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And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson


Entries in Forgiveness (12)


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.


How Ready Are You to Celebrate Christmas?

Yvonne Ortega writes a lot about broken people, and to be sure, there are many broken people who struggle during the holiday season; but God desires to do beautiful things in their lives. In this Christmas UPGRADE, she asks us to examine our hearts before Christmas arrives.

“On a scale of 1–10, with 1 the lowest and 10 the highest," Yvonne says, "how ready are you to celebrate Christmas?”

I (Dawn) am one of those "ready early" kinds of people at Christmas, because I want Christmas week to be as peaceful as possible. But having a ready heart is not the same as a ready home.

Yvonne continues . . .

I’ve had people tell me, “I’m all set for Christmas. I bought the gifts in August, decorated the house, trimmed an artificial tree, filled the Christmas stockings with small treats, and mailed the Christmas cards.”

Others have told me, “I’m ready as can be. I did everything over the Thanksgiving weekend. Now, I can sit back and enjoy the Christmas lights, programs, and parties.”

From an earthly perspective, the person appears to be ready. However, as Christians with a heavenly perspective, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Our readiness to celebrate his birth has nothing to do with Christmas decorations, a trimmed tree, gifts for family and friends, stockings filled with goodies, or Christmas cards.

These three steps will help you decide how ready you are to celebrate Christmas.

1. Have you forgiven family members, friends or co-workers who hurt you?

You don’t want anything standing between you and God.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (NIV).

Do you still feel unforgiven for past sins? Are you burdened with shame and guilt?

If you’ve confessed your sins, God forgave you. He didn’t make a mistake when he did that. You can do no less.

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).

2. How often do you read your Bible, pray, and go to church—especially during the Christmas season?

If you do these things, how do you do them?

Do you do them on the run with an eye on your watch?

Do you do them grudgingly or cheerfully?

My late mentor often said, "You make time for what’s important to you."

In Matthew 22:37, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to "Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (NIV). You show your love by how much time you spend with the Lord and get to know him.

Make time for the most important relationship in your life. It is one that will last for eternity.

3. How comfortable would you feel if your family, friends, and coworkers evaluated your trust in God?

Perhaps you’ve lost a job, a car, or a home. Maybe you received a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness or have a prodigal child in the family. You may have suffered a serious injury or lost a loved one. Any one of these situations can cause turmoil in your life.

It can also result in your questioning your faith and God’s character.

Rate your confidence in his promise in Philippians 4:19: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

As I wrap up, I ask you the same question I did at the beginning:

“On a scale of 1–10, with 1 the lowest and 10 the highest, how ready are you to celebrate Christmas?”

Yvonne Ortega is a licensed professional counselor, a bilingual professional speaker, and the author of Moving from Broken to Beautiful: 9 Life Lessons to Help You Move Forward (paperback, Kindle), Finding Hope for Your Journey through Breast Cancer (Kindle), and Moving from Broken to Beautiful through Forgiveness, all available at She not only survived but thrived after a domestic violence marriage, breast cancer and the loss of her only child. With honesty and humor, Yvonne uses personal examples and truths of the Bible to help women move from broken to beautiful. Find out more about Yvonne at her website.

Graphic of candle, courtesy of Pixabay.


Pursuing Happiness? Upgrade to Joy!

Joanie Shawhan is an encourager. She helps people in desperate circumstances. Her life is full and well-pleasing to the Lord. Yet she still longed for true joy. In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, she shares how her understanding of joy has grown over the years.

"In the pursuit of happiness, I have filled my life with many things," Joanie says. "Some I regret, some were wonderful gifts, but none filled the void deep within."

I (Dawn) can identify with that. How easy it is to fill our lives with good things and miss the most important thing—the Lord Himself.

Joanie continues . . .

When I pursued happiness, I discovered that eventually the surge of pleasure dissipated. The negative emotions I attempted to suppress—hurt, grief, sadness, loneliness—once again surfaced, and I felt empty.

I scrambled for the next available object or relationship to fill that void, desperately hoping to restore bliss. I often based my happiness on my circumstances.

Many of us strive for contentment. We may regret some of our choices.

  • Shopping therapy may lift our moods—until we receive the credit card bill.
  • Whether lonely, tired or depressed, we know chocolates boost our spirits—until we glare at the digits on the scale.
  • Addictions drive us with unquenchable thirst that demands a fix, surpassing the previous high.
  • We get involved in wrong relationships. These derail our destinies and hurtle us down destructive paths, leaving a wake of devastation.

We look for fulfillment not only in these temporary pleasures, but our blessings as well.

  • Traveling to exotic places can be exhilarating, but once we arrive home, the sights and sounds are relegated to memory.
  • We throw ourselves into our jobs, chasing the next promotion, a different boss or more money.
  • We purchase larger houses with higher mortgages.
  • We fill them with pets whose soulful eyes beg us to take them home.

Relationships are one of the greatest gifts God has given us to enjoy.

From childhood, a girl dreams of her wedding day, gliding down the aisle clothed in a princess gown to meet her groom. Oops, the knight in shining armor has fallen off his horse. AGAIN!

Next comes the arrival of a darling bundle of joy. Ten tiny toes and fingers plunged into adorable outfits. But soon come sleepless nights, terrible twos and rebellious teens. 

We often expect these blessings to fill the deep void inside of us. But when happiness eludes us because of unfulfilled expectations, barbs of emptiness stab at our hearts.

It is during these seasons of disappointment, hurt and disillusionment that we become offended and bitterness takes root. Unfortunately, we sometimes trash relationships we once treasured.

Maybe we need to upgrade our pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of joy.

Joy is eternal. It transcends our circumstances.

Joy comes easy during our mountaintop adventures. But we can also experience joy in seasons of deep sorrow.

Joy is the fruit of the Spirit that comes from the presence of Jesus in our lives. He is the only one who can fill the empty places, heal our broken hearts and restore joy.

When we pursue Jesus and His presence, we will experience His joy.

“In His presence is the fullness of joy" (Psalm 16:11 NKJV).

How can we upgrade happiness to joy?

1. Thanksgiving 

We thank God for all He has given us, acknowledging that all we have comes from Him. Expressing words of gratitude leads us to contentment and joy.

2. Praise

Praise opens the door to the presence of God. In praise and worship, we take our eyes off ourselves and our concerns and turn our gaze toward God. We focus on who He is—His character, His majesty, His glory—and we are filled with His joy.

3. Scripture

When we reflect on the truth of God’s Word, we discover His character—His compassion, His mercy and His love for us. His promises offer us comfort, peace, hope and joy. 

4. Testimony

Reading or listening to the real-life stories of how God rescued others in the midst of their suffering restores hope and stirs our joy.

5. Helping Others

Reaching out to others takes our eyes off ourselves. We focus on the needs of another person. In our giving, we please God, the giver of life, and He allows us to share in His joy.

6. Forgive

Corrie ten Boom said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.”

Forgiveness generates joy.

In the presence of God I have been changed. I discovered that He has enabled me to do the seemingly impossible—believe, trust and forgive.

How do YOU upgrade from the pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of joy?

Joanie Shawhan is an ovarian cancer survivor and a registered nurse. She writes encouraging articles for women undergoing chemotherapy. She also speaks to medical practitioners in the Survivors Teaching Students program. For more information, visit Joanie's website.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of dimitrisvetsikas-Pixabay.


Really ... the "Elf" Made Me Do It!

In this Christmas UPGRADE, Dawn reminds us to make wise, proactive choices—even at Christmastime!

My Christmas "Elf on a Shelf," Ella Noelle, is responsible for all the things going wrong in my life this Christmas.

She's responsible for:

  • My cookies that burned.
  • My nearly-empty wallet.
  • My 2-1/2 pound weight gain.
  • My overbooked calendar.
  • My angry outburst at the guy that cut me off on the way to the mall and my impatience waiting in a 40-minute line because I waited too late to shop.

Yeah, right.

I can say Ella Noelle is responsible all I want, but it doesn't make it so.

It's sort of like "The devil made me do it." 

No. The devil may tempt us, but he can't force us to sin.

I remember when comedian Flip Wilson (no relation) made that remark famous in the early 1970s. For some time after, many of my friends used that as their excuse for foul-ups.

I remembered my childhood imaginary friend, Stinky Sam. Whenever I was caught in a sinful act, I'd tell myself, "That was Stinky Sam"—while I'd stand there looking totally (and adorably) innocent, sometimes holding the evidence of my "crime."

I think with some Christian maturity, I've finally outgrown those silly blame-game episodes. I've put the childish ways of blaming others behind me (1 Corinthians 13:11). I've taken more responsibility for my foolish choices.

Until I haven't.

Just yesterday, I caught myself blaming the devil after I took the third Christmas cookie.

I asked my husband, "Who emptied my wallet?" (after a trip to the mall).

I couldn't believe it was ME who uttered those nasty, impatient words at the store clerk.

The truth is, I still have to learn a lot about "owning up" when I blow it.

We're all responsible for our own ugly stuff.

The scriptures teach us the concept of personal responsiblity (see Ezekiel 18:20). Both negatively and positively, we all will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8; Isaiah 3:10-11).

Here are biblical examples of some who tried to dodge responsibility when they sinned:

  • Adam and Eve tried the blame game, but God confronted them about their sin (Genesis 3:12-13).
  • Cain tried to cover up his sin, but God found him out (Genesis 4:9).
  • Jonah tried to duck out of his disobedience, but he still had to answer to God (Jonah 1:7-8).
  • Achan was responsible for his hidden sin at the city of Jericho (Joshua 7:14-15).
  • David finally had to "fess up" to his sin—and he recognize who he had ultimately sinned against! (Psalm 51:4).
  • Pontius Pilate said he was innocent and blamed the Jews for Jesus' crucifixion, but God saw his heart (Matthew 27:24).

God's word of warning to us is: "Be sure your sin will find you out!" (Numbers 32:23). God sees and knows. We are without excuse (Romans 1:20).

He takes note of even our secret sins  (Psalm 139:1-4, 11-12, 23-24; Psalm 69:5; 90:8; Jeremiah 16:17-18). But He can help us turn from those sins hidden in our hearts (Psalm 19:12).

Today, I praise the Lord because He has a solution for our sin.

The great gift of Christmas is God reaching down to man with abundant grace.

In great love and mercy, when we confess, our faithful Father forgives (1 John 1:9; Proverbs 28:13).

The biggest responsibility we have is to repent, believe the Gospel and live for Christ—making the wise and godly choices that please Him (Mark 1:15; 1 John 4:9-10).

We can't blame anyone but ourselves if we fail to do that: not the Elf, the devil, or even Stinky Sam!

Are you blaming others or trying to cover up your sin? How can embracing the great truth of 1 John 1:9 encourage you to come clean before the Lord and move forward in freedom?

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 Heartsand 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.



Are You Exposing Shame or Covering Blame?

Kolleen Lucariello encourages women to live in freedom and grace, shedding harmful and false thinking and behavior. In this Attitude and Relationships UPGRADE, she invites us to examine a sinful practice: shaming others.

“Early one Saturday morning,” Kolleen said, “my hubby, Pat and I sat on the sidelines of a soccer field spectating our four-year-old grandson’s game; we also, inadvertently, became spectators to a heated exchange between a father and his daughter.”

Having attended many sports events, I (Dawn) know the “heated” conversations that can arise when people get caught up in the emotions of the moment, but Kolleen writes about an attitude that isn’t limited to athletic events!

Kolleen continues…

This wasn’t a father and his toddler, nor was it his teenage daughter. This was a father and his adult daughter.

The tension arose after the father suggested his daughter put a hat on the baby to prevent sun exposure. One comment, a few sarcastic jabs, and suddenly words of accusation were flowing freely from the daughter’s mouth as she began to list, in detail, all that she could remember of his own parenting failures.

As resentment seethed from her lips, my eyes scanned each family member who sat on the blanket: his wife—her mother—who sat head hung in silence; and the angry daughter’s sibling who nervously tried to end the outburst. The young children who quietly played but every few minutes stopped to watch. And listen. And then the father whose daughter was now broadcasting his past transgressions at a community event; a daughter I surmised was in desperate need of healing.

I tried not to stare.

But catching a glimpse of each person’s face, I prayed for each one. Eventually, words ceased and my attention turned back to the soccer game. But one question consumed my thoughts:

Does anyone deserve to be humiliated and publicly shamed?

I knew the answer.

You upgrade your life when you:

1. Use restraint! Learn to pause and pray before you vent-away.

In the days following—as I continued to marvel at the daughter’s freedom of expression—I observed similar non-verbal outbursts. We seem to allow ourselves the freedom to vent everything to the public, quickly and unguarded, through social media.

Heat-of-the-moment emotions can lead us to forget what Jesus said: “If a brother sins against you, go to him PRIVATELY and confront him with his fault” (Matthew 18:15, TLB).

Privately just seems difficult these days, don’t you think?

A wounded heart tempts us to justify our right to express ourselves without restraint.

Without taking a moment to pause, we allow our fingertips freedom on a keyboard to share intimate details with little thought of the impact to others.

We must learn to pause! It’s easy to sit behind a faceless computer and vent; but at the field that day, I saw the faces.

2. Remember people aren’t pawns. Don’t help the crowd gather stones.

I imagine there was nothing to hide behind for the woman who was yanked from the bed, hauled through the streets and thrown into the Temple after being caught “in the very act of adultery” and forced to “stand in the center of the court” (John 8:4).

I’ve often wondered if the Scribes and Pharisees allowed her to grab a covering. Was it only her sin and shame exposed? Do you think they did? After all, their mission was to relieve the pressure Jesus put on them by finding grounds to accuse Him (vs.6). She was just a pawn in their test.

Can we learn to fight the urge to release our pressure by accusing others publicly? People were never meant to be pawns.

Can you visualize her standing alone—in fear and shame—as a crowd gathered, stones in hand? That is, until Jesus knelt down in the sand and said, “He who is without [any] sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (8:7, AMP).

Do you suppose we are exposing others to the stones of the crowd when we uncover their deeds to the public?

3. Choose to cover blame rather than exposing shame.

Maybe Peter had her story in mind when he wrote, “Above all, have fervent and unfailing love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins [it overlooks unkindness and unselfishly seeks the best for others]” (1 Peter 4:1, AMP).

When others exposed her, Jesus used love to cover her.

May we choose to extend the same mercy Jesus offered the shame-filled adulteress when our feelings tempt us to expose.

Remember: there is no law against self-control (Galatians 5:23).

Who can you cover today with love?

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. For more information about Kolleen, visit her website.