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Poppy Smith

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Janice Thompson

Teri Thompson

Brittany Van Ryn

Elizabeth Van Tassel

Leslie Vernick

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Julie Watson

Joan C. Webb

Shonda Savage Whitworth

Cherri Williamson

Kathy C. Willis

Debbie W. Wilson

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Jamie Wood

And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson



How to Encourage Your Friends in Dark Times

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth continues . . .

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

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

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

Me: Where are you in the process?

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

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

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

Me: What are you struggling with the most?

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

Me: What does your community need?

Them: Hope beyond circumstances.

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

The Psalmist is very intentional about focus during trials:

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

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

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

The Psalmist continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Dwell on beauty.

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

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

3. Play games with kids.

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

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

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

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

5. Sit with them while they make their inventory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAKE TIME for important things and relationships, too.

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

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

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Geralt at Pixabay.


4 Steps to Dealing with Disappointment

I have no doubt Kathy Carlton Willis is qualified to teach us on the subject of disappointment in this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE. I was on her prayer team last year when she experienced what she calls, “back-to-back-to-back disappointments.”

"I started the year in the hospital for a post-surgical infection," Kathy says. "It required additional surgery, going home with a PICC line, and a change in plans to allow time for recovery."

I (Dawn) think most of us would struggle with just that, but Kathy's tale of struggle and disappoint went on and on. And so did her commitment to deal with those struggles in a "grin with grace way.

Kathy continues . . . 

I was so disappointed in how that impacted my year. I had to cancel contracts with clients and postpone a writer’s getaway.

My diet and exercise plans were on pause, too. Everything just felt off kilter.

Then, when I finally got back in the swing of things, I had four disappointments hit almost simultaneously.

  • I developed a urinary tract infection that wouldn’t go away.
  • The antibiotic I took for it caused a tendon injury.
  • Hurricane Harvey hit.
  • And if that wasn’t enough, it flooded a home we had in contract.

Notice I said, “had.” Harvey nullified the purchase.

Oh, and somewhere in all of that, I received a book rejection from a publishing house.

I’m not going to bore you with all the other commonplace disappointments, but these were the biggies!

You’ve had years like that, right? How did you handle the disappointments? Maybe you are going through a frustrating setback right now.

I’ve learned it doesn’t work to ignore the loss, and it’s not healthy to stay stalled out.

Each disappointment requires a process.

Here’s my 4-Step Process for Dealing with Disappointment.

1. Rightfully MOURN the loss.

Joy has left our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning. (Lamentations 5:15 NLT)

Disappointments stem from losing something we had or not getting something for which we hoped. Either way, we experience sadness.

Grieving is a painful process, but if we try to avoid it, we only manage to delay healing. When we mourn, the sadness subsides, and we are ready to move on.

2. Receive more of God's COMFORT and peace.

Look up the words "comfort" and "peace" in the Bible and you’ll see it is the Holy Spirit’s role to soothe your soul. Don't feel guilty for needing it—we all do!

Will you invite God’s Spirit to embrace you, rock you, and sing songs of consolation?

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NLT)

3. Ask God’s DIRECTION for something new or something to renew.

Once you’ve received God’s comfort, it’s time to look around to see what God has next for you, rather than continue self-reflecting.

It’s possible He will use your story to help someone else.

God helps you gain closure from your hurt so the pain no longer blinds you from your purpose.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT)

4. Move on with a RENEWED passion or project in something bigger than yourself.

There’s nothing like a new project to keep me going despite the let downs!

I anticipate seeing God at work, producing lightbulb moments.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT)

These are my four steps to deal with disappointment. Which step are you ready to take?

God’s Grin Gal, Kathy Carlton Willis, shines the light on what holds you back so you can grow. She’s a speaker and author with over a thousand articles online and in print, as well as her Bible study, Grin with GraceShe’s a bi-monthly columnist with CBN and a devotional writer for Todd Starnes. She and her husband Russ live in Texas with Jazzy, their hilarious Boston Terrier.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Geralt at Pixabay.


Remove the Ink Stain

Kolleen Lucariello reminds us words wound us, but God doesn't want us to stay hurt. In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE she shares a personal story about how the Lord helped her deal with her anger and pain.

“Sometimes,” Kolleen says, “words can leave a stain on a heart—like ink on paper.”

Oh yes. I (Dawn) dealt with horrible, painful words some 30 years ago. I cried for weeks! But I'm glad the Lord taught me the lessons Kolleen shares here.

Kolleen continues…

Within a few months of my wedding day, a letter arrived in our mailbox from a family member who decided my husband Pat needed help with a decision he and I were in the process of making. Of course, even though the letter was addressed to him, I read it.

That was when the words—which had been written in ink on notepaper—left a stain on my heart I was convinced could never be erased away.

Truthfully, for a very long time, I didn’t want it to be. 

The letter held words of criticism and words that hurt, and it also held my heart and mind for many months following its arrival.

I tucked it away in the drawer of our nightstand where it was within easy reach when I needed a reminder of why I was mad. Rereading it helped me remain steadfast in my anger, so I would read it almost every day—sometimes more than once.

Any moment I felt the grip on my anger begin to loosen, I would retreat to the bedroom nightstand, remove the letter, and read it over one more time.

Oh, what fire that little spark could ignite.

Until one day when I was advised to throw the letter away and I didn't want to throw it away. It felt good holding onto it. Or so I thought.

Until I finally threw it away.

I was surprised how much better I felt when it was no longer in my possession. Throwing it away, so it was no longer something I could hold physically and look at, released me from the stabbing pain I felt when I read that letter over and over again.

Why do we inflict pain like this upon ourselves? 

Next, I needed to stop rehearsing it over and over in my mind.

I had read that letter so many times it was memorized.

It was easy to access because it was stored like a file, and at any given moment I could search my memories filing system and retrieve it. I just needed the name of the offender to flow through my mind and boom—just like that—the file was pulled, revealing all misdeeds against the offender.

Then I began to sense it was time to delete the file. I knew this meant I needed to change the direction of my thoughts every time the words of that letter began to enter them.

That was a hard choice.

It was also a constant battle. But, I knew it was one that needed to be done if I were ever to be free from the pain of that letter.

It wasn’t enough to just delete the file and let it go.

I thought it was. I wanted it to be! However, the Lord revealed I would never truly be free until I was able to forgive. Ouch.

Extending forgiveness takes courage when you’ve been wounded.

God would never ask us to offer grace to others if He didn’t know we would benefit from it.

You upgrade your life when you . . .

1. Remove anything you are holding that keeps you tied to anger.

Holding on gives it power over you and the ability to become an idol in your life.

Remember, Jesus said to remove anything causing us to stumble (Matthew 5:29). And God has strong feelings towards idols.

2. Stop rehearsing the conversation or situation over in your mind.

"Set your mind and keep focused habitually on the things above [the heavenly things], not on things that are on the earth [which have only temporal value]. For you died [to this world], and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:2-3 AMP).

3. Forgive.

The Word is clear that we are called to forgive. When we nurture hurt and anger with the result that it interferes with our relationship with God, well, then our Father will not forgive us (Matthew 6:15, AMP).

Where we set our mind matters.

Has your heart been stained by ugly words, accusations and insults that continually fill up your thoughts? Make today the day you find the courage to remove the ink stain.

Kolleen Lucariello, #TheABCGirl, is the author of the devotional book The ABC’s of Who God Says I Am. Kolleen and her high school sweetheart, Pat, reside in Central New York. She’s a mother of three married children and Mimi to four incredible grandkids. She desires to help others find their identity in Christ, one letter at a time. Find out more about Kollen on her website.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of imelenchon at Morguefile.


Who We Are and What We Have—In Christ

Sometimes we forget who we are. And forgetting can have sad, even devastating consequences.

When I realized who I am and what I have in Christ, it revolutionized my thinking. And the more I focus on these truths, the more freedom, peace and courage I have in my life and ministry.
There are three things I discovered in my study. In Christ, I have a new identity, absolute security, and God-given dignity.

Let me unpack those for you here:

I. In Christ, you have a New IDENTITY

II. In Christ, you have Absolute SECURITY

III. In Christ, you have God-given DIGNITY

I encourage you to study each point, and rejoice in who you are and what you have in Christ.

Which of these categories of who you are and what you have in Christ speaks to you today? How will you allow it to change or encourage you?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Lightstock.


Strength for a Mama's Heart

Fighting pneumonia, Wendy Hamilton still wrote this UPLIFT post. She is leaning hard on God's strength, and she wants us to do the same.

"'Strength.' This word has been on echo for weeks," Wendy says. "As the holidays blurred and company came and went, 'Strength' was the word God whispered."

I (Dawn) know what Wendy means. Sometimes, weary and frazzled, strength drains from my lives. It's a good thing I know the source for new strength. As does Wendy. Though nothing may change outwardly, operating in God's strength makes our burdens seem lighter.

Wendy continues . . .

As a new school year began and our kids entered the last semester before high school, switched schools for a more personalized and creative approach to schooling or returned to college many states away, God spoke: “Strength”.

As illness seemed to invade every corner of our world affecting every friend and their families and all members of our family, God promised, “I am your Strength.”

Through those difficult times, God breathed the word “Strength” over my mama’s heart.

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him (Psalm 28:7).

As projects went awry and I struggled to be me in my everyday life, God reminded me of who He is, who I am and what I am created to do as His beloved daughter.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:26).

When life doesn’t always look, feel or seem to be going in a positive way, it’s easy to believe the lies of the enemy that God has forgotten about us, doesn’t hear us or really has nothing good for us.

I know among myself and my friends I saw the weariness creep in. Our struggle was real.

It is easy in those moments to focus on the “My flesh and my heart may fail” feelings and never counter those thoughts with the greater truth that “God is the strength of our heart” and He is all that we need all the time, every time, no matter what.

Think for a moment about what is not going as planned in your life.

Where are you going through difficulty or a situation you would rather avoid or never experience at all?

1. Write out what is going on your world that weighs heavy on your heart.

2. Write beside each item, "God, you are my strength and you are all I need.”

The sum of God’s strength far outweighs all difficulties in our everyday lives.

Strength is who God is. HE IS our strength and HE IS our shield. He helps us.

Because of who He is, we can trust in Him. Our mama’s hearts can leap for joy even in the most difficult of days—days filled with anything from toddler tantrums to adolescent antics to those tight, soul-trying moments where we may believe that we don’t have all that we need.

We can praise God for the songs He gives us, especially for the songs that reveal His strength for us.
[One example is below *]

Where is God telling you that He is your strength?

Wendy Hamilton is the co-gounder of Inspired Life Ministries, a creative arts freedom ministry. She teaches writing to moms and teen girls through Inspired Moms and Inspired Teens.  She is a songwriter/writer for Valley Creek Church and serves with her husband, Mike, and their kids in a variety of ministry areas across multiple campuses within her church family. Her devotional for moms, 30 Verses to Heal a Mama’s Heart, is available on, Amazon Europe and other online and offline bookstores and retailers. You can find out more at 

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Pixabay.

* An encouraging song to listen to today, "Everlasting God (Strength Will Rise)" by Chris Tomlin.