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Entries in Encouragement (9)

Thursday
Mar292018

My Eternal Hope

Jeanne Cesena is a woman who speaks authentically of the power of hope. In this UPLIFT story, she shares a testimony of her personal struggle, and how the Lord brought women into her life to encourage her as she trusted the eternal God of hope.

"Today is part of my eternity that began the day I was saved," Jeanne says.

I (Dawn) wish more people understood that concept, and chose to live each day in view of eternity.

What a difference it would make if we understood God's hope is for today and forever.

Jeanne continues . . .

What are your life goals? What are your eternal goals? What are you going to do today for God?

The great evangelist Billy Graham said:

"For the believer there is hope beyond the grave, because Jesus Christ has opened the door to heaven for us by His death and resurrection.”

The verse that came to my mind when I heard Billy Graham had passed away and entered heaven was: “The master said, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant'" (Matthew 25:23 NLT).

Walking a daily life that is glorifying to God is no easy task. As we walk through our daily lives, we each make choices about what we are going to think, say and do.

Our daily learning steps are for us to work out our sanctification to be more like Him so others can see more of God in us, and see more of God through us. 

In our trials we have a choice to turn toward God. When we see others going through trials, we have a choice to get involved and show God's love to others. Or not!

A life trial: My story of Hope in My Despair

ALONE.

Where does a woman turn when her husband abandons her the night she come home from the hospital with her newborn baby girl?

Not knowing what is going to happen next can be very scary.

My husband brought me home from the hospital and initiated a disagreement, an argument, to get out of coming into the house to help with the baby. Things were not going well with him that night; he was doing drugs and drinking.

My life was not turning out the way I had planned it.

I carried my newborn into our house as my husband drove away. It was a very cold house.  The heating radiators had blown and it was below zero outside.

All I could do was climb into my waterbed with my beautiful baby girl. The water was heated—the only heat in the house. I held her close as she lay in my arms, and I kept reciting Romans 15:13 in my heart until I fell sleep:

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."

Community: Eternal Hope in Action

The next day, the women from my church and my mom came over to my house. They brought things for the nursery, for my kitchen and for my dining room, and they helped me with the radiators.

That was hope in action.

These women were listening to that still, small voice of God inspiring them to take action.

They had to listen, think about what God wanted to do, talk to each other, gather the resources, get organized and then actually DO SOMETHING!

As these women were listening to God, I was putting all my hope in Him. The women became the answer to my prayers and a great encouragement to me.

We need to be open and receptive to the conversation God wants to have with each of us—to listen, learn, change and take action!

When I meet with individuals and couples, I often discuss some common communication techniques that are helpful. Here are two:

1. 1-800-God

This concept seems to have the most impact. Just like when your phone rings, no matter what emotions you are experiencing, you can choose to say a happy "hello."

You also have a change of focus. You are now listening to that voice coming from your phone. Then you have to listen, and think about what that person is saying before you speak or do something.

We can apply this concept to our everyday life.

Stop, connect with God, listen, then speak and do.

2. Represent Unconditional Love

When people look at us, they are looking at a representation of how we lived, what we have learned and our life experiences.

So we need to:

  • know how much God loves us,
  • be continuously filled with His love, and
  • seek to share this love by application of God's words through our thoughts, words and actions.

We can start by asking ourselves:

Today, what am I supposed to learn from God through this? And what should I do?

Jeanne Cesena is a strong woman, her strength built through many trials and a growing reliance on the Lord she loves. Enduring threats, abuse, abandonment and psychological struggles, she has come to see the Lord as her hope and healing. Jeanne ministers with her husband with Blended Step Families at Rock Church San Diego and is also a wedding planner and event/conference coordinator for churches and businesses. She is married, has three children—including a "bonus baby" at age 40—and has a powerful message to women about God's redeeming power.

 Graphic adapted, courtesy of Skimpton007 at Pixabay.

Thursday
Mar012018

How to Encourage Your Friends in Dark Times

Elizabeth Van Tassel cares about people who’ve faced loss, and wants to help individuals and families who are walking in the midst of turbulent times. And she has a big soft spot for teens and tweens. In this Spiritual Lifestyle UPGRADE, she focuses on helping ourselves or friends in the midst of a season of change.

“Living with intentionality after a loss is really critical for finding a successful path that not only leaves your family secure, but really gives you a sense of strength that exists despite our circumstances,” Elizabeth says.

“Whether you’re a writer, a busy mom, or a caring friend, it often takes time to really give yourself room to heal and find lasting joy again.”

It’s been a few months since some of the recent natural disasters, and I (Dawn) agree that it’s important we remain sensitive to what our friends—or we and our relationships—may need as time moves on. Perhaps we’re proceeding at a slower rate of healing.

Elizabeth continues . . .

This week I was at a writer’s conference in San Francisco, California, and met a lot of interesting people. I spoke with some survivors of the wildfires in Santa Rosa, Napa and Sonoma, and my heart was tender to where they are in their recovery process.

This year marked our own ten-year anniversary for losing our home in a wildfire in Southern California.   

It was almost like I could finish their sentences while we visited.

Me: Where are you in the process?

Them: Inventory purgatory. (Picture high stacks of paper around a desk.) Tears at having to relive losses so often, researching what’s gone.

Me: I know it’s more about memories than stuff.

Them: Yes, things that belonged to generations are now dust in the wind.

Me: What are you struggling with the most?

Them: Staying encouraged and realizing there is life beyond the constant insurance paperwork.

Me: What does your community need?

Them: Hope beyond circumstances.

Since there are so many areas of the country that were affected by devastating situations like floods and hurricanes as well as fires, I thought the UPGRADE we may all benefit from is how to find that encouragement in dark times.

The Psalmist is very intentional about focus during trials:

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber (Psalm 121:1-4, NASB).

Where we focus, or what we focus on, we give power to.

I can choose to focus on little things in the midst of my challenge or trial to keep a flicker of hope alive.

The Psalmist continues:

The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever (Psalm 121:5-8).

Although we wish the Lord would rescue us from adversity, sometimes in the midst of that weariness we can glimpse special moments of the depths of His love.

We may not be able to explain why something is happening, but just knowing He loves us, and focusing on that, is a balm and leads us deeper into relationship somehow.

Here are some practical points to apply if you—or a friend—is recovering:

1. Be sure to take time out of your surroundings, giving yourself a visual break from damaged areas.

Staring at loss constantly is very draining, so make times for a picnic or something RESTFUL to focus on.

2. Dwell on beauty.

It could be a pretty flower arrangement or driving by spring blooms in an area, but get a watchful mindset for something that brings BEAUTY to the forefront for a while.

It will give you a vision beyond yourself and your current set of challenges.

3. Play games with kids.

This may sound silly, but getting in touch with your child-heart is so dear and can REGENERATE your sense of wellbeing.

4. Offer to help with practical things like getting groceries, childcare or planning an outing.

People in recovery have been haunted by many levels of decision making and often just run out of “gas” for planning things.

Just the gift of planning something pretty or taking them out is really a RELIEF.

5. Sit with them while they make their inventory.

There’s nothing more lonely than dwelling all day on things that are gone.

A FRIEND helped type into a spreadsheet while I imagined each room. There was much coffee and tissues involved, but we’d laugh and take a break now and then.

It was super helpful to have her organizing while I recalled the details my insurance company required.

6. Plan a birthday outing, or other kind of celebration.

It will seem like every holiday should just stop and slink away, but what you’ll regret later is not taking each day’s joy and making the most of it.

One of the biggest losses is time—time away from kids if you’re writing for insurance, time from projects and dreams washed away, time from growing relationships and being thoughtful is spent on just surviving and getting by.

MAKE TIME for important things and relationships, too.

Which of these areas would help your friends or even yourself today?

Elizabeth Van Tassel writes compelling middle-grade fantasy and nonfiction to spark hope after loss. She brings her knowledge and expertise in the field of gemology to the page and infuses her love of folklore into modern adventures filled with mystery. A wildfire survivor who lost every possession and her home in the 2007 Witch Creek Wildfire, Elizabeth understands both the power of loss and the power of hope. She shares her story of resilience, and provides tools for rebuilding at public speaking events and on her blog. Learn more at Live a Resilient Life.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Geralt at Pixabay.

Sunday
Jan212018

Encourage Others With Hope

In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson invites readers to encourage their hearts with hope in God but not to stop there!

Confusion. Chaos. Deep wounds and pain. Disappointments. Betrayal. Again and again we face overwhelming circumstances.

And if it were not for the Lord, we would be overcome.

My sister Pam struggles with many trials, but she shines for Jesus as He continues to do a mighty work of grace in her life.

After a recent fresh struggle she texted me, “In darkness is hope.”

Her words struck me hard and made me cry, because I know how deep darkness has entered her life since childhood. But I’ve also seen the light of hope in God and His Word bring her peace, wisdom and joy.

Not too long ago, we celebrated the life of Martin Luther King Jr. The Reverend said in his final sermon in 1968, “only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” Our greatest hope can come alive when we need it—and when we need the Lord—the most.

Words by the writer of Hebrews and the Old Testament Psalmist have become two resources of hope for me in recent days.

In Hebrews, we read, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast” (6:19a). Believers were encouraged to “take hold of the hope set before us” so they could be “strongly encouraged” (6:18b).

God’s kind of hope “does not disappoint us,” the Apostle Paul said, because “God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5).

The need for hope goes back to the Garden of Eden, when the Lord gave the first two human sinners hope for salvation (what is commonly called the Protevangelium in Genesis 3:15). God's promise gave them great hope, even in the midst of their punishment for sin.

Throughout the Old Testament we sense the deep longing for the Messiah, the Promised One, to come. It was a cry of hope in God, and we hear that heart cry repeatedly in the psalms (Read Psalm 2; 22, 45; 72; and 110).

The cry for hope is loud in the psalms. Listen to the Psalmist’s prayer of lament and allow your heart to feel the pain.

“My heart is in anguish within me … fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me” (Psalm 55:4-5)

But listen too to his honest plea for help and his assurance of God’s presence and help in the midst of his struggles.

“O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth.… I cry to you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my refuge….” (Psalms 54:2 and 142:5).

The Psalmist confidently proclaimed God as the source of his hope; and we need to point our hearts toward God and His Word too.

We need go beyond our own need for hope to encourage other people to place their hope in the Lord.

It’s wise to encourage hope because:

1. Hope brings spiritual and emotional rest.

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him” (Psalm 62:5).

2. Hope anticipates God’s response.

Job longed for God to grant what he hoped for (Job 6:8), but the Psalmist prayed with assurance: “Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God” (Psalm 38:15).

3. Hope enables confidence in God’s sovereign care.

“For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth” (Psalm 71:5).

4. Hope in God’s unfailing love delights His heart!

“The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 147:11).

There are, of course, many other reasons hope is a worthy focus for us and those we love. Pam Farrel wrote about many of them in her book, Discovering Hope in the Psalms: A Creative Bible Study Experience, which I recommend.

Why would we NOT encourage more hope? Be proactive. Think of at least one person you can encourage with God’s kind of hope 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 Kareni at Pixabay.

Thursday
Dec072017

Christmas Doors — Invitations to Joy

In this Christmas UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson invites us to think about the doors we might open to others this holiday season.

I love to see all the pretty doors decorated at Christmas. They look so welcoming. They invite us to share together in joy.

So many are lonely, stressed, even in crisis during the holidays. We may feel caught up in our own holiday joy, but we can't ignore others who struggle to smile. Those who have no peace. Those who hurt and need encouragement.

I've thought about some of the doors we might open to those people. Here are five doors that I call "Invitations to Joy."

1. The Door of UNDERSTANDING

We show empathy and understanding when we learn to listen well.

James tells us to "be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak" (1:19, AMP).

Proverbs 1:5 says, "Let the wise listen and add to their learning." When you listen to people, you encourage them to talk, and that is fertile ground for greater understanding.

As leadership coach Becky Harling wrote in her book How to Listen So People Will Talk, "People feel more loved and valued if we are actively and attentively listening to them."

Empathetic listening is a gift not just for the holidays, but for a lifetime of ministry to those the Lord brings into our lives.

2. The Door of COMMUNICATION

The second part of James 1:19 says, "slow to speak." We must be careful what we say, but we do need to speak up.

Good communication skills can be cultivated when our mouths are full of God's wisdom. Our words are to first be acceptable in His sight (Psalm 19:14). We can then wisely pray for others and minister to them with healing conversations.

Our words must be carefully chosen to encourage others. Speak words that will build up and "give grace" (Ephesians 4:29).

Speak words of affirmation and hope, not negative, critical and destructive words. Focus on what is worthy (Philippians 4:8) to share this Christmas!

3. The Door of SERVICE

Just as Jesus came to serve, he calls us to do the same. In Christ, we are created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), and that includes serving people.

God notes how we serve and help others (Hebrews 6:10). He praises a servant's heart.

We are to serve with humility in love. We are to use our spiritual gifts, received from the Holy Spirit, to serve others as "faithful stewards of God's grace."

There are so many opportunities to serve during the Christmas season—both in serving individuals and groups.

Serving others "opens a door" to their hearts.

Don't overlook your next-door neighbor's need, a good place to start. You might even be opening a door to sharing the Gospel; but be willing to serve, regardless.

4. The Door of HOSPITALITY

Paul instructs Christ-followers to "share with the Lord's people who are in need" and "practice hospitality".

Hospitality isn't just inviting someone into our homes. It is first a heart attitude, a disposition, of treating others in a warm and generous way.

But it is also a virtue that extends back to Old Testament times. New Testament Christians also depended on hospitality and offered it freely. Jesus and His disciples depended on hopitality as they served in ministry (Matthew 10:9-10).

Hospitality is a kingdom trait. We bring praise to God when we show kindness, especially to the needy and love others selflessly). Hospitality is an important aspect of our walk with God, and not just during the holidays (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9).

5. The Door of LIFE

We cannot change a person, but we can speak to them about the door of life—and Jesus said He is that door (John 10:7). He is the only door by which a person can enter and receive eternal life (John 10:9; 3:16). As such, the Good Shepherd is the door to the sheepfold.

The Christmas season is an opportune time to share the Gospel. Be creative in how you share. Think of ways that would speak to specific individuals—that would help them see what God was offering when "baby Jesus" came. 

Jesus was a man on a mission. He came to "seek and to save the lost," and He has commissioned us to share this Good News with others (Matthew 28:19-20).

Think about it.

Every Christmas Door is an invitation to joy.

  • The joy of being heard and understood
  • The joy of being encouraged
  • The joy of finding needs met
  • The joy of being welcomed
  • The joy of receiving life

How can you open doors to people this holiday season?

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 Neely Wang at Lightstock.

 

Tuesday
Aug012017

A Remodeled Life

Julie Gillies encourages women to know and believe God's Word, and share the stories of how God changes their lives. In this Uplift UPGRADE, she says we all need do-overs, and the good thing is, God is in the transforming, remodeling business!

If you’ve ever lived through a major remodeling project,” Julie says, “you probably have a serious appreciation for the hard work involved.

Oh, don't get me (Dawn) started. While landscaping our front yard in the hot sun last month, my husband sweat buckets! Remodeling anything—a yard, a house, and especially a life—is MAJOR! But the results are worth the effort.

Julie continues . . .

The way I see it, anyone can move into a brand-new house. Zero sweat equity. Instant pretty.

But remodeling takes a willing investor with a keen eye for potential—someone prepared to put a lot of hard work into a far-from-perfect building.

Done right, the results are a gorgeous old home with character, yet filled with all the new stuff you wouldn’t want to live without. The before and after photos are remarkable, and no one who visits your house can believe that it ever looked like that before.

It's truly a labor of love.

My husband, Keith, and I were crazy enough to take on such an endeavor back when we were newly married, young, and willing to invest some serious elbow grease. We had purchased a tiny two-bedroom, one-bathroom, stinky, old, sorry excuse for a house, mostly because it only cost us $55,000.

Its flat, gravel-topped roof needed replacing, the jalousie windows had to go, the scary carpet reeked to high heaven, and the hot water heater needed to be moved out of the kitchen. Add in a garage, new electrical wiring, and paint—lots of paint—and it would be habitable.

Did I mention I was pregnant when we began?

We ended up knocking down walls and adding some extra rooms. It was almost a total do-over. For seven months, we stressed, sweated, and toiled, working far too hard and sleeping far too little.

Then we watched in amazement and great satisfaction as our smelly, rinky-dink place was slowly shaped into something beautiful.

God does this very thing with us.

The Lord deeply values us, His daughters, and sees the potential that others (and often we ourselves) cannot.

He deems us worthy of His investment. His Holy Spirit pinpoints areas in our hearts and lives that need loving restoration, and He gently coaxes us to believe, surrender, and cooperate with Him.

Some of us have sagging foundations. Some of us are a slapdash paint job on rotting boards. Some of us have broken windows where thieves can crawl in.

All of us need a complete do-over.

Like the hot water heater standing awkwardly in the middle of my kitchen, we often recognize when things are out of place. We know when parts of us are broken, and yet we aren’t really sure how to change. We are powerless to make changes apart from Christ.

As the psalmist puts it, Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted” (Psalm 127:1).

Unless we partner with God by surrendering to the work He is doing, cooperating with His promptings and discipline, and doing our part by saturating our hearts in His Word and spending time with Him in meaningful prayer, our house will remain in the same sagging, sorry shape.

He’s willing. Are we?

Are we willing to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Him through the intimate intricacies of deep inner heart work? Will we submit ourselves, hearts wide open, to the One who is able to renew and restore?

Because that is God’s heart for us. He knows the things that have stripped us of our hope, our trust and our dignity. And He is well able to replace all the enemy has stolen from us (Joel 2:25).

Jesus is willing to beautifully restore the years spent languishing in hurt, the broken areas we cover and attempt to hold together on our own, and the dreams we think are irretrievably dead.

When we allow God to have His way by surrendering to His process, reading His Word and truly believing it, and investing in some serious prayer time, we will live an overcoming life—a life that is not held back by issues that once plagued us. Our lives will become testimonies to those around us.

The more we allow Jesus to do in us, the more His glory is revealed. And that is His ultimate goal: a world full of regular people whose hearts and lives have been utterly transformed and radiate His unmistakable image.

Though it can be a long, arduous process, Jesus, with His keen eye, restores us to better than new. He makes us whole. We wind up beautiful, yet functional, and filled with His character.

When we share our amazing before and after stories, no one can believe that we ever lived like that before because our hearts are all sparkly and fresh and new.

It's truly a labor of love.

What area of your life do you need to surrender to the Lord so He can “remodel” you afresh?

Julie K. Gillies is the author of From Hot Mess to Blessed: Hope to Propel Your Soul and the Promises that Change Everything and the devotional, Prayers for a Woman’s Soul. Healed from a traumatic childhood, Julie’s message helps women pray, know, and believe God’s Word. Julie is the joyful wife of Keith, mom of two soldiers and one civilian, and Grammy of four. Find FREE resources and connect with Julie at www.JulieGillies.com .

Graphic adapted, courtesty of Pixabay.