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Entries in Trials (7)

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.

Tuesday
Mar282017

Trials Polish the Shine

I’ve watched Kathy Carlton Willis deal with trial after trial and somehow continue to shine. I often wonder how she manages to grin despite the challenges. In this deeply personal Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she helps us consider the blessing in our trials.

“Trials are going to happen to everyone. We don’t get a choice," Kathy says, "but we do get to choose how we respond. Will I grin or will I groan? I’ve found if I can stay focused on God and others, I can endure the negative circumstances in my life.”

Kathy’s not merely saying words. She’s my (Dawn's) personal Barnabas of encouragement even when she’s in the middle of her own painful situations.

Kathy continues . . .

A few months ago I had a simple surgery that resulted in serious complications. Others ask how I keep smiling during personal turmoil.  

Even though my time in the hospital was miserable, the God-appointments were amazing! When people entered my room to do their jobs, God prompted me to say the right thing so they felt comfortable opening up about a burden. I got to deliver a dose of Jesus’ grace before they left.

Only God could bring the hurting to me when I was hurting and couldn’t go to them!

How rewarding to be used for God’s good and glory despite physical limitations.

If you are going through a terrible circumstance, I’m here to share this fact: trials polish the shine more!

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold" (1 Peter 1:6-7a, NLT).

I rejoice that God planted me at the right place at the right time. Oh—the stories I heard!

People came in with family problems. One admitted she was shamed by a hospital worker for being “just an aide.” My tenderhearted night nurse was worried about her own upcoming medical test. The next week she returned to thank me for my prayers because her test came back normal!

A mom visiting her son across the hall talked to me about his serious injuries. We discussed how God answers prayer. Many more God-stories occurred.

As I walked the halls, every door had the name of that room's patient and their doctor. I prayed for each. For the patients, to have grace to endure, and for the doctors to have both wisdom and compassion.

It was like my own personal missionary assignment!

Praying for others got my mind off my own problems and kept them in perspective considering what others faced.

TIPS for ENDURANCE

1. Be alert to others.

Be alert to what's going on around you more than you're tuned in to your own problems.

God can use us anywhere as long as we pay attention to the pain—and joy—of others rather than being singularly focused on our own dilemmas.

2. Sense the prayers of others.

Allow them to lift you up, uP, UP—just like a hot air balloon.

3. Don't apologize for being weak.

One of God's graces is that when we are weak, God shows up strong. (Well... He's always strong, but I sure notice it more when I'm weak!)

4. Tap into God's strength.

The strength you need or others need in you will show up as He surges through you with His power. It's the Christian's super power!

For whatever reason, God seems to like to use me in the MESS rather than in the BEST. If that’s the way He gets the most glory, I’m okay with that. My story is about how BIG He is despite my big problems.

Whether in the BEST, or the MESS—I am BLESSED.

How might God use you during your current messy life situation?

Kathy Carlton Willis shines for God, reflecting His light as a speaker   at writer's conferences and women's retreats, and as an author   - contributing to three books and writing hundreds of columns and articles online and in print publications. She wrote Grin with Grace with AMG Publishers and has several books releasing over the next few years. She and her husband Russ live in Texas with Jazzy, their hilarious Boston Terrier.

Tuesday
Jan102017

Survive Life's Firestorms (without Smelling Like Smoke)

Joanie Shawhan knows about life's firestorms. As a nurse, she's seen people shaken by their struggles, and she's also survived her own trials. In this helpful Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she shares crucial steps to survival.

“A firestorm blasted my world,” Joanie says. “I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.”

I (Dawn) haven't had to face that—you likely haven't either—but there's no doubt you've gone through a personal firestorm, or you will. Let Joanie's words encourage you.

Joanie continues . . .

Firestorms—those unexpected, devastating losses that disrupt our lives. It may be the loss of a loved one, health, job, home or dream. The derailment may be temporary or have lasting effects.

How do we not only survive but also overcome these catastrophes?

During the ovarian cancer firestorm in my life, I discovered three steps to survival based on the fire safety principles of stop, drop and roll. But how do we rise out of the ashes without smelling like smoke? Hence the fourth step—rise.

1. STOP

When a firestorm erupts, our daily activities halt. All of our energy, strength and resources shift into crisis mode.

After an ultrasound for what I thought was a uterine fibroid, my doctor strode into the room and announced, “You have ovarian cancer.”

I froze. Surely this isn’t happening to me. Surgery and chemotherapy consumed me for the next six months. Cancer threatened my health, my job and my future.

When all I had was questions, I found I also needed to stop and listen to the One who had the answers.

2. DROP

Smoke rises in a fire so we drop to the ground. The air is fresher, our visibility clearer.

So too, in a life firestorm we drop to our knees in surrender and prayer, seeking God, humbling ourselves before Him. Our sacrifice of praise and worship mingles with our tears.

As I wrestled with the Lord about going through chemotherapy and sought His direction for my treatment, I sensed His voice whispering, “Go through the process.” The Holy Spirit strengthened me to endure the treatments—treatments which were worse than the cancer itself. I could not even focus to pray and read my Bible.

All I could do was drop into my Father’s arms like a child and cry for mercy.

3. ROLL

We roll to douse any lingering flames.

In a life firestorm, the flames of anger, bitterness and unforgiveness will cloud our vision and scorch our lives.

As we draw near to the Lord, we roll our cares onto Him: our pain, grief, anger, fears, doubts, loss and loved ones.

We stretch forth our hands, grasping for a reason. “Why? Why? Why?” But the answers slip through our fingers like a vapor.

I don’t know why I got ovarian cancer, the rarest and most deadly of female cancers. But I needed to allow my desire for answers to be extinguished with the flames.

4. RISE

God desires not only to raise us up out of the ashes of our brokenness, but also give us beauty for the ashes (Isaiah 61:1-3).

Through thanksgiving and praise, we shake off the ashes and exchange the lingering smell of smoke for the fragrance of Christ.

We recognize that all we are comes from Him. We reflect His glory.

I lost myself to ovarian cancer, but in losing myself, I found a new purpose and calling in my life—to write encouraging articles for women undergoing chemotherapy and advocate for and educate women regarding ovarian cancer.

Because of God’s power we are able to come through the firestorms in our lives without smelling like smoke.

But surviving a firestorm does not imply that everything is “all better” and the wound is healed.

Some heartbreaks and losses permanently char us.

True triumph is not a return to life before the firestorm, but a heart attitude—is God still God despite my pain and loss?

If so, then we will be able to proclaim, along with Job, I know that my redeemer lives” (Job 19:25 NKJV).

How has God brought you through the firestorms in your life?

Joanie Shawhan is an ovarian cancer survivor and a registered nurse. She writes encouraging articles for women undergoing chemotherapy. Joanie also speaks to medical students in the Survivors Teaching Students program. Visit her website.

Graphic adapted, courtesty of ZoranD at Pixabay.

Friday
Feb052016

Fenced in by Love (Part 2)

In part 1 of "Fenced in By Love," we saw that God keeps and preserves His own "sheep"--the souls of those who love Him and are in a personal relationship with Him. 

Today, we're considering HOW and WHY God keeps His people.

This is important, because I (Dawn) think there is sometimes a misunderstanding when people think God has forgotten them in their difficulties. The truth is, God is always up to something beyond what we might be able to see or understand.

So let's continue . . .

3. HOW is the the Lord keeping His people?

This goes back to the words "keep" and "preserve." Does being kept by the Lord mean God's people will never suffer? No, it's clear from scripture that believers will suffer (Psalm 6:6-7; Psalm 71:20a).

The harmful effects of the Fall in Genesis 3 will touch all of us this side of heaven. We may suffer persecution and even death. But we can be steadfast in the midst of the most desperate trials (James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:6-9).

The Christian's perspective on suffering is far different from those without the Lord. Instead of fighting the testing process of our circumstances, we can ask for our Father's will to be accomplished, learn to see life's trials as a blessing as we seek His perspective, and ask Him for wisdom to proceed.

We are never left alone in this process. Our Father knows we are weak and this is an uncertain world, and we cannot fully protect ourselves.

He is "watching over the way of His saints" (Proverbs 2:8). I have no doubt, if we could lift the veil between heaven and earth, we would see His care and protection in countless ways: the car that missed hitting us, the poison we missed ingesting, the thief who somehow couldn't find our front door, etc.

Yes, many things do happen to us in this sinful world, but ...

We are proud people indeed if we think we are not in God's constant, loving watchcare.

Back to Psalm 121:7 for a moment. The tense of the word "keep" in that verse includes the future. It means God will keep us both now and forever. He is with us and helping us in our current troubles, and and He will ultimately rescue us from ALL our troubles.

God, in His perfect and loving will, may not rescue us from all our troubles in the here and now, but the Lord has promised protection from our ultimate enemy, sin (Romans 6:14). Sin no longer has the power to enslave us or determine where we will spend eternity, if we are in Christ. But we do have a choice about sin.

In other words, our future is secure in Christ, and no one can snatch us out of our Father's strong hand! (John 10:28-29); but will we trust Christ and live now under His provided protection, or will we go beyond the fence of His love and "sleep with the enemy," giving in to sin's control?

4. WHY is the Lord keeping His people?

Way back in Genesis, God told Jacob, "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go ... I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:15).

God has always watched over His people, not only because He loves them, but also to accomplish His purposes in and through them.

God absolutely has the ability to deliver His people, but it is not always His will to do so. For example, in His love He may allow a physical trial or some other trouble in order to purify us (James 1:2-3) or to show Himself strong in our declaration of faith (as happened with the patriarch, Job).

Sometimes Christians pay the ultimate price for their identification with Christ and their witness, as did the first Christian martyr, Stephen (Acts 6:8-7:53). God doesn't ask everyone to make the ultimate sacrifice, but He does call us to be faithful soldiers in the battle, wherever that leads us (Ephesians 6:12-20; 1 Peter 3:15).

Romans 8:28-30 explains God's ongoing and ultimate purpose for ALL of His children (the "saints" of verse 27):

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."

Our Father wants us to be like His Son; and He lovingly, faithfully chisels away anything that doesn't look like Jesus.

So we read these powerful words in verse 31: "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?"

  • It's not that we will escape bodily harm (v. 36)—we may even be called to martyrdom; 
  • but rather, we are "more than conquerors though him who loved us" (v. 37)—we have spiritual and eternal victory in Jesus;
  • and nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus, our Lord (vv. 38-39). We are sealed for eternity through the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).

No matter our circumstances, God is watching and involved with eternal purposes for our lives.

We are forever fenced in by God's love!

Are you struggling with a deep problem? How does a fresh perspective on God's purposes for you encourage you today?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is the creator of three blogs:Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is the Director of the San Diego chapter of Network of Evangelical Women in Ministry (NEWIM San Diego) and is a contracted researcher for Revive Our Hearts. She and her husband Bob have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Church graphic adapted from pixabay.com.

Chisel graphic adapted, Image courtesy of bugtiger at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Thursday
Sep242015

The Secret to Surviving the 'Test'

Tests are a part of life. In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson will help us consider how to "survive" these tests.

When I attended Bible college, my teacher walked between the desks, observing. But she didn't say a word. She couldn't give her students any answers. Though sitting in a room full of people, each student had to take the test "alone." 

This reminds me of a statement by an unknown author: "When you are going through difficulty and wonder where God is, remember: the teacher is always quiet during the test."

God doesn't tempt us with sin (James 1:13), but he does examine us through circumstances; He wants to know how we will respond. Simply put, God tests our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4). 

Sometimes we feel alone in the midst of a test. But we must remember God is always with us (Psalm 139:7; Joshua 1:9; Isaiah 41:10)—even in our toughest tests.

But . . . why the tests in the first place?

1. Our Tests Are for Our Good.

God uses our tests "for good" (Romans 8:28). They are meant to develop our character and mature us (James 1:3-4). God might grow our faith, for example, as we are tested.

The tests of faith are surely some of the greatest tests, because through them we learn to trust the Lord—even when we don't understand the purpose of His tests.

God wants us to learn to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Consider Abraham, obeying God by faith in a most severe test as the Lord told Abraham to sacrifice of his son, Isaac (Genesis 22:1-2; Hebrews 11:17-19). 

Our trials teach us to depend on the power and grace of GodHis resources—rather than our own wisdom and strength (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Ephesians 6:10-13). As a result, our ministries are broadened and strengthened.

Tests can also bring us reward (James 1:12). The Psalmist, David, actually desired God's testing. He wanted God to see that his life was fully committed to Him (Psalm 26:2; 139:23-24). David believed tests are a valuable "refining" process (Psalm 66:10).

Peter echoes this concept in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:6-7); and James (1:2) tells us the testing of our faith is meant to bring us joy!

Tests may come in many ways.

  • A relatively small (everyday) irritation that tempts us to become impatient, angry or discontent.
  • A tough affliction that wearies and frustrates, especially when it seems unending (Isaiah 48:10).
  • A deep attack from the enemy (Job 2:7) that threatens to "undo us."

Study the life of Job and you will see test after test after test. Satan's attempts to destroy the Patriarch were limited by the Lord's sovereignty, but they were undeniably tough. The wonderful thing about Job's story is this: Though he didn't understand his circumstances and he understandably struggled in them, he recognized God's greater purposes were at work in his life.

Job not only survived the tests, he honored God in the midst of them (Job 1:22; 16:19; 19:25; 42:2). And that brings us to the next point.

2. Our Tests Are for God's Glory.

God's purposes are often beyond our comprehension. He is not only working all things according to His will (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11), He created a people and designs circumstances to bring glory to His name (Isaiah 43:7; Romans 11:36; Ephesians 1:4-6, 12, 14).

When we are tested, we often feel weak or insufficient for the test. Rather than become overwhelmed in the test, we need to learn to trust God's sufficiency (2 Corinthians 12:9).

When we are weak, God is strong in and through usand that brings Him glory!

And there is a third point about testing.

3. Our Tests Can Bless Others.

When we are tested, we have an opportunity for a greater testimony. When we respond to our trials joyfully, trusting the Lord, people will see God's power working in us (Matthew 5:16).

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 says when we are comforted of God in our tests, we have a greater capacity to comfort others. We can empathize better, and we have wisdom about life to share. 

We may even have an opportunity to win other people to Christ (2 Corinthians 4:8-12; 2 Timothy 2:8-10).

So when tested, don't forget:

The important secret to surving tests is to remember they are for our good, are meant to bring God glory, and are often designed to bless others.

Are you struggling in a test (trial, affliction, tough circumstance) today? How might knowing "the secret" help you not only survive your tests, but thrive in them?

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