me from looking stupid.

As a result, I depended upon a deep sense of perfectionism which was a huge boulder as I was caught in the spiral of life.

Perfectionism is a demand to have my worth and value determined by my behavior. Yet it sets me up for failure because I can never reach perfection.

3. Recognizing our tendencies empowers us to rehearse truth as we know the temptation will come again as life swirls around us.

God has helped me recognize the tempting boulder of perfectionism. When I’m tempted again to start blaming others with irritation or anger, I can slow down and ask, “What boulder is looming again?”

I tell myself, “Only Jesus is perfect but because I am ‘in Christ,’ He sees me as perfect already.”

I quote Colossians 2:10 to myself:

“and in Him you have been made complete.”

I remind myself that “complete” means “perfect.”

Thus, I don’t need to defend myself to others. Or if God leads me to speak up, I can respond without tension.

That boulder in my whirlpool is now much smaller.

I don’t succumb to the temptation of perfectionism as often and God has used this concept to help set me free.

So here’s the bad and good news.

The bad? Challenges to change and grow in holiness are never-ending. God will work on our sanctification until the day we die.

The good news? Growth is possible. We can be strengthened in God’s power to resist temptations more and more.

But that growth will occur most effectively when we believe it’s not a time line but a whirlpool.

How could envisioning your growth as a whirlpool encourage or empower you the next time you are tempted?

Kathy Collard Miller is a popular speaker and award-winning author of over 50 books. These concepts are taken from her book, co-authored with her husband, Larry, Never Ever Be the Same: A New You Starts Today. Kathy has spoken in over 30 US states and 8 foreign countries. Learn more about Kathy here.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of bykst at Pixabay.

Thursday
May182017

The Least of These

Susan K. Stewart is is a practical and insightful writer with heart. In this Ministry and Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she encourages us to think like Jesus thinks when it comes to "the least of these."

“Today I encountered another “panhandler” on the corner of a busy intersection.” Susan said.

“As is my habit, I grabbed some bills out of a container on my console and handed them to the man. Once again I hear in my internal ear, ‘He’s only going to use it for drugs or booze.’”

Yes, I (Dawn) have heard that thought many times. Who hasn’t? But then there is another voice, a still, small voice of love.

Susan continues . . .

Quiet down internal ear.

As I gave this man a couple of dollars, I thought about a Dave Ramsey quote, which had been circulating on Facebook:

“Make sure that you are actually helping someone when you give them money, not just enabling bad behavior.”

I generally appreciate Mr. Ramsey’s suggestions. In this case though, life experiences have changed my way of thinking about this kind of giving.

Like others, I have thought those who ask for money, food, or whatever are drug users, alcoholics or morally unacceptable people.

Then the situation hit closer to home.

Our son was diagnosed with a serious mental illness. Like so many who suffer with these confusing brain diseases, his recovery didn’t start right away.

Unlike many other diseases, mental illnesses don’t have a quick fix. Too often our loved ones flounder trying to get better, trying to be good people, trying to be normal.

Like others, our son followed a path of self-medication through alcohol and drugs. Much to our pain, we had to ask him to leave our home. He began couch surfing, but at times would just get in his car and leave.

With no real destination, we never knew where he would end up. Most of the time he survived these trips by begging. Had it not been for the generosity and kindness of others, my son may have committed a crime or worse, died on the streets.

Maybe I respond with gifts as returning favors others gave my son.

Begging or panhandling is the practice of imploring others to grant a favor, often a gift of money, with little or no expectation of reciprocation.

Panhandlers are often found in public places such as street corners, urban parks, and near busy markets. Besides money, they may also ask for food, drink, cigarettes, or other small items.

According to a study in the journal of the Canadian Medical Association, “seventy percent of beggars stated they would prefer a minimum-wage job, typically citing a desire for ‘a steady income’ or ‘getting off the street.’” Mental illness was cited has one factor that makes them feel they cannot handle conventional jobs.

Beggars have existed since the beginning of time. We know Jesus encountered many of the less fortunate. What did He say?

First, there’s:

“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Mt. 7: 1-2 NASB).

Think. Have you ever picked up a free cup of coffee or snack? What if someone said that you don’t deserve it because you have caffeine or sugar addiction?

You don’t want to be judged in that way, do you? Does that person on the corner deserve it?

Second, in the New Testament:

“‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 

"The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’ (Mt. 25:37-40 NASB).

I don’t recall that Jesus ever said, “Help those who meet this list of qualifications.” He said help the least of these.

I believe money or other possessions belong to God. I need to make them available to God for his use, in his time, and in his way.

I’m responsible to God how I use or not use what He owns.

When I pass one of those possessions to someone else, that person becomes responsible to God for its use. If that man on the corner this morning buys a bottle of wine, he has to answer to God.

  • Ask God to give you an opportunity to give a gift to someone on the street corner.
  • Give, not worrying about the gift, but praying for the receiver.

Give to the least of us.

How do you feel when you pass a beggar? What do feelings have to do with it, really? What might the Lord be saying?

Susan K. Stewart—when she’s not tending chickens and peacocks—teaches, writes and edits non-fiction. Her passion is to inspire readers with practical, real-world solutions. Susan's books include Science in the Kitchen, Preschool: At What Cost? and the award-winning Formatting e-Books for Writers. Learn more about Susan at www.practicalinspirations.com.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of hotblack at Morguefile.

Tuesday
May162017

Four Ways to Get through the Storm

In this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, Kathy Carlton Willis refers to a tremendous "storm" she's going through. I’m on the prayer team for Kathy and have been privy to her prayer needs. She doesn’t just share requests, but also how they affect her.

Kathy told me:

“I’m starting to look at the storms of life differently.”

That piqued my (Dawn's) interest. She’s been through plenty of storms—enough to provide a full education on how to be a storm dweller!

Kathy continues . . .

I had just been to see a surgeon and infectious disease doctor about an ongoing medical situation. While in the medical center, a tornado warning was issued. A twister had been spotted in the vicinity.

But I stayed putI needed to hear what the doctors would say regarding my health.

Their words still rang in my ears as we stepped into our car. Thankfully, my husband Russ was there to drive us the one hundred miles home.

The worst storm imaginable buffeted us from every angle. We’d driven through hurricanes and tropical storms and hail, but this was worse.

Every time I prayed for God to remove the storm, the storm worsened.

The sky grew darker, the rain pounded worse, no visibility, hydroplaning, wind, and more.

It wasn’t until I quit praying for God to remove the storm, and simply asked Him to be with us in it and to get us through it, that the rain lightened up a bit and we could see our way. Eventually we could resume our normal speed and found our way home.

Once I realized it was God’s presence that gave me such powerful peace through the storm, I thought of this verse in Joshua:

“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NLT).

Brother Lawrence wrote a book titled The Practice of the Presence of God. This monk expressed the importance of not reserving awareness of God’s presence for church services. He taught how it took practice to focus on God and bring Him into everyday living.

Of course, God is always there, but this practice is a discipline to be mindful of His presence by your side (and in you). Brother Lawrence learned to do life with God, whether he was involved in a household chore, taking a walk, or something else. He turned mundane activities into opportunities to talk to God (and listen).

When we go through storms, it’s an important time to practice the presence of God.

When you let go of your expectation that God is the Great Fixer, and instead be content that He is the Great Friend, you can get through any difficult time.

Here are four ways to do that:

1. Be mindful of God with you.

He’s always there, but it’s up to you to sense His presence. Be on the lookout!

2. Swap prayers for praise.

When we swap our focus from our needs to His deeds, we realize His presence is enough to get through this storm.

3. Surrender your agenda.

He’s a big enough God to take care of us, no matter what the storm is.

(I think of how calm Jesus was when the storm hit the disciples’ boat. I want that calmness!)

4. Daydream about God.

Use your everyday, routine, mindless tasks as an opportunity to fix your thoughts on Jesus.

How much BETTER this is than to fill in the blank spaces with regrets about what is past or worries about what is yet to come.

And then when the storms do come, you’re ready to face them.

How will you invite Jesus to hang out with you in the midst of your current storm?

God’s Grin Gal, Kathy Carlton Willis, shines the light on what holds you back so you can grow. She’s a speaker and author with over a thousand articles online and in print, as well as her Bible study, Grin with GraceShe’s a bi-monthly columnist with CBN and a devotional writer for Todd Starnes. She and her husband Russ live in Texas with Jazzy, their hilarious Boston Terrier.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of skeeze at Pixabay.

Thursday
May112017

To Mommy

Kaley Faith Rhea is Rhonda Rhea's daughter. I wouldn't normally make a big deal out of that because I think every daughter has a right to stand on her own, not her mama's reputation.

But Kaley has a special tribute to her mom today, and in this Mother's Day UPLIFT, I think there's a message here for all of us.

"Happy Mother's Day!" Kaley says. "Today I want to take a look at how we honor moms--including mine.

(Note: I have a neat mom!)"

I (Dawn) think Kaley's mom, Rhonda, is a hoot. And a godly one at that. I would even let Rhonda be my mom, except I already have a good one, and a good mom-in-law too.

Kaley continues . . .

The Bible talks about, reiterates, and quotes “Honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12; Matthew 19:19; Ephesians 6:2; and more). It’s in there a lot.

And with this festive little holiday, here’s a great opportunity to do just that for our mommies. But how? How can I honor her?

I'm going to lay out some practicals.

1. Let’s talk about what honor means.

We’re using it as a verb here. To honor someone is to do something.

I can hold my mom in the highest regard (and I do), but if I am not demonstrating that esteem and affection I have for her, then I am not honoring her.

If Mom doesn’t KNOW she’s being honored, she’s not really being honored.

2. I need to honor MY mom.

Let’s be clear, when I say she needs to be mine, I’m not talking biologically. Plenty of moms out there are mothers of choice, and that is beautiful. But what I mean is, I need to keep in mind WHO I am honoring.

If I want to honor my mom, for example, I am not going to buy her a motorcycle. There are mothers out there, I’m certain, for whom a motorcycle would be the perfect, thoughtful, Mother’s Day gift. Mine is not that mom.

I think sometimes society likes to lump mothers together into one, easily-definable group. All moms are not the same person. I want to say it one more time: All moms are not the same person.

Mommies are vastly different from one another.

You know—the way all people are different from one another.

God is magnificent at crafting unique, individual souls, and that’s what each mom is. The key here is to learn how my mom feels most honored and cherished.

If you’ve ever looked at the Five Love Languages, that can be a nice place to start.

My mom’s love languages are gifts and acts of service. She loves getting Mother’s Day presents. Sometimes she asks for projects to be done around the house as her gift (which is very helpful. Thanks, Mom).

But I have friends whose moms cannot stand getting gifts. Gifts are just not their area.

Maybe that’s yours. If you find yourself frustrated with your mom going, “Please, you don’t need to get me anything” every year—while you’re going, “Mom, please, I have already bought these flowers; please take them; they’re dying!”—I want to set you free to try a different approach.

Maybe...

  • Offer to paint her living room,
  • Or write her a letter telling her how much you appreciate her,
  • Or take her out for a date or give her a boatload of snuggly hugs.

Let our moms be who they are.

I honestly can’t understand the acts of service thing. I’m over here like, “I’ll clean my own kitchen, thanks; get back in here and tell me how great you think I am.”

My mommy’s different than me. And that’s cool.

3. I don’t have a real number three. I just want to say I’m so grateful for my mom.

  • She has blessed every part of my life with her sweet acts of service.
  • Her words and her example have been used by God to introduce me to and strengthen my relationship with Him.
  • And the way she’s filled our home with laughter and kindness all my life has shaped me and helped me grow.

I love the time I get to spend with her, and I hope someday I’ll be a mom like THAT.

Lord Jesus, help us to honor our mothers according to Your Word. Thank you, specifically, for putting my gorgeous mom together the way You did and for making me hers.

Lord, I know there are some who have struggled with not having a mom or having been deeply hurt in that relationship in the past. I pray that You, Holy Spirit, Healer, would repair hearts, restore relationships where possible, provide closure if not, and ultimately be glorified in the way Your children love one another by Your strength.

Amen!

A Note from Dawn:

  • Think about your mom (mother, mommy) and thank the Lord for something very special about her, or something you learned from her.
  • If she is still alive, think of some way to honor her that she would personally appreciate this Mother's Day, as Kaley suggested. If she has passed away, take some time to look over old photographs and remember her with thanksgiving.
  • If you currently do not have a strong relationship with your mother, take time to pray about that. (There may be some way you can show her kindness.) Or perhaps you can think of another woman in your life you can encourage today. Express to her a positive way she has "nurtured" your life.

Kaley Faith Rhea is the co-author of Turtles in the Road, a novel releasing in a few weeks. 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
Apr272017

Connection or Crisis: Assessing a 'Tech Attachment'

Julie Sanders often encourages women to discover the calm of God's presence, and often, that calm is disrupted with technology. In this Life Choices UPGRADE, she invites us to think about technology's influence in our lives.

"We picked it up and the rest was history," Julie said.

"When we swiped our first device, no one expected it to became tangled around every space of life. How do we know if our attachment has become toxic?"

Toxic technology? I (Dawn) think I know what that's like. Tech addiction too! But the question is, what do we do about it?

Julie continues . . .

It’s likely technology entered your life as it did mine, innocent and even benign.

Since then it’s filtered into every corner of life until it’s hard to see where technology isn’t embedded in daily life.

Tech savvy or not, our wired world is here to stay. 

Since we find ourselves with easy online access, we have the ability to be constantly linked. Vacations and no-tech weekends have helped some hold back the tech tide, but how can we know if we’ve got a problem?

It’s easy to be connected and hard to step away. 

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 6:13).

One way to know

To know if you’ve reached a connection crisis, do one thing: put your tech down and wait.  Just wait. You’ll know when it’s been long enough. Wait until you can answer three questions:

  • Are you angry?
  • Are you agitated?
  • Are you anxious?

If we answer any of these with an affirmative “yes,” we have a problem. 

If we start sweating or shaking before we answer yes, we have a BIG problem. 

Some of us have already experienced relational conflict indicating our connections have reached crisis proportions. Thankfully, we’re not alone, because any adult in the developed world (and many in the developing world) understand the struggle is real. We’ve all been taken by surprise.

So in this unscientific approach to what some actually find is becoming an addiction: if you know you have a problem, next you need an honest friend.

Ask a friend, husband, or family member (or any combination) to help you identify what you stopped doing when you stopped putting your tech down.

What did you do BEFORE you carried your device everywhere? You’ve probably ignored that old thing, and it might help if you rekindle your relationship with it.

Talking to kids? Reading to kids? Having devotions?

           Exercising? Thinking? Being intimate?

         Working? Sleeping? Cooking? Laughing?

What did you experience that you can REDISCOVER? Most of the time when we adopt a new habit, we’ve let go of another. 

Replace some tech time with forgotten, but good things.

If we expect to put tech down and walk away without a replacement, we’ll probably feel angry, agitated, or anxious.

Maybe we’ve been missing out. We don’t want to wake up and realize we lived a life of missing out because we were always. . .

  • scrolling,
  • swiping,
  • sharing, or
  • scanning.

We don’t have to throw tech out with the bath water (unless we dropped it IN the bath water!). 

But we can’t have two masters: the God of the world and the wires of the world. 

If you suspect technology has an unhealthy hold on you, put it down. Wait. Answer honestly if you feel angry, agitated, or anxious.

Then dust off those things you’ve archived or deleted and take up LIFE again!

What part does technology play in your life? How are you using it in good ways to accomplish God’s priorities for your life?

Since Julie Sanders and her husband moved to the Northwest, she values connection with distant loved ones via social media and mobile devices. In their cross-cultural ministry, they see technology as a resource for encouragement and outreach. As the director of early learning programs across vast urban and rural regions, Julie sees how tech as both a tool and a trap in family life. She writes from her online home “Come Have a Peace.”