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Everyone longs to have a perfect story. You know, the one that begins with “Once upon a time” and ends with “happily ever after.” But those stories are aptly called “fairy tales,” and they are not the stories of our lives. Our stories are stories of real people wrestling through the joys and struggles of real life. And what we DO with our struggles and our stories makes all the difference in the world.

Let me be the first to say, there are no perfect white picket fences in my story either. In fact, the story of my life has included loss, disappointment, and pain, which at some point is a part of everyone’s story. But what I have learned along the way is that even our pain can be a part of our purpose. Here’s the key:

Our circumstances do not have to define us, but how we respond to our circumstances determines the level of success we will experience in life.

I will never forget the defining moment in my life when God showed me how the pain of my past could become the purpose and the passion of my heart. I was 14 years old and singing at a Christian camp for the summer. During one of the meetings, the director of the camp spontaneously asked me to remain on stage after singing and share my story. While this may not seem like a big deal to some, it was a huge deal to me. I had never shared my story and certainly didn’t want to start in front of several hundred of my peers. I didn’t want them to know that I didn’t have a perfect life.

I froze and didn’t know what to do, but finally decided to try to gracefully trudge through it and hope for the best as I took a deep breath and started in.

Much to my horror, talking about my childhood was messy, and exactly what I feared would happen did happen. When I got to the part about my mom dying of cancer, I completely fell apart. Now, I’m not talking about the graceful tear rolling down my cheek as I eloquently shared from the depths of my soul. No, it was more like an avalanche of snot coming out of my nose as I choked out my words. I was absolutely mortified and wanted just to close my eyes and instantly vanish.

Somehow I pulled myself together and made my way back to my seat, wishing that moment would be forgotten, all the while knowing it was one of those undeniably awkward moments that would be permanently etched in everyone’s minds. Despite my complete mortification, God did something that week that changed me forever.

Throughout the week, about fifty of the teenagers came up to me at different times and wanted to talk. One girl shared that her mom and dad had just divorced and she was really struggling. A boy shared of his personal struggle with drugs and alcohol. Another girl showed me on her wrist where she had tried to take her life. On and on the stories went—stories of broken hearts and shattered dreams.

For the first time in my life, I realized that everything I had experienced happened for a reason. Nothing was by mistake or coincidence. All had prepared me for this very moment in time when I could relate to each of these precious teenagers. No I didn’t have any big, profound answers, but I could look them in the eyes and say, “Yes, I know what it is like to hurt, but I also know what it is like to have a God who is faithful and who has been with me every step of the way. And all I know is that the same God loves you too and will be faithful to you as well.”

By the end of the week, I knew without a doubt that God had literally changed my hopes and dreams. As much as I loved music, God had a different plan for me. He wanted to use the story of His faithfulness in my life to make a difference in the lives of others.

The Good, Bad & Ugly

I think so many times we want to offer God the good things we have—our talents, our abilities, and the things we like and are proud of, but God wants EVERYTHING. He wants the good, the bad, the ugly, the embarrassing, and then He wants to turn it around and make something beautiful out of it for His glory and His Kingdom. Isaiah 61:3 talks about beauty coming from our ashes. You might wonder, How could anything beautiful come from the ashes of past failures and heartaches in life? But I assure you that this is truly what God specializes in, for there is nothing in our lives that God can’t turn around and restore to bring the greatest glory to His name.

Here’s the thing that I am most excited to share with you:

When we cling to God’s power and choose to use EVERYTHING in our lives for His glory, that is when the healing begins in our own lives.

We begin to see opportunities before us instead of focusing on past failures and disappointments that are behind us. We recognize chances to use our experiences, good or bad, as a way to help others, and, in doing so, we may begin to invest our lives in making a difference for the Kingdom. Before long, the pain is quietly replaced with the excitement of knowing there is purpose for our pain and fulfillment in being used by God for His life-changing and eternal purposes.

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Maybe your picket fence is no longer white and maybe it’s tattered and falling apart. My prayer is that maybe, just maybe, you will find the courage to pick up the pieces of your fence and begin to dream again. Yes, life is still hard and dreams aren’t always easily accomplished, but I promise you, if you lay it all on the line, God will come through and prove Himself faithful every time.

There are no mistakes with God. He will use everything, including our pain, for His purposes. He is the author of my story, a story that shows how He loved me, He chose me, He rescued me, He saved me, and now He is using me more than I could ever dream possible and taking me beyond my wildest dreams.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is only because of God’s work in my life and in my story that I am able to live out the dreams He has breathed into my heart. I have found the story of my life has become the passion of my heart—using what I have been through to show hurting people that there is hope in Jesus! That’s my story. That’s my dream. What’s yours?

*Today’s blog is taken from Chapter 1 of my book, Dare to Soar, which can be purchased at Pauladunnministries.com (available in print or ebook) and at Itunes, Barnes & Noble, & Amazon (ebook only).

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  • Gail Smith - All this sounds so very familar to me. I wouldn’t change all the pain and disappointment I have experienced in the last 10 years for all the Glory it has brought to Him ! I choose to use my past to make a very positive future in Him.ReplyCancel

    • pauladunn - Love how He is using you, my sweet friend! Keep shining boldly for Him because you truly are making a difference!ReplyCancel

  • Cheryl Kane Keep - I grew up knowing all this, Paula, but wouldn’t turn my pain over to the Lord 4 years ago after my husband died of a very fast moving cancer. That stubborness and unwillingness to turn my hurt and pain over to Him nearly cost me my life and my sanity. I thank God for his continued protection through all of that and for my family and friends who loved me, sought help for me, stood by me, and above all who prayed for me! I know God will always be at my side, carrying me when need arises, and forever my Savior and i pray that members of my family will know hew can be all this and more to them in their lives as well. Thank you so much for sharing your life story with grace and truth! May /od continue to bless our powerful ministry.ReplyCancel

    • pauladunn - Thank you, Cheryl, for taking the time to share your story & your heart! May God continue to use you and what you have been through to offer hope and healing to others as well. I am so thankful that we can find purpose in our pain, for that really is when the healing begins in our own lives. Blessings to you! May you keep shining for Jesus!!!ReplyCancel

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I remember as a child counting down the days until my birthday and eagerly anticipating a homemade raspberry pie, presents, and a day filled with birthday cheer. I even added the “1/2” tag whenever I told my age because it sounded older, smarter, and one day closer to my next birthday. Then somewhere along the line I grew up and realized that getting older didn’t quite have the allure and excitement as birthdays of old.

In fact, if the truth be told, I think it’s safe to say that we could all just do away with birthdays after 40 and be just fine.

As I have thought about this over the last few days, I have asked myself a number of times—why is it that we’re tempted as adults to shy away from a special day of celebration?

Perhaps it’s the gray hairs and wrinkles and slowing metabolism? Or maybe it’s the yearly reminder that we’re getting older and that life is just marching on? Or possibly it’s just the fear of the future and the unknown?

Birthdays have a way of bringing all these things to the surface causing us to wish that time would stand still and that we could just stay right where we are at…young and vivacious…energetic and care-free…exempt from the hardships of the future.

But here’s what God has been speaking into my heart all week—what if we chose to see each birthday through a different lens? Rather than seeing it from a context of life beginning the downward slope, what if we made the choice to see every day, especially a birthday, as a GIFT from God? A new year of life? A new day to reflect on ALL the YEARS of BLESSINGS we have already had and a new opportunity to look to the future with anticipation for all the blessings to come?

I have a feeling that choosing to focus on the blessings would not only change our hearts but could radically change our lives.

Ann Voskamp so eloquently describes it as this:

“There is so much joy in seeing how God uses our simple act of noticing the blessings He bestows all around us to transform our lives and the lives of those around us…” Here’s how you do it: “Praise Him for the unexpected and the unlikely, for the daily and the difficult, and the graces in disguise. The more you count, the more gifts you will see. Do not disdain the small. The moments add up, and we might come to believe it—the whole earth is FULL of His GLORY!”        ~One Thousand Gifts

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So, here’s to another birthday. Another year of life. Another opportunity to praise my God for life, for family, for friends, for health, and for ALL that He has done for me. Today I am choosing to CELEBRATE—with a list of birthday blessings, 43 to be exact! And here’s what I am finding:

There’s no room for birthday blues when I am enthusiastically embracing Birthday Blessings!

  1. A personal relationship with a God who loves me.
  2. A loving, supportive, & faithful Husband. image
  3. A Daughter who absolutely lights up my life.
  4. Parents who took me in & loved me as their own. 1513680_10152808429749296_1929906637789842348_n
  5. In-laws who love me, encourage me, and support me in every way. image
  6. Friends who care about me, sharpen me, and cheer me on.
  7. So thankful to be healthy and strong and able to enjoy life.
  8. I am so blessed to get to do what I love to do.
  9. So grateful to live in America!
  10. Love my incredible home church where I can worship & grow.
  11. So thankful for a peaceful & comfortable place to call home.
  12. ALL my needs are always met.
  13. Many years of answered prayers.
  14. 100% peace & assurance of knowing that I will spend eternity in Heaven when I die.
  15. 43 years of seeing first-hand that God will never leave me nor forsake me. He is FAITHFUL.
  16. LOVE the way God attends to ALL the details, both big and small, in my life.
  17. Thankful for the way God leads me every step of the way into His perfect plan for my life.
  18. Grateful that every day is a NEW day, a clean slate, a fresh opportunity to write my story.
  19. So glad that there is more to life than just coping, surviving, & existing—I can have ABUNDANT life that is found in Jesus. John 10:10.
  20. If I take the time to stop and reflect, no matter how difficult the day is, there is ALWAYS something to be thankful for.
  21. So thankful that God gives His grace for the good days, the bad days, and for everything in between.
  22. Love the divine, God-moments that can only be orchestrated by Him.
  23. I am loving the change of seasons with warm days and cool, crisp mornings and evenings—my favorite! image
  24. Grateful for an amazing summer filled with fun family memories that I will cherish forever.
  25. I will never get over the fact that God loves me, forgives me, chooses me, uses me, and blesses me more than I could ever dream possible.
  26. I am completely blown away at how God orchestrated the writing and the release of Dare to Soar. 1904238_10152772901754296_8619596382288536420_n
  27. So blessed to live in a wonderful neighborhood filled with people who care about each other.
  28. So grateful for all of the people who believed in me, encouraged me, and played a part in where I am today.
  29. Thankful for an incredible college experience at Liberty University which impacted my life in such a phenomenal way.
  30. I love the beautiful canvasses God gives us in nature—from majestic mountains to soothing oceans to the brightly colored leaves changing in my backyard. It all is breath-taking and a gift from my Father. image
  31. So surprised that a silly puppy could weasel his way into our family and steal our hearts. image
  32. Quiet Time in the morning with a God Who speaks to my heart in such a real and personal way.
  33. Grateful that God has always been my HELP and the One Who SUSTAINS me. Psalm 54:4
  34. So very thankful that I can  bring my burdens to the Lord, and He will always take care of me. Psalm 55:22.
  35. When my heart is overwhelmed, I can go to the Rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:1. photo-21
  36. Grateful that my life does not have to be defined by my circumstances. God has a Purpose, a Plan, and a Future for me and will use EVERY part of my story for His Glory if I will allow Him to.
  37. Forever thankful that God never gives up on me even when I am tempted to do so.
  38. I am blown away that I have access EVERY day to the same POWER that raised Jesus from the dead—His Resurrection Power!
  39. So grateful for the many times God has shown up and done the miraculous in my life—Exceedingly, Abundantly, and Above ALL that I could ever ask or think. Ephesians 3:20.
  40. Thankful for the constant encouragement found in Philippians 4:13—I can do ALL things through Christ Who strengthens me.
  41. Even with all my faults and imperfections, Jesus loves me and gave His life for me! SO grateful for His amazing love!
  42. No matter how hard the enemy tries to defeat, discourage or destroy me, greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world. I John 4:4. So encouraging to know that GOD IS FOR ME! shutterstock_238447510
  43. What a blessing that no matter what is going on in my life I can assuredly say—It is Well With My Soul. I have learned in these 43 years of living, that my joy and peace do not depend on my circumstances; it is found in the HOPE that I have in Christ and the fact that THIS IS NOT MY HOME! This is only temporary, but someday I will see Him face-to-face where there will be No More Pain, No More Tears, No More Sickness, and I Will Worship Him Forever! Words will never fully express how thankful I am for this HOPE that I have in Him which is by FAR the greatest birthday blessing of all!

 

shutterstock_310290668“Mommy, when I become someone’s friend, I am their friend forever,” my daughter imploringly told me with a catch in her voice and tears clouding her bright blue eyes.

My heart hurt for her as I listened to her share about one of her close friends not wanting to play with her anymore. And the mamma bear nearly came out in me as I watched my little girl run up to her little friend each morning excitedly asking her if she would like to play at recess only to be told “let me think about it and let you know.” Unfortunately, day after day, the answer was always no.

I have to admit there was many a day I wanted to jump right in and fix it (one way or another), but with God’s help and all the restraint I could muster, I didn’t intervene. And I’m so glad I didn’t, for it became a teachable moment for my daughter and for me—an opportunity to really explore how to handle ourselves when things go awry in this beautiful yet messy thing called friendship.

Interestingly enough, I had been walking and catching up with a neighbor friend at that time who shared with me some things she had learned at a leadership conference—one of them being the Be-Do-Have approach to business. Later, as I thought about that conversation, God began to show me how to implement those three powerful words into my daughter’s situation. Here’s what we learned:

  • Instead of focusing on HAVING friends, we need to be more concerned with BEING a friend. We want to be that friend that sharpens, encourages and cheers others on (Proverbs 27:17). We need to commit to being a friend at ALL times (Proverbs 17:17) —not just through the fun and happy times but through the good, the bad, and the ugly, for love never fails (I Corinthians 13:8).
  • We need to always DO our part to make things right. This is done when we go to the person to work things out, but it also involves doing what Scripture tells us to do in Matthew 5:44 when dealing with conflict:
    • Love your enemies.
    • Bless those who curse you.
    • Do good to those who hate you.
    • Pray for those who spitefully use you.
    • As my daughter and I applied this verse, we found it was pretty hard to stay upset at someone when you pray for them faithfully, for prayer has a way of softening hearts and breaking down walls.
  • Rather than obsessing over how we have been hurt or rejected, CELEBRATE who we HAVE  all around us. There are always opportunities to pour into others and be a blessing, but we must CHOOSE to do so.

In case you are wondering, my daughter’s situation ended beautifully because she made the choice to see opportunities that she had right in front of her and as a result, reconnected with a sweet friend and made two new beautiful friendships.

Oh, and let me just say that God has such a sense of humor and impeccable timing. Today (on the very day that I wrote this blog) my daughter’s little friend came up to my daughter out of the blue after school and apologized for not playing with her and promised to play with my daughter and her friends tomorrow. Amazing how prayer changes things, huh? Here’s the best part of all—regardless of whether the friend plays with her or not, we have learned it’s going to be alright because of the lessons we have learned in this whole process and the choice to implement three simple words—BE-DO-HAVE.

The reality is whether we are 8 or 43 (yes, I’m referring to myself), we all want to be loved, appreciated, and valued by others. We all want to matter. And sometimes friendship which can so wonderfully enhance our lives can also bitterly disappoint us when it fails to meet our hopes and expectations. But as my daughter and I worked through this whole friendship drama, we were reminded that there is a FOREVER FRIEND who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24) and who has promised NEVER to leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b) and who will meet our EVERY need. In fact, He loves us so fiercely that He even gave His life for us. And because of that, we can CELEBRATE that in Him there is no greater friend!

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  ~John 15:13

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  • Gail Smith - Very sweet and I love how it all turned out !ReplyCancel

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Never in a million years would I have imagined going to a Christian movie in a theater and being SO profoundly impacted.

Let’s be honest, Christian movies have sometimes gotten a bad rap for cheesy acting, poorly written scripts, or even worse, story lines that deviate from or water down the truth.  So, I sheepishly admit to being a little hesitant in enthusiastically rushing to the theater to see The War Room.

But I must say, from the moment the movie reel began, the War Room was anything but just a movie for me, it was an experience. An experience where I laughed, I cried, and I even worshipped as I was so powerfully reminded of the POWER and the HOPE that is found in Jesus!

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And guess what? I even went back to see it AGAIN…this time with my husband, and we were both moved, challenged, and even beckoned to change.

Change. You might wonder—How can a movie be life-changing? As I’ve pondered that over the last 2 weeks, here is what I keep coming back to:

When you take 2 hours and focus with undivided attention on the POWER of PRAYING in JESUS’ NAME, you can’t help but leave CHANGED!

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So, here is how the War Room challenged my heart:

  1. Prayer need to be SPECIFIC. Philippians 4:6 tells us to make our requests known to God. In order to do so, we need to boldly and specifically pray over EVERY detail of our lives. The movie definitely spurred me on to be more diligent in writing out my requests and including verses and promises from God’s Word to bolster my faith.
  2. Prayer needs to be FERVENT. James 5:16 says that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails MUCH.” After watching this movie, I began asking myself—when was the last time I got on my face before the Lord and fervently prayed for our country, for refugees desperately trying to escape ISIS, for Christians persecuted across the world, and the list goes on. This movie both convicted and ignited my heart to not just be consumed with the needs that affect me personally but to become more fervent in prayer for the needs of the world around me.
  3. Prayer needs to be CONTINUAL. I Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to pray without ceasing. If I am honest, I can start off strong constantly praying for the needs that are close to my heart, but as time marches on and as distractions set in, sometimes those requests can take a backseat to keeping up with life’s daily demands. As the movie so powerfully demonstrates, praying continually simply means making it a priority to ALWAYS go to God with our concerns, our struggles, our decisions, and our worship.
  4. Prayer needs to be IN JESUS’ NAME. Prayer is not meditation; it is not quiet reflection; prayer is claiming power that is found in the life, the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This power is mentioned 311 times in the New Testament and is available to us when we receive it in prayer.

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But perhaps the biggest take away from this movie is the way it encouraged my heart that Christianity is still alive in America! Just the fact that a low-budget Christian movie shown in a very limited number of theaters could blow past full budget movies released in the majority of theaters is such a powerful testament to me of the power of God.

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And just when I feel like our country has turned away from God with its undeniable moral decline these last few years, the overwhelming and unexpected response to this movie speaks hope into my heart. Hope that no matter what is going on in our culture, nothing can take away from the fact that God is alive. God is on the throne, and He is still changing lives today!

So, God is doing His part, the question is—am I doing my part? Am I praying specifically, fervently and continually in Jesus’ name for my family, my country, and the world I live in?

Well, to answer that question, you will have to excuse me while I go clean out a closet. I have a War Room to prepare and a prayer life to ignite.

I pray that I am just one of many who do the same and that our collective prayers will avail MUCH as we lift up the needs of this world to the only ONE who can bring about healing and change.

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.       2 Chronicles 7:14

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*All graphics in this blog were taken from the Official War Room Facebook Page- a great place for continued inspiration!

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Happy September, Everyone! I don’t know about you, but there is something about September that makes me want to pull out my cozy sweatshirts, my fun sweaters, my trendy boots, AND my crockpot.

Okay, I know I probably had you until I mentioned crockpot. I admit, it’s kind of strange to include that in with my favorite fall wardrobe pieces, but when I think of Fall I do LOVE coming home on a cool, crisp day to the amazing aroma filling my kitchen of a warm delicious meal already prepared in my crockpot. With hearty soups, yummy pasta dishes, and savory roasts and vegetables—there are many options that help provide a healthy meal for my family during the busy evening hours. And don’t even get me started on my favorite Fall desserts…

So, for this week’s blog, I thought I would do something totally FUN and different and include my favorite Fall crockpot recipe. Whether I am I am taking a meal to someone, having company over, or just wanting to make my family happy—this easy recipe is at the top of my list. My husband’s mom gave me this recipe years ago, and it has become a well-loved favorite by many. If you like Italian cuisine, you will love this.

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Goulash

1 lb. lean ground beef, cooked & drained

salt & pepper, as desired

1 60-oz can tomato juice

1 10-oz jar Prego traditional pasta sauce

1/2 cup of sugar (I sometimes use less sugar and/or substitute Stevia for part of it)

1 10-oz package egg noodles, thin (whole wheat or gluten free egg noodles are also available)

2 cups of grated colby jack cheese

Brown beef with salt and pepper. Drain. Add juice, pasta sauce and sugar and simmer for 30 minutes. Cook noodles for 1 minute in salted water, drain, and rinse. Add to tomato mixture and simmer another 25 minutes on low heat. To enhance flavor, refrigerate 3-12 hours. Top with cheese before cooking. Cook in crockpot on low setting for 3 hours or bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes.

This is wonderful with a fresh, healthy salad and warm rolls.

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(Couldn’t resist including a picture of my little helper!)

Now that we have the meal out of the way, let’s move on to the best part of all—dessert. Anyone that knows me knows that I LOVE dessert…especially a homemade one.  And Fall definitely brings out the baking in me. I’m not sure if it’s the chilly weather that makes me crave warm treats or if it’s the fun trips to the orchard; either way, Apple Crisp is a dessert that we just can’t get enough of in the Fall. My husband likes to call it Apple Double Crisp because there is nothing worse to him than not having enough crisp to cover the apples, so I double the crisp part hence the name—Apple Double Crisp. Here’s my version:

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Apple Double Crisp

5 cups of thinly sliced & peeled apples (In the late summer, I sometimes do fresh peaches instead) with 2-4 Tablespoons of sugar & cinnamon mixed in. Set aside.

Crisp Topping:

1 cup of oatmeal

1 cup of packed brown sugar

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/2 cup of butter cut in small pieces

1/2 cup of coconut (optional)

For the topping, in a mixing bowl combine oats, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in coconut.

Place fruit mixture in a 8X8 square baking dish or 8x 1/2-inch round baking dish. (I always add 1 or 2 Tablespoons of water on the bottom of the dish before I put the fruit mixture in). Sprinkle the crisp topping on top of the fruit making sure it is thoroughly covered. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes or until the top is golden. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

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So, there you have two of my Fall favorites. What are some of yours? I’d love to hear from you and add some more wonderful Fall classics to my collection. Until next week,  Bon Appétit!