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Poppy Smith

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Janice Thompson

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Dawn Wilson



Party Girl Finds Her True Identity

I’ve watched Sharon Paavola grow in recent years. God has transformed her and made her spirit beautiful. In this UPGRADE Uplift, she shares what the Lord did in her life and how He can do the same for each of us.

The words “party girl” crept into my mind with a cloud of regret and depression,” Sharon said.

We all have regrets. I (Dawn) do. The enemy likes to beat us up with them. But God has a word for Christians … actually, two … and they make all the difference. 

In Christ!

Sharon continues . . .

Party Girl. That's how I described most of my life to my psychiatrist. I told him how much I used to drink and date, even after my divorce and on into my forties. I caroused after I married my current husband.

Bad. That's what I thought about myself. Bad.

My coping mechanism, he said, during my immature stage. Where did that come from? Who did I model? I didn’t know anyone in my life that behaved that way. Christians surrounded me. Weren’t these bizarre actions from an innocent girl who knew God, who supposedly knew how to live rightly?

But I didn’t even bat an eye. It seemed natural to me … like I grew up in that environment. I lived a dual life. I acted as a Christian and then as the party girl wherever it suited me.

The chaos created in my mind and soul was so loud I had to keep partying to not hear it.

Then, 20 years ago as I sat in my closet, I finally surrendered all of my life to Christ. I wanted Him to be more than my Savior; I wanted Him to be my Lord. I realized my way had failed me. I wanted to walk His way.

Once I merged into one person, leaving the party girl behind, I found God loved me and wanted to have a relationship with me in spite of who I had been. I grew tired of my poor decisions and changed my life for the better. 

Yet with my new surrender, I was surprised by the agonizing depression that came as I thought about the past and things I couldn't change.

I was so susceptible to spiraling down the trail of old baggage. I felt despair and regret about all the time wasted—the shameful things I did. There had been two of me.

I ached inside thinking about the party girl, completely adrift with no anchor to hold her in place.

I cried for her. I cried over my past.

Abruptly, my doctor said our time had to end. But I wasn’t ready. When I turned my car on, the radio announcer said,

“You are not defined by who you used to be.”

That was the message I needed to hear! Oh, thank you, God!

I felt light again. The burden was gone along with the weighty regret. No longer the Party Girl! I am a “New Creature” in Christ. 

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I could stop beating myself up. My spirit was free to listen to the transforming truth of God’s gospel and live His plan for my life. 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

I am no longer defined by who I used to be. Now my identity is in Christ alone.

Are you the same person everywhere you go—the same at church and the same at home? How are you holding onto old concepts of yourself and not accepting the new you in Christ?

Sharon Paavola’s passion to speak, write and encourage women is to release them from their past—from depression and pain—so they can move on to hope, freedom and living in the present. Sharon writes a blog that includes book reviews, and she leads a Post Abortion Recovery Ministry. She and her husband, Eric, and two Bichons live in the San Diego, California, area and they have three grown children. Follow Sharon on herblog.

Graphic adapted, StockSnap, created by Luis Llerena.


Upgrade Your Fitness - at Home!

Morgan Farr is a young mom with an adorable little boy who is passionate about physical fitness. In this Health & Fitness UPGRADE she shares how to get more fit at home.

“How can I get fit and healthy," Morgan says, "if I can’t afford a gym membership or a personal trainer? I hear this question ALL the time."

OK, I (Dawn) have to admit I've used this excuse and others, but Morgan isn't about to let me (or you) get away with it.

Morgan continues . . .

It is hard in the regular world much less in the Army world for moms to get away long enough to work out at the gym. But I am here to tell you that it can be done and without spending a ton of money!

We all know that fitness an important part of life. If you don’t take care of the temple that God has given you, you can’t work as efficiently for His kingdom. This is even more important when you are a wife and mom, because you have people depending on you every single day.

I have heard a lot of excuses as to why people can’t work out, and the most common one is that they can’t get to the gym. But the thing is, you don’t have to go to the gym to work out.

You can do it from home.

You don’t need fancy equipment.

All you need is: 

  • 1 car tow strap
  • 1 medium carabiner
  • 1 eyebolt
  • 1 duffel bag (I like the ones from Army surplus stores because they are usually very cheap.)
  • 1 40-pound bag of salt pellet
  • 1 old car tire (I use the old ones from my car when I get them replaced.)

 That is it. That is all you need to effectively work out at home.

You will now use these six supplies to make two pieces of equipment.

1. Making a sandbag

Take the sandbag and dump in 10 pounds of the salt. I typically put it inside two trash bags just to keep things tidy.

Tie off the top, securely. A ponytail holder or two works great!

Save the remaining salt, you will need it in the months to come.

2. Making a sled:

Drill a hole in the side of the tire for the eyebolt. You want the round part on the outside portion of the tire.

When you have the eyebolt secured, use the carabiner to hook the car tow strap to the tire.

So now you have a ten pound sandbag and a tire sled.

Here are a list of the things you can do with this new equipment: overhead press, seated press, alternating press, back squat, sumo squat, overhead squat, farmer carries, weighted lunges, sandbag get ups, unweighted tire drags, weighted tire drags, unweighted hand over hand tire pulls, weighted hand over hand tire pulls.  

And those are just the movement with those two pieces of equipment!

That doesn’t include bodyweight movements like: air squats, sit ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, split squats, sumo squats, crunches, and burpees.

When you mix and match these things together you get an incredibly varied workout. Your own creativity is your only limitation! If you don’t know how to program your workout and you need a little help you can always look up workouts online.

My husband and I publish “travel” workouts for the fitness community to use at any time. These workouts are designed to be done with a sandbag and a tire sled or no equipment at all.  

1 Corinthians 9:26-27 says,

“Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”

Don’t disqualify yourself. Get in the race. Start where you are, and work to get better.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what workout program you follow. It matters that you are out there working on your body, making yourself more fit for God to use you in any capacity.

How will you start to build up your body for Christ?

Morgan Farr is an Army wife currently stationed at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina with her wonderful husband Brian and their seven month old son, William. She is a homemaker that dedicates her free time to ministering to other Army wives through Bible studies, one-on-one interactions and physical training. Morgan writes about her transition out of feminism and into biblical womanhood on her blog. You can find her training programs on her blog FarrFunctionalFitness.blogspot.com.  



Mommy Needs Her Beauty Rest

Arlene Pellicane, author of several “31 Days” books for wives and moms, offers a Parenting UPGRADE to help moms get that pep back in their step. 

“Often when children come into our lives, getting a good night’s sleep becomes an unattainable dream,” Arlene says, “Moms need to prioritize sleep because ‘mommy needs her beauty rest!’ Not just for outward beauty, but for inward strength.”

Oh, how I (Dawn) remember needing that sleep as a mom of young toddlers. When I didn’t get it, I was a Mama Bear—and not in the best sense!

Arlene continues . . .

When I’m running ragged, existing on little sleep, I am not a happy camper. But if I get enough sleep – and I’m talking about a solid eight hours here – I am even keeled, productive, and much more reasonable to myself and others. 

Somehow we’ve bought the lie that it’s nobler to do more and sleep less. Go ahead and take a hit on your personal health and survive on a few hours of sleep. You can catch up on sleep later, but your to-do list is now.

But I say, sleep more and be a nicer person.

My friend author Kendra Smiley says,

“For goodness sake mom, take care of yourself and get rest! I hear too many moms say the kids went to bed and then I stayed up until midnight to clean the oven and the kitchen. Stop it! The kids will not remember that your oven was clean. The kids will remember that you were cheerful when the day started.”

Isn’t that liberating and helpful to put things into perspective?

Being physically ready to start the day is more important than having a clean, sparkling kitchen.

Phew, that makes me feel better.  I’d much rather sleep than clean.

Here are a few benefits of a good night’s sleep:

  • Less risk of heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, and obesity
  • More energy for an enjoyable sex life
  • Improved memory
  • Stronger immunity
  • Better mood
  • Clearer thinking

Plus, you can lose weight after catching your Z’s. Researchers from the University of Chicago and Stanford University found a lack of sleep causes changes in hormones that increase appetite. After just two nights of sleep deprivation, their research subjects had a 24 percent increase in appetite and craved high-sugar, high-salt, starchy foods. Sound familiar?

Yet for many moms, getting a good night’s sleep is not as easy as it sounds. According to a National Sleep Foundation survey, more than half of Americans report at least one symptom of insomnia such as being unable to fall or stay asleep.

These do’s and don’ts will help you get your beauty rest. 


1. Don’t drink caffeine late in the day. Caffeine provides a boost of energy and stimulates your brain – not something you want happening before bedtime.   

2. Don’t stare at the clock. If you haven’t fallen asleep after about 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing like reading in a different room until you feel sleepy. 

3. Don’t watch TV in bed. Set a curfew for all your screens one hour before bedtime.  The light from TV, tablets and computers alerts the brain and makes it harder to fall asleep. 

4. Don’t pay your bills or do work in bed. Use your bed for relaxation; not for a desk. 


1. Do go to bed at a decent hour. Start getting ready for bed nine hours before you have to wake up.   

2. Do dim your lights. Turn off the lights you’re not using in the house and dim the lights in your bedroom a few minutes before bedtime. 

3. Do have calming pre-sleep rituals. Establish a routine such as reading a few minutes or journaling before lights out. 

4. Do keep a list handy. Write down those flashing thoughts of to-dos running through your brain. Once it’s written down, forget about it.

So are you ready for a good night’s sleep tonight?

Sleep is good! The Psalmist says, "... he gives to his beloved sleep" (Psalm 127:2, ESV).

Give yourself permission to dim the lights early. After all, you need your beauty rest and your kids would truly benefit from a nicer mom in the morning. 

Which of these do’s and don’ts would help you get a better night’s sleep?

Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Mom. She is also the co-author of Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World (with Gary Chapman). She has been a featured guest on the Today Show, Fox & Friends, Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Today, The 700 Club, and Turning Point with Dr. David Jeremiah. Arlene lives in the San Diego area with her husband James and their three children. Visit her website at www.ArlenePellicane.com for free resources to help you have a happy home.    


Finding the Fruit in Your Failures

Mary James’ ministry is a combination of strength and vulnerability. In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, she helps us deal with the “failures” in our lives from a godly perspective.

 “Perfect love casts out all fear,” Mary says, “but it is only God’s love that is truly perfect.”

Do you struggle with feelings of failure, believing the enemy’s lies? I (Dawn) rejoice in the truth: I am“accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6) and the Father receives me in Christ with perfect love.

Mary continues . . .

I’ve worked hard at my craft over the years, but those moments still come along that make me want to cringe: a slightly pitchy note, misspelled word, bad wardrobe choice, an incomplete thought or point.

This is completely normal, but it seems like the biggest bloopers occur when I am in front of the largest crowds. Anyone else? I suppose that is why public speaking and singing is such a huge fear for most people. It comes with great risk to the ego. 

I had an experience recently where “it” happened again…the blooper…well, bloopers actually. 

If it was “American Idol,” it would have been my final week.

Every ounce of me wanted to deliver my songs with the utmost of excellence, but it just didn't happen. From my perspective, I let the people down who trusted me with the task.  

Can any good come out of the moments in our lives or careers when we feel like nothing more than a failure? I believe so, if we are willing to wait on God before deciding we have run our last race.     

Over the last 15 years of ministry, there have been times when I over promised and under delivered—and vice versa. Each experience provided an opportunity to learn from the One who made my appointments in the first place. 

The internal and external critics can be deafening, but God always has the final say. 

It’s probably a little different for everyone, but there are several valuable truths that have helped me rise above the inner critic and the competitive nature of society.   

1. Take responsibility.

No one has more skin in the game than you do, so ultimately you must take full responsibility for your own growth or professional development. Whether it’s a blog, a book or a performance that falls flat, the question should always be, “What can I do to improve my craft when the next assignment comes along?”  

The comforting part is, if what you are engaged in is God’s will for your life, there will be another assignment. Watch, listen, and critique your efforts so you can become the best edition of yourself you can be. 

2. Ask, “Is my name on it?”

Though I “bloopered” that public performance and understand how to do a better job next time, it was not exactly in line with my ministry passion. Yet by walking through that door, I was able to see (once again) that not everything is a fit. And that is OK.  

I heard Christine Caine say recently, “I’ve reached a point where I don’t want to do anything that doesn’t have my name on it.” How true it is. This is where I need to be comfortable saying “no” from time to time.

3. Keep your eyes upon the Father. 

As I went forward to sing for the final time at the event—while blushing and fearful of messing up again—I suddenly got this picture of my heavenly Father calling me over to Him and saying,

"Mary, come near. Sit on my knee and please sing me that lovely song once more. I love to hear that voice I gave you." 

It occurred to me, perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), but it is only His love that is truly perfect.  

If I take my eyes off the Lord and look to others for approval, it’s astonishing how quickly I can enter a place of fear. It is no surprise how quickly one can sink.

To the Lord, my song was sweet and imperfect and beautiful.

Within my error and anxiety, He showed me what perfect love looks like.

No experience or endeavor is one dimensional. There is much to be given, learned and received at every opportunity.

We need to grow, seek excellence, and make choices that align with our giftings, but I will say this: after 15 years of working hard, honing my craft, struggling with confidence and praying that God would bring forth a harvest from my branches, the gift (understanding) I received through that picture (visual) of me of sitting on my Father’s knee—singing to Him—is what I would deem the greatest of successes. Nothing earned, just a gentle and victorious reminder of His grace and unmerited favor.   

It’s a profound truth that if practiced will allow me to take a deep breath and simply enjoy the music.

Remember, well-formed love—God’s love—will cast out all our fears.

The fruit of our labor is not always found in how we impact others, but in how God is growing us so that we can most effectively draw others to His knee.

Failures, though never welcome, can be the very thing God uses to remind us of what matters most to Him.   

Have you taken your eyes off of Him Beloved? I trust He is waiting to hear your beautiful song as well.

Mary James is a Christian Artist, Worship Leader, speaker and writer. Through her soul-stirring music, adoption-prodigal story and transparent, biblically-centered messages, Mary is devoted to helping the broken find love, healing and abundant life through Christ. Since entering ministry, she has appeared at events with leading Bible teachers such as Dr. David Jeremiah, Kay Arthur, Sheila Walsh, Shannon Ethridge and many others. She has been recognized on a national level as a three-time Inspirational Country Music Female Vocalist of the Year and is the President of Mary James Ministries, Inc.    

Graphic, adapted from StockSnap.io.


5 Steps to Stop Resting on Your Laurels

This Spiritual Growth UPGRADE considers the importance of continuing to grow in every area of life and not be content with victories in the past.

The old expression "resting on your laurels" refers to relying entirely on successes in the past for continuing recognition. It means we're too satisfied with past achievements to move forward into growth and new success. No real, consistent effort is made to improve our own life or the lives of others.

Laurel leaves were woven into a ring for contest winners in ancient sporting events. The laurel ring—a Victor's crown—was placed on the winner's head for all to see. It brought great praise and honor to the one who wore the crown.

But imagine if that victor just "rested on his laurels" and never did anything else that mattered. How foolish.

Victors would be counseled, "look to your laurels." Be careful not to lose the rank you achieved in future competitions.

I cannot help but compare this to the Christian life. 

Too many Christians—having fought the good fight of faith in their youth—sit back and reminisce about past answers to prayer, past Kingdom work and past victories. Past blessings are wonderful, but they're never meant to be the "end all" of the Christian life. And . . . 

Resting on your laurels is the opposite of UPGRADING your life!

So how do we stop resting on our laurels and move forward into new victories?

1. Take a Moment to Remember

We're not to live in the past, but that doesn't mean we don't reflect on what God has done and what it took to get to a place of victory... a place of rest ... a place of peace ... a place of fruitfulness, etc. "Remember the wondrous works He has done..." (Psalm 105:5). See also Psalm 103:2; Deuteronomy 8:2.

2. Take Stock of What You Have

What is in your hands?  What has the Lord given you NOW to work with? New resources? New skills? New vision? New people to help? New opportunities open with new supply! "Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might...." (Ecclesiastes 9:10a).

3. Take Hold of Faith

Remember that you can do nothing without the Lord (John 15:5; Jesus' example—5:30), and without faith (in Him), it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6).

4. Take New Ground

Like the Children of Israel, moving forward into the Promised Land (Joshua 21:43), you can always take new ground when the Lord directs your steps.

  • You can take new ground physically. (Lose weight? Get stronger? Get healthier?)
  • You can take new ground mentally and emotionally, learning new things and biblical ways to cope with the circumstances of life.
  • You can take new ground socially, reaching out to others with selflessness and a servant's heart.
  • And you can always take new ground spiritually. What book of the Bible will you study? What scriptures will you memorize? What will you pray for? Who will you mentor? What can you do to make some corner of the world a better place to the glory of God?

Jesus grew in all of these areas (Luke 2:40, 52) and so can you! There's no reason to stop growing.

And don't forget, in these ungodly days:

  • You can take new ground against the enemy (Satan). As long as we have breath, we must fight the good fight of faith. We can't leave it to others. The Captain of our Soul has work for us to do.

 5. Take Every Opportunity to Praise

We forget that God is God and we are not—and all we ever hope to achieve is because of His good grace. So we must take every opportunity to praise Him, honor Him, bring Him glory.

As my friend Pam Farrel reminds me, "Those who honor God, God honors" (see 1 Samuel 2:30). If you want to move forward in victory, be sure you are honoring God. 

Don't miss this. We can't just sit back and rest on our laurels. We've got to reach forth and take new ground. Because we are soldiers of the cross, and as followers of Christ, we are "on mission" until He calls us home to glory.

My friend Nancy Leigh DeMoss helped me remember a hymn that speaks to this truth. Isaac Watts, in his hymn, "Am I a Soldier of the Cross?" wrote:

"Am I a soldier of the cross, A follower of the Lamb,

And shall I fear to own His cause, Or blush to speak His Name?

Must I be carried to the skies On flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize, And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood?

In this vile world a friend to grace, To help me on to God?

Sure I must fight if I would reign; Increase my courage, Lord.

I'll bear the toil, endure the pain, Supported by Thy Word...."

Watts went on to write about the "robes of victory" the saints will wear someday.

Much like a laurel wreath, our victory robes will celebrate what has been achieved, not for us but for the Kingdom. And the glory will all belong to the Lord!

I want to finish well, don't you?

Are you resting on your laurels? How can you move forward to gain new ground? 

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Ministries, is the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices TodayLOL 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). Dawn is the co-author ofLOL 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.