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Thursday
Jul132017

Love Is in the Air Between Us

Cynthia Ruchti's novels and nonfiction works often encourage people to reflect on life, love and change. In this Relationship UPGRADE, she helps us focus on loving our aging parents.

"Why did I wait so long," Cynthia says, "to figure out my mother-in-law’s love language?"

Oh wow. Do I (Dawn) relate to that! It took me years to discover how to relate to my dear mom-in-love. But once I understood, that relationship blossomed.

Cynthia continues . . .

Her message on our answering machine was simple but poignant: “Where are these people? Why can’t I ever reach them?”

My mother-in-law’s voice shook with emotion.

I didn’t hear her message until I returned from a long, tiring, but rewarding week-long conference. My husband had been home but hadn’t reached the phone before our answering machine kicked in. He’d quickly assured her he was there, right where she expected him to be.

But I couldn’t shake the quaver in her voice when I listened to the message after I returned home. It represented so much more than disappointment.

Her words symbolized a gap between our lives, between our methods of marking time—enough/not enough—and my understanding of her deepest need.

Although she’s almost 1,500 miles away from us, she lives on the same property as my sister-in-law, so we’re confident Mom has what she needs physically. Someone is watching out for her best interests.

But that closeness to her daughter sometimes lulls us into thinking her needs are met.

One of her felt needs is the assurance we care. To her, if we’re not present to answer the phone, we don’t care. Or we’re too busy for her.

Maybe the fact that travel is part of my job is harder on her now that she can’t physically travel, too.

Her love language must be quality time.

And neither my husband nor I considered how to honor that when loving her from a distance.

We’re not alone. Many live too far away from their aging parents to be involved in day-to-day care or to show up for often for a quality time visit.

When distance is an issue, how can we bridge the gap? How can we upgrade the way we love our aging parents?

  1. Initiate the calls. Don’t wait to be called.
  2. Call more frequently than you imagine necessary.
  3. Listen leisurely, whether the stories are stale or fresh.
  4. Collect tidbits of information your aging parent might find interesting.
  5. Call on days that are important to your parent, but also call just because.

As I wrote the recent release—As My Parents Age—I remained immersed in the subject of caring for aging parents, even though my father and mother died in 1993 and 2010, respectively. And respectfully.

I Peter 4:8 (AMP) lingered in my mind while I wrote, and returns to redirect me often:

“Above all, have fervent and unfailing love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins [it overlooks unkindness and unselfishly seeks the best for others].”

As I reviewed my list of UPGRADE suggestions, I was impressed with its connection to loving our God, who is both here (through the Spirit) and distant (not seeing Him face-to-face until well into the future).

Can I—can we—demonstrate our love in similar ways?

  1. Initiate communication with God. Don't wait for Him to have to tap us on the shoulder to remind us about our relationship.
  2. Pray more frequently than we imagine necessary. It will keep us in step with His directives and pace.
  3. Listen leisurely in prayer, but to old stories and to new.
  4. Watch for reasons to praise Him, to express gratitude, to celebrate with Him.
  5. Remember Him uniquely on His "special days," but connect with Him just because. It's a sign of a healthy relationship.

Whether it’s your parent or God who needs an “I love you and I’m thinking about you” call, when will you follow-through?

Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed-in-Hope through more than 20 novels, nonfiction, devotionals, and through speaking events for women or writers. She and her grade-school sweetheart husband live in the heart of Wisconsin, not far from their three children and five (to date) grandchildren. You can learn more about her and her books here, including her recent release, As My Parents Age.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of stephiejo at Pixabay.

Tuesday
Jul112017

Your Life Makeover: Are You Ready?

Wildfire survivor Elizabeth Van Tassel garners encouraging real-life stories and creates fantasy for kids with one goal in mind—helping tweens, teens, and adults find RESILIENCE amidst the most challenging times in life.

     

In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she encourages us to be open to life makeovers, so God’s touch will be evident in our lives.

“I didn’t ask for this season of great change, but I knew there was a whisper of something more packed into the move," Elizabeth said. "There’s a moment when you decide to either live a life of calling or of complacency. I didn’t want any regrets."

I (Dawn) think we can identify with seasons of change—expected and unexpected. But how we approach those changes makes a huge difference.

Elizabeth continues . . .

My husband looked stunned at the out-of-town, unsolicited job offer he’d received. It was an amazing opportunity for him, but I hesitated at first.

Our infant son’s third word was “box,” because our family had moved six times in two years.

Those were awful, unplanned and emergency-tinged after losing everything we owned in a massive wildfire years ago.

So, the word “move” provided a real challenge for me.

But the experience of giving everything to the Lord, and watching Him build a life for us again also freed me to invest in hope.

I said yes, and jumped.

Right now, we’re living in boxes in temporary housing, and breathing in the moment of trust daily.

  • Where will we live? Not sure yet.
  • Where will my grocery store be? Must remain flexible.

It’s like the TV show where they show up and dump your old clothes and take you on a shopping spree for a whole new look.

Are you open to His leading when this happens? Where does your life need transformation?

What if you’re cruising along, pretty content with life in general, and then a great change arrives?

Are you ready to be receptive to that ‘still, quiet voice’ prompting you to be open to something new? What could you miss if you’re not listening? Can dark times of loss and recovery actually make you MORE resilient?

Here’s what David had to say in Psalm 36:7-9:

“The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”

Your ability to be RESILIENT, or flexible enough to bend rather than break when pressures rise and life brings more stress, is to be able to UPGRADE as you do three things.

1. Nestle in closer, even when you don’t feel safe.

It’s all right to realize you’re a bit fragile. Ironically, those brittle moments are when we can uncover a new relationship with Christ.

Share your dreams and feelings. Give yourself time and permission to hang out in the Word and in conversational prayer. It can bring connection and healing. Perhaps those moments when you need “refuge” will bring you even closer to Him.

2. Look for abundance in unexpected places.

When your life situations shift dramatically, there will be losses. Friends, or homes, or even jobs may change.

But in that season, what new doors are being opened?

Is it a caring friend who unexpectedly shows up to help?

Are you developing a new skill?

You never know how God can use your situation.

Be open to new lessons.

Where there’s growth, there’s a chance for Him to retool something; because He LOVES makeovers—those of the heart—the most.

3. Search for a river of delights.

So many people, perhaps hundreds, have asked me how we stayed positive, our marriage survived, and our children have coped with so much change. We found a way to be intentional with our time and our activities, and even planned more fun into our priorities—thanks to our kids’ perspective!

Time slows when there’s loss or death or depleted resources. Eventually, after some healing, you’re ready for significant questions in uncovering how to live a life of calling rather than just getting by.

You’ll find that river of delights when you sit quietly and ask Him:

  • For refreshment.
  • For the next breath.
  • For deliverance.
  • And for acceptance.

So, are you ready to take a breath, listen more, and learn from painful moments? Can you pack your own boxes? What’s holding you back?

Elizabeth Van Tassel, resilience expert and fantasy writer, has really lived a life with diamonds, wildfires, and miracles. A wildfire survivor and gemologist who lost every possession and her home in the 2007 Witch Creek Wildfire, she winds tales of wondrous gems and destructive loss into fantastic fantasy for the next generation and beyond. She also speaks, writes nonfiction, and blogs weekly for adults and kids about living a resilient life. Learn more about Elizabeth here.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Ron Porter at Pixabay.

Thursday
Jul062017

Expand Your Attention Span for Spiritual Growth

Got attention span deficit? In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, Dawn encourages us to expand our attention span so we can grow in our journey with the Lord.

According to a Time magazine report (2014) quoting Chartbeat, a data analytics company, one in three visitors to a webpage spends less than 15 seconds reading an article they land on.

A 2016 article in The New York Times noted a survey of Canadian media consumption by Microsoft that concluded the average attention span had fallen to only eight seconds.

(Apparently goldfish have an attention span of 9 seconds, but I'm not sure how you'd prove that's true.)

Human brains wander and are “in the moment” for just over half of our waking hours according to a study from Harvard University. The rest of the time we “zone out.”

I've watched the controversy over the rise of fidget spinners for children with poor attention spans; but attention isn't just a kids' issue.

I've joked that I have a shorter attention span than fruit flies—sort of like this common fly hopping on and off my husband's cell phone! But it's really not a laughing matter.

Part of the problem: we flit between television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, our iPods and iPads and email. We’re distracted and incredibly busy and can’t seem to concentrate on one thing for long.

This problem affects Christians when it comes to spiritual disciplines and lifestyle.

  • We find time to surf the Internet, but fail to swim in the cleansing streams of our Bibles.
  • We eagerly chat on social media, but seldom get in deep conversations with our Heavenly Father.
  • We can quote lines from favorite flicks, but somehow can’t memorize scripture.
  • We spend hours looking for bargains in the mall, but miss seeing the desperate homeless woman outside.

As I write this, I am deeply convicted.

I am caught up in the busyness of modern society, the craziness of the constant media pull, and the emptiness of life when I forget God.

I need a major adjustment in my attention span, my use of time and the priorities I embrace. Do you?

I'm going to leave it to those much wiser to solve the brain/attention issue, but here are 5 ways I think we can expand our shrinking attention span to encourage spiritual growth.

1. Be Intentional in Seeking God.

Intentionality requires us to slow down and think so we can act wisely. In this crazy world, to come apart before we fall apart.

Redeeming or making the best use of time, as Paul encouraged, isn’t always about cramming more into our lives.

I like what Joan Webb, author of The Intentional Woman, says about this. “Speeding through life is not a productive way to redeem the time,” she says. “A better way to redeem life’s opportunities is to slow down, relax, and enjoy myself, others and God.”

Especially God.

Many Christians believe (see The Westminster Shorter Catechism, question #1) our chief purpose for existence is to enjoy God and glorify Him forever. We need to be intentional and seek Him.

It won’t just “happen” like an instant message flitting across your cell phone.

2. Meditate on Scripture.

Meditation is like mental training to improve our focus. It’s what sociologists call “mindfulness.”

“God designed us with the capacity to pause and ponder,” David Mathis wrote. “He means for us to not just hear Him, but to reflect on what He says.”

As a Christian discipline, meditation isn’t emptying the mind—as modern non-Christian teachers suggest—but rather filling the mind with real biblical truth and then “chewing” on it for a while. It is allowing the Word of God to “dwell in you richly.”

I have found meditation connected to prayer, Bible study and memorization. They all help one another.

3. Incorporate Exercise into your Day.

I’ve heard some people say “bodily exercise profits little,” quoting scripture, but a better translation of 1 Timothy 4:8 is “bodily training is of some value….” We don’t want to ignore our body’s need for exercise. And God designed us for a body-mind connection.

A study from the University of Illinois actually found physical activity can increase cognitive control and attention span. So why not get creative and use exercise time to the glory of God?

  • Prayer walk around your neighborhood.
  • Walk on a beach and hand out tracts.
  • Memorize a scripture while exercising.

4. Stay Hydrated!

We forget how much of our body is made up of water. Even mild dehydration, one study found, can impact a person’s ability to concentrate for long.

In her super-intentional book, 40 Days to Healthy Living, RN Danna Demetre says, "If you wait to drink water until you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated," and one of the symptoms of dehydration, she says, is "poor concentration."

As you drink in the Living Water of the Word, don’t forget pure H20 can refresh your body so you can focus on what God has to say. Keep a bottle of water with you at all times.

3. Ask Questions that Encourage Study.

Jesus was a master at asking questions. One author suggests Jesus asked 307 questions in the scriptures. He definitely wanted to get his disciples and seekers thinking.

He asked questions like, “Why are you afraid?”—“Where is your faith?”—and “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you?”

Asking questions will help you stay engaged and apply what you are learning. It might even lead to a life-changing research project!

4. Incorporate Christian Music.

A study at Stanford University’s School of Medicine found listening to classical music engages the areas of the brain that affect attention and memory. Music certainly can play a part in a Christian’s focus on the Lord.

Choose music that is both inspirational and truth-packed to get your attention and creative juices flowing. I recommend the CD “Be Still: Piano Meditations” by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

(But Note: if you are like me, when you are deep in study you may want some simple symphonies in the background instead—I find myself singing words of well-known hymns, and my brain starts chasing other topics!)

5. Write to Focus.

Writing long-hand engages more mental processing according to researchers.

Whether you journal or simply make notes in book margins or underline passages, writing will help you focus your thoughts—even better than using a laptop (which can prove to be an easy distraction).

Which of these attention span expanders could help you today? Do you have other ideas to help you focus?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices TodayLOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphics adapted, courtesy of Pixabay.

Tuesday
Jul042017

How to Biblically Upgrade Your Patriotism

On thing I admire about Morgan Farr is her unabashed patriotism. As an Army wife, she ministers to other military wives with the kind of passion for America we all can embrace. In this Independence Day UPGRADE, she encourages us to think about our level of patriotism—and how to raise it to a higher level.

“In an age of political division and international strife, patriotism has become a quasi-dirty word,” Morgan says. “But for Christians it doesn't have to be.”

I (Dawn) know what Morgan means about the word "patriotism." People on the Left and Right have their own idea of what it means, but it's not a partisan word.

Former President Dwight Eisenhower once said, "I don't think the United States needs Super-Patriots. ... We need patriotism, honestly practiced by all of us, and we don't need these people [who pretend to be] more patriotic than you or anybody else."

He was right. Patriotism is for all of us.

Morgan continues . . .  

When most people think of patriotism they think of things like bald eagles, WWII, and Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to be an American”.

Patriotism gives you a feeling.

You know it when you see it, but it is a word that is difficult to define clearly. Even Google stumbles with it saying patriotism is “the act of being patriotic, or vigorously supporting one’s country.”

Currently our political climate is such that you have people on all side of the political spectrum “vigorously supporting” things that oppose one another all in the name of our country!

Senator Marco Rubio said, “Our national motto is 'In God we Trust,' reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all.”

This is why I believe we can upgrade our patriotism by turning back to our Bibles, rather than turning to political ideologies.

In doing so, I see three main keys to biblically upgrading your patriotism.

1. Let’s start with the most basic idea: God put the leaders of our country in place.

The Apostle Paul said, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1).

That is pretty cut and dry.

As Christians, we are to give proper respect and honor to the people that make the sacrifice of leading, regardless of which animal adorns their campaign banners. 

In short, you may not agree with President Trump on many different things, but he has been allowed to be the governing head of the United States by the Creator of the heavens and Earth. Now your responsibility is to pray for him and his counsel every day.

Love what he is doing? Pray to God.

Hate what he is doing? Pray to God.

2. Our military is an excellent reminder of sacrificial love.

John, one of Jesus' twelve apostles, wrote, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 5:13).

I am an Army wife, so I am reminded daily of the incredible gift that is our military.

No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, you are able to stand there because an American soldier died fighting for your freedom, and they continue to do it today.

At each one of our duty stations there has been an audible reminder of the men and women standing between us and evil.

  • At Fort Hood the thunderous artillery would knock pictures off the walls.
  • Fort Bragg had the subtle, constant hum of Blackhawks and Chinooks.
  • And San Diego boasts the roar of soaring jets.

Want to be a part? Volunteer with the USO, babysit for a family with a deployed or TDY spouse.

Maybe you don’t live near a military post so you don’t have that daily reminder or the ability to hands on help, but you can still be in prayer for our military and their leaders every single day.

3. We need a biblical perspective.

I want to remind everyone that no matter what goes on politically, socially, or economically, it really doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, we are not of this world.

Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."

We have read the end of the story (The Book of Revelation) and we know how it ends.

Christ didn’t die for the American flag, Christ died to redeem us from sin.

Our job is to go forth and tell others of his overwhelming sacrifice.

Ultimately, being patriotic and vigorously supporting the United States has more to do with being in prayer and being a witness to nonbelievers than it does with the actions and reactions of politicians.

So be patriotic. Vigorously support our government in counsel, participation, and prayer.

What does patriotism look like in your family? What do you do to upgrade your level of patriotism each year?

Morgan Farr is an Army wife currently stationed in San Diego, California. with her wonderful husband Brian and their two sons. Morgan is a homemaker who dedicates her free time to ministering to other military wives through Bible studies, food, and physical training. Morgan writes about her transition out of feminism and into biblical womanhood at The Forgiven Former Feminist and you can find her fitness training and nutrition programs at Farr Functional Fitness.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Pexels at Pixabay.

Thursday
Jun292017

5 Ways to Set Yourself Up for Victories

Victories don't just happen. In this Victory UPGRADE, Dawn shares five ways to set yourself up for some fresh victories!

When I met Joni Eareckson Tada, I was overwhelmed with the sense that this woman is not a victim, in spite of her quadriplegia. She is a victor! Likewise, Nick Vujicic, a man without limbs, has the mindset and makes the choices that set him apart as a victor in Christ.

I can't tell you the times I've nearly wept, realizing how petty my struggles are compared to theirs. But the same truths that have enabled these victors to rise above their trials are available to me.

As Nick says, "If you can't get a miracle, become one."

I've always loved that exciting moment when runners "set up" in their lanes at the starting block to run a race. To be a victor, we need to intentionally set ourselves up for the victories we so desire.

Here are the five ways I'm learning to set myself up for fresh victories.

1. Set Your SPIRIT

The first thing to acknowledge is our utter incapability to fix ourselves.

Without Christ, we are lost and struggling sinners. But in Christ, the possibilities for change are endless! The Father is making believers like His Son through the power of the Holy Spirit!

To pursue victory, we must first set our spirit on the Spirit.

Knowing we are "crucified with Christ" and that now Christ lives in us, we determine to "live by faith in the Son of God." And how do we do that? We learn to "walk in the Spirit"—to keep in step with Him—so we will not gratify our fleshly desires. We "sow" to the Spirit if we want to cultivate a life of victory over sin.

We lose many battles because we forget our struggle is not a simple flesh-and-blood skirmish. It's a tough, spiritual war. We struggle against powerful forces of evil, and we must go to battle with spiritual, God-supplied weapons.

2. Set Your MIND

Paul told the Colossians to set their minds on "things that are above, not on things that are on earth."

A focus on eternity can help us make better decisions and live a more victorious life.

Sitting in a revival conference many years ago, the evangelist's words stirred my heart: "There are only two things you can take with you to heaven," he said. "Only two things pass from this world into eternity: the Word of God and human souls."

Those words greatly impacted my perspective and priorities. When life is boiled down to those two things, it's remarkable how some choices are simplified and others eliminated.

Christian victors have an eternal perspective.

David Ring, who has cerebral palsy, explains it this way: "I'm still in the oven. God's still in the kitchen, and God's still cooking on me. And when God is finished cooking on me, God is going to pull me out of the oven, and God's going to say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'"

David is an example of a believer whose perspective is being transformed by the "renewing" of his mind. Just as we are to walk in the Spirit, we're also to set our minds on the things of the Spirit.

A person's mindset colors responses to life's circumstances.

While we may legitimately be victims of others and need to learn new ways to respond to our pain, in many cases, our victimization comes from within. We may be labeling ourselves as victims as an excuse not to change, or to receive pity from others.

Our focus makes a huge difference. For instance,

  • Victims focus on losses, while victors realize the "gain" possible in tough circumstances.
  • Victims see people conspiring against them; but victors realize we are all sinners and we're likely to wound each other as we rub shoulders--so they learn to forgive and give grace.
  • Victims wear themselves out trying to achieve elusive approval and contentment. Victors have learned to live for an audience of One.

So set your mind on heaven and the things of the Spirit, and you'll escape a lot of "victimhood."

3. Set Your AFFECTIONS

It's not only the mind that needs setting. While charging his son Solomon to build the temple, King David told the leaders of Israel, "Now set your mind and heart to seek the LORD your God" (1 Chronicles 22:19a).

David, who had a heart for God, took time in the fields as a shepherd boy to develop his heart relationship with God; and God used these experiences to develop David's character and leadership skills. Though he made foolish choices in his later life, he always deeply honored and loved the Lord.

Jesus encouraged His disciples to set their affections when He said: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart...." It's a choice.

4. Set Your BODY

Along with setting our mind, Paul, in Rom. 12:1, appeals to believers to "present" their bodies to the Lord as "a living sacrifice." He also speaks of yielding our bodies as tools of righteousness. That's an intentional decision—to set our bodies before the Lord and allow Him to use us.

Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and we are to honor God with our bodies, and bring Him glory with our actions in the body.

5. Set Your GOALS

When we have given God our spirit, mind, affections and body, we are ready to set some goals.

The Bible gives us a balanced view of goal-setting. We're to make plans, but to plan with humility and seeking God's wisdom and will.

When making any goals, be sure your priorities are biblical. Don't worry; seek and trust the Lord

We certainly don't honor God with laziness. He expects us to use His wisdom and be diligent so we be can be successful. That doesn't mean we can be presumptuous either! James says it's better to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."

Set your goals, but know the Lord is sovereign and He may change your plans.

We live in a fallen world. We will not be perfect until heaven. But we can't make excuses and coast spiritually.

Intentional, biblical choices will encourage more and more victories!

So, are you all "set" for victories? Which of these "sets" needs a little tweaking today?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Morguefile.