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Lina AbuJamra

Sue Badeau

Dianne Barker

Twila Belk

Gail Bones

Harriet Bouchillon

Mary Carver

Jeanne Cesena

Pamela Christian

Lisa Copen

Erin Davis

Diane Dean

Deb DeArmond

Kelly DeChant

Danna Demetre

Melissa Edgington

Debbi Eggleston

Pat Ennis

Morgan Farr

Pam Farrel

Sally Ferguson

Liz Cowen Furman

Gail Goolsby

Sheila Gregoire

Kate Hagen

Doreen Hanna

Holly Hanson

Becky Harling

Debbie Harris

Nali Hilderman

Cathy Horning

Kathy Howard

Mary James

Priscilla Jenson

Lane P. Jordan

Rebecca Jordan

Ellie Kay

Maria Keckler

Sylvia Lange

Debby Lennick

Peggy Leslie

Kathi Lipp

Kolleen Lucariello

Kathi Macias

Paula Marsteller

Melissa Mashburn

Dianne Matthews

Cindi McMenamin

Elaine W. Miller

Kathy Collard Miller

Lynn Mosher

Karen O'Connor

Yvonne Ortega

Arlene Pellicane

Ava Pennington

Laura Petherbridge

Gail Purath

Marcia Ramsland

Kaley Rhea

Rhonda Rhea

Vonda Rhodes

Cynthia Ruchti

Julie Sanders

Judy Scharfenberg

Deedra Scherm

Laurel Shaler

Joanie Shawhan

Stephanie Shott

Poppy Smith

Susan K. Stewart

Stacie Stoelting

Jill Swanson

Janet Thompson

Janice Thompson

Teri Thompson

Brittany Van Ryn

Elizabeth Van Tassel

Leslie Vernick

Laurie Wallin

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



Six Must-have Elements for a Successful Retreat

Freelance writer Sally Ferguson has written devotionals and for magazines, but her specialty is supplying tools to equip women. In this Ministry UPGRADE, she shares how to plan a successful women's retreat.

"In the midst of busy ministry tasks, Jesus called the disciples to time away with Him," Sally says. "Why would the CEO of a budding company take His associates away at their most crucial season? It all had to do with what’s called the bottom line."

Having planned retreats, I (Dawn) know the tremendous time and effort required, but I love Sally's biblical approach to the whole process.

Sally continues . . .

Look at Mark 6:30-46 for six essentials for a getaway.

1. The Invitation - Mark 6:31

The apostles were frazzled. They traveled, taught and tended to the needy. Jesus invited them to step away from the tyranny of the urgent and regroup.

How about the women in your sphere of influence? Are they carpooling moms, trying to make ends meet, or a part of the sandwich generation caring for aging parents and young children?

How would they respond to a weekend of R&R? How about a chance to recharge their batteries!

Invite them on facebook. Ask them in person.

Print flyers and posters. Get the word out that you are planning something special with each one in mind. Advertizing your event in multiple venues, repeatedly, spreads the message.

2. The Challenge - Mark 6:37

Jesus issued a challenge to His followers to be the vessel through which God could display His glory.

Could you cast a vision for a getaway, too?

Casting a vision helps a leadership team to plan and implement your retreat. It also refers to the challenge you set before attendees.

Will you call them to discipleship or dedication to unity? Will you challenge them to a deeper prayer life or a broader scope of servanthood?

The vision of the retreat provides a foundation on which all else can be built.

3. Organization - Mark 6:38-40

This passage illustrates that God is a God of order! (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40)

First, Jesus sent the disciples on a fact-finding mission (vs. 38). Planning women’s retreats is no different…

  • How many rooms will we need?
  • How many can the location handle?
  • What amenities are available?
  • What will it cost?
  • How much time do we want to schedule away?

Second, Jesus organized the massive group (vs. 39-40). What will you need to organize?

Food for thought, food for the body and food for festivities are all important elements to a retreat.

Break down each task into smaller chunks.

  • Who will be in charge of meal planning?
  • Who will plan activities?
  • Who will arrange transportation?
  • Who will handle registration?
  • Who will bring the chocolate? (Yes!)

Take it a step further.

How will you foster a sense of belonging?

Groups of seven to nine people add intimacy to a retreat; a place where everyone learns your name. It’s a place to listen to what others think about faith and to be heard in the questioning places of our hearts.

Small groups meet several times during the retreat to cultivate relationships and to pray for one another.

4. Gratitude - Mark 6:41

Jesus gave thanks for what had been given.

What happens when we show gratitude? Not only does an attitude adjustment happen, but it shifts the focus to the One who wants us to “come away” with Him.

  • Include opportunities for worship in your retreat.
  • Schedule outings to experience the wonderful world He created.
  • Affirm each woman for the contributions she makes to your small group.
  • And recognize ways others have made the experience better for all.

5. The Meat - Mark 6:41-44

After Jesus had given thanks, He broke the loaves and fed the crowd abundantly.

How will you break the Bread of Life for your women? Will it be through video, speakers or study material?

When women tell their stories, camaraderie is developed through shared struggles.

Did you notice that Jesus didn’t distribute the loaves and fish to the people? He let His disciples experience the joy of the miracle.

When you spread out responsibilities to your leadership team, more people take ownership of the event, and more people receive the blessing!

6. Prayer - Mark 6:46

And so, we come full circle and end at prayer. From the invitation to the benediction, Jesus modeled a lifestyle of prayer.

He knew it all came back to the bottom line... relying on the One who would supply all their needs.

Bathe your retreat in prayer. From conception to birth, let it be the Lord’s baby. He will show you how to nurture and raise it up to be an event that takes on a life of its own and brings praise to Him! 

Could a retreat enhance the way your group connects?

Sally Ferguson loves planning women’s retreats. Her coloring book, What Will I Be When I Grow Up? (Warner Press) and ebook, How to Plan a Women’s Retreat are both available on Amazon. Visit her website.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of StockSnap at Pixabay.


Three Steps toward Dependence

I've long admired Kathy Howard for her skill in communicating biblical thruth through creative Bible studies, and recenty she tackled a topic that is hitting many people where they live. In this Caregiving UPGRADE, she provides a fresh perspective for weary caregivers.

"Self-reliance and independence hinder our caregiving," Kathy says.

Didn't I (Dawn) say it is a "fresh perspective"? I've read many posts promoting independence for caregivers, but never one on learning dependence.

Kathy continues . . .

Caring for my aging parents demands more than I have to give. I remember one night in particular.

Voices penetrated the heavy shroud of sleep. I could hear the anxiety in Mom and Dad’s conversation, but I couldn’t make out the words.

I threw back the covers and stumbled across the hall to their room. Dad lay on the floor beside the bed. I managed to get him sitting, but I could not get his 230-pounds off the floor and back in the bed.

My husband was stirring in the other room, so I called for help. Together we got Dad back in bed.

Thankfully, the fall only caused a few bumps and bruises. But it dramatically reminded me of my limitations.

My natural bent toward self-reliance is reinforced by a culture that admires this quality.

Our culture teaches us that independence is good and dependence is to be avoided at all costs.

While true in certain instances, self-reliance and independence can hinder believers. When we face circumstances and situations we cannot control, change, fix, or conquer we are thrown off balance.

What do we do when we simply can’t do it?

There is nothing easy about caring for aging parents.

No matter how much we love them, the task demands more than we have to give—physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally. We need help from family members, friends, and health professionals.

But even that won’t always be enough.

Soak in this glorious truth for a moment: Our deficiency is an opportunity for God to demonstrate His sufficiency. Our dependence allows God to prove Himself dependable.

Within ourselves, we don’t have what it takes to tackle life’s hardest challenges, but God has more than we need.

A passage in 2 Corinthians beautifully shows us how Paul depended on God to carry him when he couldn’t go on. Paul had encountered a situation in Asia so desperate, he saw no way out of it with his life (2 Corinthians 1:8). Yet, miraculously God delivered him.

When the situation was hopeless, Hope flooded in. And Paul learned utter dependence on the One who is utterly dependable (2 Corinthians 1:9-10). 

The passage reveals that God allowed this situation to happen so that Paul and his companions would learn to rely on God (2 Corinthians 1:9).

And Paul continued to depend on God. When God chose to leave the “thorn” in his life, Paul learned the sufficiency of God’s grace. In his weakest moments, God’s power was revealed.

Paul’s weakness became a stage for God’s strength.

God also wants us to trust Him with all the circumstances of our lives—including caring for our aging parents. He longs to show us He is trustworthy, reliable and powerful. So, how can we let go of independence and learn to depend on Him?

Let’s follow Paul’s example toward dependence in 2 Corinthians.

1. Reflect on God’s past provision.

Think about all the times in your past when God has worked. Remember the times He has comforted you, encouraged you, delivered you from danger, given you clear direction for the path ahead.

Reflecting on God’s past provision and faithfulness will strengthen your future trust in Him.

2. Contemplate the scope of God’s power.

Meditate a few moments on our powerful, almighty God. The God who created the universe is not weak or powerless. He heals the sick, raises the dead, and holds the stars in place.

He can provide what you need for your daily life. Even the hardest days of caregiving.

3. Sit quietly in God’s gracious presence.

The same God who spoke the world into existence is the same God who delivered Paul. And He is the same God who longs to fill you with His grace and strength.

Linger with Him today. Ask Him to give you an awareness of His presence with you.

When we depend on Him, our caregiving role is a chance for God to demonstrate His strength in our lives. Paul expressed this truth:

"Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me" (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).

Caring for our parents provides ample opportunity for God’s power to work in our weakness. For God to show Himself worthy of our dependence.

Depend on Him today.

What are some other ways you can purposefully work to foster dependence on God for caregiving today?

Kathy Howard, a Bible teacher and former “cultural Christian,” now lives an unshakeable faith for life and encourages other women to also embrace real, authentic faith. Kathy is author of 8 books, including “30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents” (May 2018). Get free discipleship helps on her website:

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Unclelkt at Pixabay.


Tackling Toxic Masculinity

Morgan Farr is a gifted mom with a heart for biblical womanhood and manhood. There's a lot of testosterone in her home, but the Lord recently blessed her with a charming little girl. In this insightful and timely Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, she tackles toxic masculinity.

"Masculinity is under attack in the United States," Morgan says, "even within the church."

Yes. I (Dawn) have watched this attack, usually coming from those pushing a radical feminist agenda. I'm glad to see Christians addressing this issue from a biblical perspective.

Morgan continues . . .

Don’t believe me? Twitter was full of #NotAnotherMonster and #YesAllMen tweets in recent months that can give you an idea of just how poorly masculinity is viewed here in the United States.

As the mother of two young boys, the cultural climate towards masculinity is terrifying and it isn’t isolated to the secular world.

Look around your church on Sunday morning. I would be willing to bet that the congregation is made up of at least 65% females. Men are leaving the church enmasse due to the fact that we, as Christians, are trying to whitewash over gender differences in light of societal pressure.

This needs to stop. Now.

The Christian church needs to remember that God created masculinity, and it is good! It is inherently different from femininity, on purpose.

When my boys—three years old and two years old—play with my husband, it is distinctly different from when they play with me.

My boys might ask me to help them build a tower, read a book or to color. They ask my husband to "get the bad guys," play monster chase, and to “do work.” Even as preschoolers the boys know that mommy and daddy are different.

How is is then that as we get older we suddenly decide men and women should be the same? In my opinion, it comes down to the fact that it is easier to force men to become effeminate than it is to work with and celebrate the masculine spirit.

So, how do we fight toxic masculinity?

How do we encourage our boys to become strong men of God?

1. Tackle the Issue.

Do not misunderstand me. Toxic masculinity is real, but not in the way you might think. There isn’t some super-secret conspiracy passed down through generations to teach boys and men to dehumanize or devalue women.

As Christians, we know that these instances are a reaction to humankind's fall into sin from Genesis 3.

Without Jesus Christ, humans misuse masculinity—and femininity too—for their own selfish pleasures and desires.

Today’s “man” is a passive, unkempt, weak imitation of what God means for manhood to truly be.

For example, how many grown men do you know who spend HOURS each week on video games? These games call to men because they tap into the natural, God-given desire men have to explore, conquer and defend.

It isn’t just video games either. You can see this God-given desire corrupted in sports (both in playing and as a spectator), gambling and pornography. These men are searching for God and trying to fulfill a desire He gave them with all the wrong things.

In 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul says,

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

Society twists and bends what it means to be a man, allowing Satan to sneak in and pull boys and men from the Christian fight with nothing more than “hobbies.”  

2. Tame Sin, Not Masculine Spirit.

Realize that we, as humans, are born sinful and broken. In light of that fact, we cannot be surprised when men and women fall prey to sin and act in evil ways.

The way we can fight toxic masculinity is by teaching and instructing our boys in the ways of the one perfect man, Jesus Christ.

1 Timothy 6:11 says, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.”

As the body of Christ, we have to stop trying to tame the God-given masculine spirit. All we are doing is creating weak boys with lackluster faith who end up pretending to be real men rather than fully growing into men of God.

3. Train for Battle.

Being ready to help your son, grandson or nephew grow into manhood means:

  • being ready to talk about what biblical manhood is and why it matters;
  • being on your knees daily for their eyes, hearts and minds; and
  • being open with our boys about the issues that they will face.

Is it messy? Absolutely.

Christians need to be ready to address why our son does not watch Game of Thrones even though all of his friends do.

We need to be able to stand firm in our conviction to not spend money on just anything, but rather to be a good steward of what God has given to us.

We need to take our sons to nursing homes, homeless shelters and nurseries so they can practice serving the least of these, as Christ did.

All of these things will make them different, and they will stand out against the grey backdrop of adolescents who are busy trying to find themselves.

Instead, our boys will be found in Jesus Christ and His glory for eternity.  

How can you encourage the boys and men in your life toward Godly manhood?

Morgan Farr is an Army wife currently stationed in San Diego, California, with her wonderful husband Brian and their children. Morgan is a homemaker who 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 The Forgiven Former Feminist. You can find her training programs, nutritional information and meal plans on her blog, Farr Functional Fitness.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Gerald Friedrich at Pixabay.


Does Your Soul Need a Spring Cleaning?

I love Letitia Suk's intentionality. "Tish" goes right to the heart of matters and designs ways to make wise choices. In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she offers a fresh take on "spring cleaning."

Just about all the magazines on the impulse rack by the check-out these days are targeted to get me in the clean-up and organize mode: aka "spring cleaning,'" Letitia says, “But I’m thinking 'Does my soul need a spring cleaning?'" 

When spring came, I (Dawn) used to dread spring cleaning. No fun. As I've matured, I realize what a blessing a cleaning "restart" can be. And Letitia asks an interesting question. Maybe my behavior shows I need a "restart" too.

Letitia continues . . .

Each magazine at the check-out features some sort of cover tease on a new technique to refresh my entire home, or my kitchen, or just my closet. I usually derive enough inspiration from the cover without ever buying the magazine!

My mom had the same intention for me, maybe fueled by the magazines of her time. I can easily call up vivid memories of the annual pulling all my bedroom furniture out into the hallway and going after the windows and floor boards. The best part of the day was the final rearranging of furniture for the new season.

When it was my turn to be the mom, we spent the first day of spring break surrounded by buckets and rags followed by pizza for lunch and fun the rest of the week. A disagreeable chore still talked about but with laughter now.

The kids are gone now, the house stays cleaner by itself or I occasionally hire some help with the big tasks.

The longing for “spring cleaning” still shows up though.

In this season of my life, the clutter of my soul shouts louder than the disarray in my closet.

After a long Midwest winter, I am ready for something new. A similar, but distinct version of the fresh start of the new year. Time to clear out the winter crud and plant some new seeds.

In my backyard garden yes, but in my soul first. For me this process needs an actual time and place.

If you are feeling that longing too, try this:

1. Get out of the house.

On your way out, grab a notebook if you are a paper-girl or have an electronic-something to record your plans.

A personal retreat is ideal, but a coffee shop can work just fine too.

2. Turn off your phone notifications and ask God to help you focus on your soul-cleaning.

A scary but effective prayer is right out of the Psalms:

"Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

Usually He points out something!

Over the winter, our souls can get dirty, cobwebby, cluttered with stuff that needs to go.

3. Once you’ve identified what needs to go, hand it over.

Like digging up weeds before planting seedlings.

  • Too much internet or TV?
  • Not enough intentionality to the day to day?
  • More worrying than praying?

You usually already know what your gotta-go areas are. Picture the water of life wiping your soul clean after you go after the dirt.

4. Rearrange your inner life like your home by looking for fresh things to add and putting some items away for now.

  • Can you rearrange or drop some of your optional commitments?
  • Change up your winter readings for something new?
  • Do your weekends need more fun instead of more work?
  • How’s The concept of Sabbath going for you?

5. Once again invite God to help you keep your soul clean.

“Create in me a clean heart” (Psalm 53:10).

Done! Like your freshly cleaned kitchen floor, your soul won’t stay spotless for long but some “clean as you go” methods will likely keep the new sense of order in place.

When can you schedule your spring soul cleaning?

Letitia (Tish) Suk invites women to create an intentional life centered in Jesus. She is a blogger and author of Getaway with God: The Everywoman’s Guide to Personal Retreat and Rhythms of Renewal. Tish is a speaker, personal retreat guide and life coach in the Chicago area. For more information about Letitia Suk, visit her webpage.

Graphic adapted, courtesty of Ben White at Unsplash.


3 Simple Steps to Setting Boundaries

Kate Hagen, a counselor and businesswoman, loves to share helpful information that can help women thrive in their walk with the Lord. In this Choices UPGRADE, she sugests three things to do to set wise and loving boundaries.

"It’s not rude to set boundaries," Kate says. "In fact, it’s one of the kindest things you can do."

I (Dawn) agree with Kate in concept, but I don't always know HOW to set a wise boundary, so I truly appreciated Kate's insight here.

Kate continues . . .

Traditionally, I have not set boundaries with my friends. It has seemed unkind or rude to tell others how to treat me.

Honestly, it’s felt too hard. What will they think of me?

But I'm beginning to understand that healthy boundaries derive from love, not fear; kindness, not rudeness.

Perhaps the most useful piece of information I've gained about boundaries is this:

Discovering and communicating my boundaries will be uncomfortable and possibly hurtful in the SHORT RUN, but it will save me a LIFETIME of pain, hiding and resentment!

Here's are three steps that have helped me set life-giving boundaries:

1. Decide what your core values are.

Who are you? What do you value? Figure out what, exactly, you're comfortable with and what you aren't.

I made a list! One for general core values and one specific to my business. If you've never done this, I highly recommend it.

It was eye-opening to me.

Now that I have a list, I know WHY I should say no at times. If something is in contrast to my core values, I can confidently (and kindly) say no.

Even though Jesus probably didn’t have to make a list of his core values, Luke says Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).

He didn’t let himself get burned out with healing people; He took breaks and got close to Abba Father again!

2. Stick with your boundaries.

This is not easy for me. I am prone to say one thing and do another.

Sadly, this is one way to quickly get someone to question your character or authenticity. I am deeply convicted by this and so grateful to have God changing me.

It's helpful to think of there being only two options: YES and NO.

"Yes, I want to do this!"

or, "No, that doesn't feel right this time."

This helps me stick to my boundaries when I narrow it down to these two options.

Jesus says to let your yes be yes, and your no be no! (Matthew 5:37)

3. Clearly and kindly communicate your boundaries.

If your boundaries haven't been communicated to those around you in a way others understand, it won't matter much that you have boundaries.

I find it's easier to communicate boundaries when I approach it as honoring my values.

For instance, if someone asks me to do something Monday night, I know my answer. I say, "I would love to hang out with you, but can we choose another night? I have reserved that night as family night, and that's something we really value and honor in our house."

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

These three steps are simple, yet have had a profound impact on my life!

Remember that discovering and communicating your boundaries will be uncomfortable and possibly hurtful IN THE SHORT RUN, but it will save you a LIFETIME of pain, hiding and resentment.

It’s not rude. In fact, it’s one of the kindest things you can do!

Which, if any, of these three steps is a struggle for you? Do you agree that setting boundaries is a kind and loving choice?

Kate Hagen spends most of her time teaching, knowing and loving her three kids in their beach community of Leucadia, CA. She has a Master’s Degree in Biblical Counseling and has written, spoken and counseled women about mothering, body image and health. She runs a small essential oil business from her home, and usually smells pretty good. At her website you can read her journey of grieving and laughing as her mom passed of cancer, as well as her thoughts on the Bible and body image. 

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Jill 111 at Pixabay.