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And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson


Entries in Struggles (8)


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.


Bounce, Don't Break

Deb DeArmond is passionate about family matters, and she encourages healthy interactions in all kinds of relationships. But in this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, she helps us deal with recurring struggles and trials.

"Returning struggles. Just when you think you've cleared the hurdle, they present again," Deb says. "They can sap your strength, shake your confidence, and cause you to question God. How to manage? Bounce, don't break!"

I (Dawn) just dealt with a recurring struggle in early January. "I thought I'd already dealt with that," I said. It made me feel weak as I reeled in confusion. But I attest to what Deb is saying. Resiliency as we trust in Christ enables us to move forward.

Deb continues . . .

I could see her out of the corner of my eye. She was watching me. Again.

She wasn’t a creepy stranger on the street, but a trusted colleague. Her intentions were good, but it was uncomfortable.

Carrie was one of a handful of co-workers who knew of my heart problem. She’d been with me—on the road two years earlier—when it began. I knew she was concerned; our work assignment this day brought heat and elevation into the equation. Both could create issues for me. And they did.

After my initial diagnosis, I had surgery that corrected the problem.

The doctor was sure it would not re-emerge. He was wrong. A year later, a second surgery and more assurances felt less certain for a permanent solution. I felt great for five months, and then it returned.

And now Carrie, and a handful of others, made it their personal mission to watch me like a hawk.

I never questioned their motives, but the fact they felt the need to monitor me made me feel old, frail, and weak. I am none of those things. But there are days, I work hard to convince myself of that truth.

Returning struggles.

Just when you think you've cleared the hurdle, they present again. And whether they're health problems, financial struggles or any recurring hardships—they can sap your strength, shake your confidence, and cause you to question God.

So, what's the key to keep moving forward with peace and confidence?

BOUNCE—don't break.


Our confidence is in God's faithfulness.

He loves His children and strengthens us for the situation, even when He doesn't remove it. I've discovered new levels of certainty that He's ever present.


Offer thanksgiving and praise for the solution.

Faith is trust in God that doesn't demand He deliver on our timetable. Honor Him by trusting His Word.


Understand you may not understand.

As toddlers, our favorite question was "Why?" As adults, we are just taller two-year-olds—with an overwhelming need for an answer.

Sometimes God provides us that insight; sometimes He does not. Be okay with not knowing.


Navigate your new normal.

  • Curb spending on restaurant meals.
  • Consider how best to invest your energy level each day.
  • Accommodate changes that minimize the impact of the issue.


Communicate with family and trusted friends about your circumstances, especially when it's health related.

The colleagues I travel with know what to do if I have an issue. They know how to access the information on my phone and are clear about the details that would be needed in an emergency.


Educate yourself in the promises of God's Word and the issues you face.

  • Financial problem? Take a class on financial stewardship.
  • Health issue? Ask your physician for information and suggestions for books or articles that can help you learn about your options.

What does the Bible say about struggles?

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” James 1:2-4 (ESV).

Blessed are the FLEXIBLE, for they shall not break!

What can you do to bounce into action?

Deb DeArmond’s passion is family—not just her own, but the relationships within families in general. Her first book, Related by Chance, Family by Choice: Transforming the Mother-in-Law and Daughter-in-Law Relationships explores tools and tips to building sound relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. Book #2, I Choose You Today, helps couples strengthen their marriages. Deb's new book on marital conflict, Don't Go to Bed Angry, Stay Up and Fight! was co-authored by her husband, Ron. They live in the Fort Worth area. For more about Deb, visit her "Family Matters" site.


Your Life Makeover: Are You Ready?

Wildfire survivor Elizabeth Van Tassel garners encouraging real-life stories and creates fantasy for kids with one goal in mind—helping tweens, teens, and adults find RESILIENCE amidst the most challenging times in life.


In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she encourages us to be open to life makeovers, so God’s touch will be evident in our lives.

“I didn’t ask for this season of great change, but I knew there was a whisper of something more packed into the move," Elizabeth said. "There’s a moment when you decide to either live a life of calling or of complacency. I didn’t want any regrets."

I (Dawn) think we can identify with seasons of change—expected and unexpected. But how we approach those changes makes a huge difference.

Elizabeth continues . . .

My husband looked stunned at the out-of-town, unsolicited job offer he’d received. It was an amazing opportunity for him, but I hesitated at first.

Our infant son’s third word was “box,” because our family had moved six times in two years.

Those were awful, unplanned and emergency-tinged after losing everything we owned in a massive wildfire years ago.

So, the word “move” provided a real challenge for me.

But the experience of giving everything to the Lord, and watching Him build a life for us again also freed me to invest in hope.

I said yes, and jumped.

Right now, we’re living in boxes in temporary housing, and breathing in the moment of trust daily.

  • Where will we live? Not sure yet.
  • Where will my grocery store be? Must remain flexible.

It’s like the TV show where they show up and dump your old clothes and take you on a shopping spree for a whole new look.

Are you open to His leading when this happens? Where does your life need transformation?

What if you’re cruising along, pretty content with life in general, and then a great change arrives?

Are you ready to be receptive to that ‘still, quiet voice’ prompting you to be open to something new? What could you miss if you’re not listening? Can dark times of loss and recovery actually make you MORE resilient?

Here’s what David had to say in Psalm 36:7-9:

“The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”

Your ability to be RESILIENT, or flexible enough to bend rather than break when pressures rise and life brings more stress, is to be able to UPGRADE as you do three things.

1. Nestle in closer, even when you don’t feel safe.

It’s all right to realize you’re a bit fragile. Ironically, those brittle moments are when we can uncover a new relationship with Christ.

Share your dreams and feelings. Give yourself time and permission to hang out in the Word and in conversational prayer. It can bring connection and healing. Perhaps those moments when you need “refuge” will bring you even closer to Him.

2. Look for abundance in unexpected places.

When your life situations shift dramatically, there will be losses. Friends, or homes, or even jobs may change.

But in that season, what new doors are being opened?

Is it a caring friend who unexpectedly shows up to help?

Are you developing a new skill?

You never know how God can use your situation.

Be open to new lessons.

Where there’s growth, there’s a chance for Him to retool something; because He LOVES makeovers—those of the heart—the most.

3. Search for a river of delights.

So many people, perhaps hundreds, have asked me how we stayed positive, our marriage survived, and our children have coped with so much change. We found a way to be intentional with our time and our activities, and even planned more fun into our priorities—thanks to our kids’ perspective!

Time slows when there’s loss or death or depleted resources. Eventually, after some healing, you’re ready for significant questions in uncovering how to live a life of calling rather than just getting by.

You’ll find that river of delights when you sit quietly and ask Him:

  • For refreshment.
  • For the next breath.
  • For deliverance.
  • And for acceptance.

So, are you ready to take a breath, listen more, and learn from painful moments? Can you pack your own boxes? What’s holding you back?

Elizabeth Van Tassel, resilience expert and fantasy writer, has really lived a life with diamonds, wildfires, and miracles. A wildfire survivor and gemologist who lost every possession and her home in the 2007 Witch Creek Wildfire, she winds tales of wondrous gems and destructive loss into fantastic fantasy for the next generation and beyond. She also speaks, writes nonfiction, and blogs weekly for adults and kids about living a resilient life. Learn more about Elizabeth here.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Ron Porter at Pixabay.


How to Conquer Your Conundrum (Confusing Problem)

What do you do when faced with a "conundrum"—a confusing or difficult problem or challenge. Dawn Wilson suggests 10 steps to conquer your conundrum in this Life Choices UPGRADE.

We all have conundrums. They can be challenging, bothersome, scary—and all of these things at the same time! What do you do when you are perplexed and just don't know how to move forward?

Here are 10 steps that can help you conquer your conundrum.

1. Prepare

Invest time in a quiet place with your Bible and other resources—even a laptop with the Internet for research, if you don't think you'll get distracted. Just as God told His people, "in quietness and confidence" is your strength" (Isaiah 30:15b), we will find strength when we pause to reflect and prepare.

Just like anything worth pursuing, preparation will help with processing your thoughts and focusing on fresh goals.

2. Pray

ASK the Lord for His wisdom (James 1:5). But remember prayer is not just you talking to the Father.

Be willing to say, "Speak Lord. I'm listening!" Better yet, "Whatever you tell me to do, Lord, I will obey." That's where the blessing comes in (Luke 11:28; James 1:25b).

3. Anticipate

Trust that the Lord WILL speak to your heart and clarify direction (Proverbs 3:5-7). Maybe He will use His Word. Maybe the Holy Spirit will remind you of a truth you already know. Anticipate His voice and "marching instructions."

You may find a word from the Lord in a solid, biblical book, or as you listen to a sermon or message. You may even hear the Lord speaking through a hymn book.

Once, when I was struggling with direction, I flipped through a hymn book and ended up on the old song "Trust and Obey. It was like the Lord said to me, "You don't need any new information; you haven't obeyed what I already told you!" I took care of that and God gave me fresh insight.

The point is, anticipate God's direction and obey it, rather than being "wise in your own eyes" (v. 7).

4. Think

Take time to brainstorm, if there are several options available to you and you're not sure which direction to move. Weigh the facts. Think. Do your best to DISCERN what the Lord might be saying (1 John 4:1; Philippians 1:9-10; Hebrews 4:12; 5:14; John 7:24; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 2:14).

Some people even make a "pros" and "cons" list. But be careful with that. Once I had a long list of "cons," but the Lord confirmed I should move ahead. It made no sense at the time, but it was clear later the Lord had a plan I couldn't see.

5. Study

I included this one because I know human nature!

Just in case you treated #4 lightly, stop now and go a little deeper. Actually research the very best options in light of scripture. See if they align with what God has said, because He will not lead contrary to His Word.

As you study, be sure you are walking in the Spirit, because the Spirit of God "searches all things, even the deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10 NIV).

6. Consider

Imagine possible outcomes. Count the cost for each one and weigh them carefully. (A biblical example: Luke 14:28).

Consider whether you are ready to move ahead and pay the necessary price. That price might not just be financial. There might be a cost emotionally, spirituallly, or to your family.

7. Learn

Seek out and listen to wise counselors. There is usually safety in a "multitude of counselors" (Proverbs 11:14: 15:22). Be sure you have a teachable spirit. Pride has hindered many wise decisions! (Proverbs 9:9; 13:18; 1 Peter 5:5).

And this would be a good time for more prayer: "Holy Spirit, teach me. Guide me in Your truth" (Psalm 25:4-5).

8. Challenge 

This is where it might feel "impossible" or confusing.

  • We may need to challenge our fears and perceived limitations (Psalm 56:3-4; Isaiah 41:10).
  • We may need to confront some lies and bolster our mind and heart with God's truth (John 8:44b; Ephesians 6:11).
  • We may be suffering from "analysis paralysis" at this point and need an encouraging, godly friend to help us see reality or seek God's perspective. Reach out and ask for help.

9. Act

There are usually two courses of action at this point.

We'll either take the best possible action with discernment; or we'll decide to trust and wait a little longer—with God's guidance. Both can be wise actions if we're following the Lord's direction (Psalm 32:8) and believing He will not withhold anything from us that will enable us to walk close to Him and "uprightly" (Psalm 84:11b).

We don't want to lag behind if the Lord is nudging us to move forward with courage; but we don't want to rush ahead—rash or foolish—for the sake of just making a decision either.

10. Rest 

We may not ever have complete peace; we are very human.

It's good to know we can trust the Lord for course corrections. And even in our missteps we can recognize God's grace. He will transform our sins and foolish mistakes for His purposes (Romans 8:28).

So after you follow all these steps and any others the Lord may give you, simply rest in Him. HOW?

  • Cast your cares on Him and release all striving.
  • Submit to His will.
  • Relax in His love.
  • Embrace Hope.

You may feel confused, but remember: Your "conundrum" has not taken God by surprise.

Which of these 10 steps will help you the most today as you ask the Lord for help with your most pressing and confusing question or problem?

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 Workbrite1 at Morguefile.