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Upgrade Your Kid's Future

Pam Farrel and her husband are "relationship specialists" with loads of helpful resources. In this Parenting UPGRADE, she shares one of the fun activities her family shared that helped to shape their home.

"When our son, Brock, was a baby, Bill was a youth pastor and one day I was praying for our son," Pam said. "I prayed, 'Lord, it seems that some kids at 18 soar and succeed; and others stumble and fall. What’s the difference?"

"Then I began to list the traits, qualities and skills of successful kids and families. Out of that day, came many of our own family traditions."

Family traditions are key, I (Dawn) believe to building strong relationships in the home. We can use creativity and shared experiences in many positive ways.

Pam continues ...

Let me share through the lens of an important day in our family:

For our twenty fifth wedding anniversary, we gave our sons a tie tac with a family moniker (or crest) Bill and I designed. We wanted the boys to have an heirloom that could be passed down from generation to generation that would symbolize the values the Farrel family stands for. In 10 Best Decisions a Parent Can Make, we describe and show a picture of our crest and how to design your own.

Upgrade Idea #1: Designing a crest is a family-fun holiday activity too! (See graphic, above.)

So let’s see if I can use words to aptly capture our crest:

It is a circle and inside are three L’s down the center that stand for Learner, Leader, Love God. These are the three core values we prayed (since before they were born) that our kids hold on to. We want our sons to be known as:

Learners. Those who want to compete in life so they are willing to do the hard work to learn and become excellent.

Leaders: In their sphere of influence using their own unique leadership style we desire they be difference makers that lead rather than follow the crowd.

Love God: We want them to own their own faith and walk out their own personal  relationship with God.

 Each year from the time our oldest was four, we have had a “Learner and Leader” Day. That’s the day we negotiate privileges and responsibilities, select one leadership trait to focus on for each son each year and we give a gift that applauds the uniqueness (passion, bent, calling, platform) we see God building in each of their lives. (We have a Learner Leader privileges and responsibilities list in 10 Best Decisions a Parent Can Make too because often we parents forget kids CAN do more around the house than you might think!)

Also in the circle is a cross with the star rising from it represents that we want them to seek God’s vision for their life. We want the source of all their hopes, dreams and desires to come from God’s heart. We believe if a child, tween or teen develops a vibrant relationship with God, it will be easier for him or her to sense where God what life path God created for them to walk.

The two interlocking hearts represent integrity and commitment. When a Farrel says something we want it to be truth and we want to be known as a family that keeps all of our commitments, especially the marriage covenant.

The verse inscribed on the back of the tie tac, or what is framed under the crest framed that hangs in our home is the phrase we used as the motto by which we raised our sons: Those who honor God, God honors.” (1 Sam 2:30 paraphrased)

Upgrade Idea #2: Select a verse for YOUR family motto.

Each fall for over 20 plus years we held a Learner and Leader Day. (that includes a fun family activity!)  On that day we’d also complete the Learner and Leader contract for each child, choose one verse to pray over his life for the year, and one leadership trait to focus on and equip that child to successful possess by year’s end.  On the contract are privileges and responsibilities.

Upgrade Idea #3: Select a fun family day to instill your family values.

We pray about what trait to focus on for each child, then we select a “learner and Leader” gift for each child. The gift is 3 things:

  • Personal: We thought of each child’s needs and unique strengths.
  • Practical: Something that child would need any way so it is part of the family budget.
  • Prophetic: The gift encourages the promise of potential of that child’s giftedness and calling

We’d also review our family motto and “moniker” (or crest) on Learner and Leader Day—a simple reminder of “This is what the Farrels stand for!”

Upgrade Idea #4: Select a "Learn and Leader gif" for each child.

If you asked us - “What one parenting decision are you glad you made?” - this one would be at the top. Having a family moniker (crest) and family motto  and those yearly Learn and Leader Days helped our sons to have an inner compass to guide them. And the fruit is sweet.

Now, over 20 years later, our three sons are all adults and they all walk with Jesus and serve God. We now have grandchildren they are having their own “learn and leader” days! And our sons and their wives have their own family missions, mottos, and monikers! Passing the baton of faith!

Did Pam get your thoughts rolling about some unique features that might be in your own family crest? Your own "Learn and Leader" days?

Note: This post is adapted from 10 Best Decisions a Parent Can Make. (This book and many other parenting helps and resources can be found at To fully implement a "Learner and Leader Day," the Farrels recommend readers purchase: 10 Best Decisions a Parent Can Make book and the 10 Best Decisions a Parent Can Make 1 session audio CD.

Pam Farrel is a challenger, cheerleader and coach. With her husband Bill, the Farrels are  international speakers, and authors of over 35 books including best-selling Men are like Waffles, Women are like Spaghetti, Woman of Influence, 10 Best Decisions a Woman Can Make, 10 Secrets to Living Smart, Savvy and Strong, and her newest, Becoming a Brave New Woman. The Farrels, married 33 years, are relationship specialists who help people become “Love-Wise ." These San Diegans are parents to three children—two married sons—and three grandchildren.


How to Enhance Your Femininity

Morgan Farr has explored the topic of femininity and biblical womanhood extensively on her blog, and I asked her to write a Womanhood UPGRADE for us.

Morgan asks an important question: "Do you stand out as a woman of God or do you blend in with the world?"

For some time now, I (Dawn) have thought about the images the secular media feeds girls and women about what it means to be a woman, and I've grieved over the confusion and heartache I see in so many women's lives. So I truly appreciate Morgan's insight.

Morgan continues ...

God called us to be set apart and I believe that calling has more to it than just going to church on Sunday. I believe that our lives should be a testament to His glory. One of the most basic ways that we can praise God’s magnificence is in being who He made us to be … women!

Proverbs is chock full of excellent examples of how both men and women should behave, potential pitfalls, and rewards that come from working in the sphere of influence to which God assigned you.

God designed men to be masculine and women to be feminine.

It sounds so easy. If you are female, just be feminine ... right?

Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world.

On one hand, this world encourages androgyny between the sexes; on the other hand, it celebrates an unattainable hyper sexuality (i.e., Victoria’s Secret). This takes place all while mocking Biblical womanhood and true femininity. It can be so hard to know where you fit in as a woman of God!

Here are my steps to increasing femininity:

1. Celebrate your femininity

Thank God for the gift of your femininity.

Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”

God knew from the beginning what color of hair you would have, what color your eyes would be, and that you were going to be a woman. God has designed and set out a perfect role for you to reflect the Lord of all creation’s love as a daughter of the King. How awesome is that?

2. Pray about your femininity

If femininity is something that you struggle with, ask God for help.

1 Chronicles 16:11 says, “Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.”

God’s plan for you and your family is awesome. He wants you to revel in your femininity. He designed you to His perfect specification, and that includes the fact that you are female!

3. Enhance your femininity

Femininity looks different for different people; it is all about what helps you to feel feminine.

For some ladies that could be as simple as wearing a skirt, a pretty scarf or a broach. For other ladies, femininity is an attitude ... or acts of service. I feel the most feminine when I am making food for a house full of people.

I have to say, femininity is something that I have struggled with in my personal life for a long time.

As a weightlifter, I hear a lot of questions about femininity. People ask me everything from how I manage to feel like a girl when I participate in such a masculine sport, to asking if my husband is able to see me as feminine.

It isn’t easy; there is a constant battle of maintaining a healthy balance.

Elisabeth Elliot has a quote that I adore. She said:

“The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman.” - Elisabeth Elliot

I think that sums up biblical womanhood and femininity for Christian women. We aren’t called to blend in to this world; we are called to stand out as daughters of the King!

What can you do to use your femininity to show the glory of God?

Morgan Farr is an Army wife currently stationed at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She and her wonderful husband Brian are expecting their first child in just two weeks! She is a homemaker that dedicates her free time to ministering to other Army wives through Bible studies, one-on-one mentoring and physical training. Morgan writes about her transition out of feminism and into biblical womanhood on her blog.

Graphic adapted, Image courtesy of stockimages at




Make Loving 'Investments' in Your Spouse

An article by R.C. Sproul, Jr. awakened me to how much I was taking my husband's presence for granted.

In a poignant post, Sproul wrote of his sorrow after his wife's illness, homegoing and absence.

"I wish I had held her hand more." he said. "That is likely my deepest regret, that I did not hold her hand more."

It's not that Sproul—a brilliant man who is rector and philosophy/theology chairman at Reformation Bible College—never held his wife's hand. But it is likely, he said, "that I didn't as often as she would have liked."

Holding a partner's hand communicates, "in a simple yet profound way," connection. In Christian marriage, it is the "one flesh" connection.

"It would have, even in the midst of a disagreement, or moments of struggle, communicated, 'We're going to go through this together. I will not let go,' he said."

Sproul explained other symbolism inherent in the held hand:  friendship, the leadership/follower pattern, marital love.

"Hand holding is a way to say both, 'You are safe with me' and 'Follow me into the adventure,'" he said.

Sproul concluded:

Holding hands costs nothing "and bears dividends."

Dividends! We need to take seriously this concept of "investing" in our spouse. Just as we invest financially and watch our bank account grow, we can invest in a spouse and watch our marriage grow!

I started thinking about the simple, everyday things a couple might do that communicates connection, friendship, biblical roles and deep love.

Some are simple courtesies that we do for others - why not our spouse?

Some suggestions:

  • For the guys, Be a gentleman - like when a man pulls back and scoots in a chair, holds a door for his wife, or comes to her side of the car to help her out.
  • For the gals, Be a lady - like when a woman asks for help (especially when it's something her husband would find joy in doing), or allows her man to BE the man of the house.
  • Listen without a wandering mind or trying to think of the next thing we will say.
  • Praise our spouse in private ... and in public.
  • Squash criticism and a judgmental spirit.
  • Express gratitude for what our spouse does for us (financially, emotionally, spiritually, etc.)
  • Encourage growth. Allow for failures and lessons learned along the way.
  • Support dreams. Be ready for a new life "adventure." Don't immediately pour cold water on our partner's ideas—draw them out. Help our spouse think through the pros and cons.
  • Meet a practical need: doing laundry; making a healthy-but-yummy smoothie for our partner; dusting their office;  fixing something that's broken (that our partner uses and needs); preparing mentally, emotionally and physically for sex, etc.

The Bible gives us many "one anothers" we're to practice in the body of Christ. They certainly could be practiced in our marriages as well.

Simple things like: Love one another (John 13:34), Forgive one another (Colossians 3:13), Serve one another (Galatians 5:13), Encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25).

A widow expressed regrets for all the things she didn't do for her spouse during their marriage. Although I told her, "No marriage is perfect. He knew you loved him," she would not be consoled.

It made me think:

What might I regret if my life partner died today?

It's not too late to change those things—to do those things—that might make a huge difference in our relationships.

It might be as simple as holding hands.

Can you think of something simple to enhance your marriage today—a way to "invest" in your partner and ultimately, your marriage? 

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

Graphic, adapted, Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at


Nurture Your Body-Soul-Spirit Connection

Corrie Thomas is a young woman of God with compassion and the skills to meet many physical needs, but in this Health UPGRADE, she reminds us—there is a spiritual connection too.

As a trained medical professional I am always assessing my patients needs every moment of the work day,” Corrie said, “but although they come to the hospital for physical symptoms, I realize at the end of the day they all just really needed Jesus in some way or another; the only true Comforter and Healer of their body, soul, and spirit.”

I (Dawn) am so glad Corrie gets and promotes this connection. So many people focus on physical, mental and emotional needs without ever considering how the spirit might be crying out with even greater needs. Our Heavenly Father wants us to center all of our life in Jesus.

Corrie continues... 

As much as doctors and health professionals attempt to treat physical symptoms, they often miss the primary symptom of the hurting spirit: a desperate need for love, peace and meaning which can only be perfected in God Himself through the redemption and healing of Jesus' ultimate sacrifice on the Cross.

Long-term feelings of loneliness, anxiety and longing can enable people to seek fulfillment in food, drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. All of these substances cause a variety of debilitating issues and diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart failure, liver failure, lung cancer, or schizophrenia.

These feelings and behaviors are toxic to the body and remind us that choices can affect our bodies in small and big ways. Even the elderly remind us of the limits of our physical bodies as we observe the aging process.

Whether you consider yourself a healthy person or not, we can all recognize the limits of our physical bodies, and those around us.

God has amazingly given us a soul (our thoughts, mentality, heart), a spirit to connect with Him, and an amazing body to do a million different functions.

Each of these facets of our being are intertwined.

Unfortunately our physical bodies do not last forever, but God says our spirit can last eternally in Him, and we can choose today to continually recognize our need for God's forgiveness, mercy, and love as we make choices to function in our earthly bodies. 

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

It is difficult sometimes to make time to nurture a strong and healthy soul, spirit and body. Most of us are very busy and our time is limited. We may even choose other “good” extracurricular responsibilities to get done, but eventually our minds and bodies start to tire out, and our spirit is depleted as we attempt to connect with God.

There are two things you can do right away to nurture your body-soul-spirit connection:

1. Pray about Connection.

A good place to start in this process is a willingness to draw near to our Lord who loves and desires us. Ask, “How can I connect with God and hear His voice today?”

Remember that Jesus, our example, often retreated away to connect with His Father.

Sometimes this "retreating" might include reading and hearing God’s written Word, or meditating on God’s characteristics. Or simply saying to God, “Help, Lord. I need You.” Maybe it’s a combination of all these things.

2. Get Moving!

While there are many fitness and nutritional plans out there that can overwhelm us, just get outside and move. It will give your body energy and help your mind focus on how to live healthy in this world. This physical activity might be walking, running, gardening or swimming.

I think these are two great places to start in pursuing healthy living as you seek to nurture a strong and healthy soul, spirit, and body.

What are you doing today to nurture your eternal spirit? How can you turn around an unhealthy physical, emotional or mental habit?

Corrie Thomas is a practicing RN who has a B.A. in Communications and a B.S. in Nursing. As a follower of Christ, she finds joy in helping her patients in practical ways and through teaching. Corrie has been actively involved in missions from the time she was in high school. In 2012, she led a team of nurses to Uganda, where the medical team met health needs and shared the love of Jesus. She is married to Mike, and as a couple they serve their community through their local church.


Creating Screen-Free Spaces

Arlene Pellicane is committed to family togetherness, and in this Parenting UPGRADE, she explains how modern media can get in the way.

“When my husband and I were married more than fifteen years ago, he had a strange request,”LetSomeT Arlene said. “Could we have a TV-free home for the first month of our marriage? He wanted to spend quality time together in the evenings after work instead of turning on the tube.”

My (Dawn’s) first impression when I read that was, "Wow! What a man. What insight!”

Arlene continues …

Although it was quite a stretch (I was working as a television producer then), we did it. When we brought the television back, it seemed like a noisy intruder to our peaceful oasis. We’ve never subscribed to cable or watched TV in our home since. 

As a result, our children (ages 4, 7 and 9) have grown up in a TV-free home. My kids aren’t up on the latest programs. They’ve never had the television on as background noise. When it is movie night or we watch a funny video online, it’s a big event and the kids come running. 

But I can honestly say a media-poor life has given us a family-rich life. Ethan, Noelle and Lucy have grown up with a love of books, music, exercise and plenty of time for imaginative play. 

Now I am not saying that canceling cable is for every household. But I do want to encourage you that it is possible to raise your children differently even in a media-saturated world.

My oldest, Ethan, is in fifth grade, and his friends can’t believe he doesn’t have a television or video games. 

“You poor thing, what do you do all day?” they ask. Ethan smiles and says he likes to read, play the piano, and build things with Legos. It may be difficult at first to cut back on television for your family, but in time healthier alternatives will arise in the absence of television.

Now, before you think I’m unaffected by screen time, let me confess. 

I may not watch television, but my home computer with its dual monitors is always humming. I’m constantly sitting in front of my computer, writing books or blogs, checking emails and social media, updating my calendar and contacts. I’ve explained that mommy is an author who works from home, which legitimizes my screen time to my children. 

But I know many times I’m shopping on Amazon or reading a friend’s blog—spending unnecessary minutes with my screens instead of taking a break. 

Spouses are especially gifted at pointing out areas of improvement.

When I asked James about my screen time, he exclaimed, “You are always on your computer!”

As a result of this realization, I am doing an experiment by turning off my computer after dinner. This forces me to be more productive in the day time and ensures I won’t waste my time mindlessly online in the evening. 

Like me, most adults automatically check their devices several times an hour. Staring at screens is anything but relaxing. So when you set a curfew for all your gadgets and power off at the same time each night, it will actually prepare you to have a better night’s rest. You can put yourself, not just your kids, on a schedule. 

How much television are you going to watch per day? How long are you going to stay online? 

My co-author of Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World, Dr. Gary Chapman, posted a question on my Facebook page about how to create more distance between ourselves and our digital devices. Here are a few of the responses:   

We are putting a bin at our front door with a sign that says, “Unless you are expecting a call from God, the Pope, or the President – please deposit your device here so we can make the most of our time together.

We unplug from the time we get home until we get up again the next morning. 

Try going without devices in your home just two days a week and see how relaxed and refreshed you are.  Enjoy the outdoors the other days. True happiness! 

Wireless is on a timer so it goes off at night. 

There are many ways you can tailor-make a digital Sabbath that will work well for you and your family.

As you pull away from the noise of the screen, you will be able to tune into the heart of God and your family members more easily.   

What has worked well in your life to create screen-free space?  What would you like to try this week? 

Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World (co-authored with Gary Chapman), 31 Days to a Happy Husband, and 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife. Arlene has been featured on the Today Show, Family Life Today, K-LOVE, The Better Show, The 700 Club, Turning Point with Dr. David Jeremiah, and TLC’s Home Made Simple. Visit Arlene at for free family resources including a monthly Happy Home podcast.

Note from Dawn: In case you still need some motivation to create screen-free space in your life, watch this sweet, powerful video featuring Arlene’s family.

Graphics: adapted image, courtesy of smarnad and photostock, both at