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And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson



Joy: The Key to Unlocking Love for Your Relationships

Pam Farrel, relationship specialist, is always on the lookout for Word-based insights to encourage stronger, healthier relationships to the glory of God. In this Relationship UPGRADE, she shares a special “key” to unlocking greater love.

Love and joy are intricately connected—like a hook and eye, peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, or keys of ebony and ivory,” Pam says.

“Love and joy pour into each other until our life plays the beautiful melody of happiness God intends for each of us.”

I (Dawn) think this is a truly special insight. We tend to only think about love in relationships, but link that to sincere joy and an amazing thing happens. Love blooms.

Pam continues . . .

Mother Teresa said, “A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love."

And Mark Twain believed, “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”  

During the last year, while writing Discovering Joy in Philippians, I pondered how joy positively impacts a person’s life and relationships.

Most people see Philippians as primarily a book about joy, but as I plunged a bit deeper, I easily saw some relationship best practices revealed in this short, but powerful book of the Bible.

One of the keys to unlocking health in relationships and producing more joy is revealed in a simple equation:

The more of the Word in you, the more love and joy in you AND the more love and joy you will have spill out into your relationships.

Here’s how the Word empowers us to have healthier and happier relationships.

1. Wash In the Word

To keep my attitude positive and to stay more attuned in all my relationships, I like to integrate various study techniques so the Word washes over and through me, delivering positive life improvement.

One way to gain a new mindset is to allow God’s Word to play the soundtrack to your life.

You can do this in the daytime by layering God’s Word throughout your day:

  • Play Christian music,
  • Post verses,
  • Hang scripture art,
  • And place devotionals and Bible studies throughout your home.

At any time, the transformative Word is in sight and within earshot. 

While writing Discovering Joy In Philippians—and in the next year, now that I am teaching it online—I fall asleep to the audio version of Philippians, or a play list with worship songs about joy.

By listening to God’s Word, my fears are calmed, I am infused with joy and courage, and my heart is refined.  

2. Walk Out the Word

This priority on relationships is reflected in the letter of Philippians:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (1:3).

People can tell when you feel thankful and appreciative of them.

We want to live in such a way that when people recall us, or someone even mentions our name, they light up with praise and delight.

Also, by thanking God for someone, our “attitude of gratitude” builds a sense of deeper respect, honor and gratefulness toward the person. 

always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (1:4).

Praying for someone is one of the greatest gifts you can give to a person.

Knowing someone is praying for you, with JOY, draws us to people because they express gladness and sincere excitement when they see us. 

“It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace…”  (1:7).

My husband, Bill, and I use this verse as the theme to our book, The Marriage Code. We love how God gives the goal of living as “partakers of grace”, then He shares HOW to do that: “hold you in my heart.”

This means we choose to NOT make a relationship about a list of behaviors.

To “hold on your heart” means carrying someone with constant love while giving the benefit of the doubt to their intentions.

When a relationship is based only on behaviors, NO ONE can stay good enough, long enough to succeed at a relationship.

Love gives the grace that trumps human imperfection.

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (1:9).

3. Wade into the Word

Another way to gain a fresh appreciation of a verse and how to apply it is to read it in a few translations or paraphrased versions. 

I appreciate the expanded vocabulary definitions included in verses 9 and 10 in the Amplified version:

“And this I pray, that your love may abound more and more [displaying itself in greater depth] in real knowledge and in practical insight, so that you may learn to recognize and treasure what is excellent [identifying the best, and distinguishing moral differences], and that you may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ [actually living lives that lead others away from sin]” (1:9-10, emphasis mine).

I also cherish these verses in The Message as it is a wholesome challenge for how to live out love and joy to positively impact relationships:

“So, this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of…” (again, emphasis mine).

As we wade deeper into the Word, we can often gain fresh insights and anticipate God working. 

Are joy and love overflowing out of your heart and into your relationships? Of the ideas shared in this blog on how to process the Word to raise the quality of what you have available to pour into your relationships, which idea can you begin with to have to biggest positive impact?

Pam Farrel is the author of 46 books including many bestsellers like: Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti and Discovering Hope in the Psalms: A Creative Bible Study Experience .  She also enjoys co-authoring with Jean E. Jones and artist Karla Dornacher, and their next book, Discovering Joy In Philippians: A Creative Bible Devotional Experience , releases May 2019. Pam also loves mentoring and coaching women online; and she and her husband, Bill, stay active speaking and writing on marriage, family, relationships and on Living Love-Wise.  

Graphic of graffiti wall adapted, courtesy of Angela Yuriko Smith at Pixabay.


Upgrade Your Move: Tips for Making Moving Smoother

Morgan Farr is an exceptional young woman spiritually and practically. She accomplishes much because she is wise and organized. In this Organization UPGRADE, she tackles the tough job of moving, and gives us some of her best tips.  

"I am about to embark on my tenth move in the ten years since I graduated from high school," Morgan says, "and I think I get better with each and every move!"

I (Dawn) moved many times as a "Navy brat" and it could get chaotic. But I saw my mom become a pro-packer! I know how important helpful moving tips can be.

Morgan continues . . .  

I am a Army wife. People know that those of us in military families move A LOT. I happen to be an expert in relocating from one place to another since only four of my last ten moves have been with the military.

Sure, moving can be a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster or a complete disruption to your family. During each of our moves, I try to focus on creative solutions and neat living to help make things easier.

I want to solve the problem, not be the problem. 

Here are some of my absolute favorite tips and tricks to help solve common moving  problems. 

Physical Tips  

1. Use sandwich-, quart- and gallon-size Ziplock bags like they are going out of style. 

I put all of my markers, crayons, glue sticks and the like inside Ziplock bags and then they can be easily packed into boxes. When you get to your new house, get your craft area set up and just dump the bags inside when it is convenient for you.

I do the same thing with makeup, screws, nails, hair stuff, silverware and snacks.    

2. Use Glad Press'n Seal Wrap (not just normal cellophane!) for puzzles. 

Completely wrap children’s puzzles, including the base. For adult puzzles place the Press'n Seal around the open box then place the lid properly. This helps to ensure that all the puzzle pieces stay together even if they get dropped or tipped over.

3. In the weeks leading up to the move, purge, purge, and purge again.

If you aren’t going to use a particular item in the future, don’t move it. Go through your closet and get rid of clothes you won’t wear. Donate the clothing your children have outgrown. Sort out the books that  you will never read again.

You can get your kids involved by having them do things like clean out old pens and markers. Set them up with paper and your bucket of pins and markers, have them test each one and throw away the dry ones.

Sort out the books that you will never read again. This will help you to feel accomplished and will minimize the amount of things you have to pack and then move to your new location.  

4. When getting ready to move I clean out one room first.

This room then becomes the staging room—my base of operations. All important papers, suitcases, Bibles, phone chargers, and things that you don’t want packed go into this room.

This room is also a great place to crate pets so they don’t accidentally get out of the house, especially if you have movers or friends in the mix.

Then I put a LARGE and obnoxiously bright sign on the door stating that this room is off limits.

Having a base of operations will help you to be more grounded and less likely to make mistakes.  

Mentality Tips  

1. Dale Carnegie said, “If you want to conquer fear, don't sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

The best time to start prepping to move is the day you find out you are moving.

Do not fall prey to the idol of procrastination. Get up and get going on the things that you can control now.  

2. Create a master list of all the things that need to be done.

The first time you write this list, just dump it all on the paper in whatever order it comes to mind. Things you might include are: turning off utilities at the old house, turning on the utilities at the new house, getting medical records, patching nail holes, forwarding your mail and the like.

Once you have it all on the list, then rewrite the list in the order that the things need to be done. Many people want to skip this step, but I would STRONGLY encourage you not to. If it is in the order that it needs to be done, you are less likely to forget an item.  

3. Eat right.

Don’t fall prey to the idea that you are moving so now you should eat junk. Keep a crockpot out and make solid dinners in your old house and your new one.

Use paper plates and plastic cutlery. It will help you feel physically better and you will save money.  

4. Keep a Bible unpacked.

Don’t allow a move to disrupt your spiritual life.

When we move, I make certain that my husband, kids, and I have our time in the Word just like we do every other day.

Moving can be a mess, but staying wrapped in the Word of God can help you keep a proper perspective.    

Remember that your Christian witness is not put on hold because you are moving.

  • Be kind to the people helping you move.
  • Thank your real estate agent.
  • Pray before you walk into your house for the first time as a family.

Every single person that you interact with is getting a taste of Jesus through your actions… or they should be.

Let your light for Christ shine even when things are challenging. You never know who may be impacted by your kindness.  

What are your favorite tips and tricks to make moving better? 

Morgan Farr is a Texas-loving, succulent-cultivating, book nerd. Currently stationed in San Diego, California, this Army wife is working to better love her husband, develop her three small children, and learning more about homseschooling. Morgan is a homemaker who dedicates her 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 courtesy of Hitcom at Pixabay.


Facing Insecurity: 4 Steps to Freedom

I love Kate Hagen's fresh insights into many of the problems that plague Christians. In this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, she counsels us to conquer the enslaving problem of "insecurity."

"I have wasted too much of my precious life," Kate says, "caring about others' opinions."

I (Dawn) have too, Kate. I think many people, especially Christians get sidelined by people's opinions. But Kate shares some important steps to freedom here.

Kate continues . . .

I still find myself held back by my perception of what others think of me. I want to be free from needing the approval and affirmation of those around me.

I would love to have total confidence in every choice I make, not wondering how it will be perceived.

But, the truth is, I do care. Sometimes I care a lot. Certain people’s opinions are extra insecurity-producing for me.

And, that’s where I start. With the truth of the situation.

  • I feel unsure and I want clarity.
  • I feel like I am foolish and want confirmation that I am not.
  • I feel insecure and want acceptance.

Phew. Even just being honest is helpful. It brings some clarity. I don’t have to hide what’s true about me. 

And, I choose to mourn—for a moment—the fact that I am not as confident as I think I “should” be at 43 years old. I choose to be sad—for a short time—that I still long for the approval of others. 

I know it is not healthy to stay in mourning too long (although I know the value of allowing grief as long as needed). So, eventually, I move on. 

These things I want—certainty, confirmation and acceptance—are legitimate needs! I’ve just been trying to meet those needs in a way that is not very successful.

Hoping others will consistently be the strategy I use to achieve confidence is an unstable route.

I have a choice to turn it around! Who do I want to be in this moment of insecurity? After being honest about my insecurity—and mourning it, if necessary—what can I do?

If I want certainty and security, where can I find it? I don’t want to get it from the opinions of those around me anymore. That gives them the power to determine who I am.

So, where can I find certainty about who I am?

In the quiet presence of the Father as I listen to the Spirit.

For me, that is where I find my identity. When I meditate on the reality that God’s Presence is always in and around me, I remember:  I am wanted! I am worthy of love!

And then I forget. Often within the hour.

But, the invitation is always there. Always available. To know, see, taste and smell God’s presence in each moment.

Today, as I find myself feeling insecure about what others might be thinking, I will ask myself this simple question:

Where is God's Spirit in this moment?

Once I’ve connected with Spirit, I can ask a quick follow-up question: 

Whose opinion of me do I want to believe in this moment?      

 My opinion of myself is usually much lower than God’s opinion of me. My perception of what others think of me is usually full of judgment.

God’s says to me, “Kate, you are:

  • Loved,
  • Seen,
  • Known,
  • Approved of,
  • Wanted,
  • Valued,
  • Beloved,
  • Beautiful,
  • and Secure!"

(Just as I am... no good works required.)

And my soul expands. And the opinion of others seems small and insignificant. Because I am already full. In Your presence there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).

Four Steps to Freedom over Insecurity

Step 1 - Be honest about your insecurity. Name it.

Step 2 - Mourn the fact that you are needing others approval.

Step 3 - Choose to turn it around. Make it a conscious decision.

Step 4 - Ask the two clarity questions: 

(1) Where is God’s Spirit in this moment? 

Connect with Spirit! Ask God to open your eyes to His presence.

(2) Whose opinion of me do I want to believe in this moment?  

Recall the ways God loves you. Live confidently free of others opinions… you are free indeed!

And don't be too discouraged if you have to repeat the steps again tomorrow.

Do you occasionally find yourself held back by what others think of you? If so, how have you dealt with this?

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.


How to Live with Expectation

Sally Ferguson loves sharing God's Word, and she does so in many practical ways. In this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, she invites us to view the life of Mary, Jesus' mother, as an excellent example of living with expectation.

"Mary was barely 14 when she found out she would carry the Messiah," Sally says. "Her life was neatly arranged and orderly when everything got turned upside down."

I (Dawn) think we often forget how young Mary was when God interrupted her life. But she was a young woman of faith, prepared for His assignment.

Sally continues . . .

Somehow Mary became a model of hope—for generations to come.

What helped Mary live expectantly? Let’s take a peek at four things that set her apart.

1. She Was Called.

A calling gives a sense of purpose when you realize you’re a part of something much bigger than yourself. That calling motivates and equips you to lean on your heavenly Father in ways you never thought to do so before.

2 Corinthians 12:9 says God’s grace is enough. His power is perfected in our weakness.

Mary probably didn’t understand what God was asking of her when the angel, Gabriel, delivered his message. But, do we ever fully understand the work God has begun in us? If we did, we wouldn’t need Him. And we would miss the relationship fostered with Him in the struggle.

If left up to me, I would want the beauty without the struggle. But really, the beauty comes from the struggle.

Philippians 1:6 says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”

We are never alone in God’s calling.

2. She Was Blessed.

  • Gabriel told Mary she was favored.
  • Elizabeth told Mary she was blessed.
  • At the Temple, Simeon told Mary a sword would pierce her own soul.

Have you ever felt like a blessing was a double-edged sword?

But Mary broke out into a song (Luke 1:46-55). Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by the Lord’s generosity that a melody just bubbled up and spilled out of you?

What happens when you acknowledge your blessings? Gratitude flows and peace envelops your frame of mind.

My mom adopted the phrase, “I’m blessed,” because she understood God’s blessing went beyond her circumstances to an underlying relationship she could count on.

Read Philippians 4:4-7. Did you hear “thanksgiving” in that passage? Did you catch that phrase about peace? It’s a reward for trusting God!

Peace shows up again in Philippians 4:8-9. I like to think of it as “a contentment that protects my thoughts from borrowing trouble.” 

3. She believed.

Read Elizabeth’s words in Luke 1:45.

What happens when we trust God to do what He says He will do? We are blessed!

I love how that thought cycles back around.

  • She was blessed and it enabled her to believe.
  • She believed and it blessed her.

The Bible is full of those kinds of circles.

  • Ephesians 2:8-10—We are saved by grace to do good works, but we don’t do the works to be saved.
  • 1 John 1:9—If we call out to the Lord, He will save us. And He will save us when we call out to Him.
  • Psalm 46:10—Be still and know; know and be stilled.
  • Romans 5:2b-5—begins and ends with hope.

Mary believed when she took God at His word and trusted Him to take care of her.

4. She Cherished What God Was doing.

Read Luke 2:19.

How do you store your God-sightings?

Do you write them down in a journal so they won’t get lost from your memory banks?

A boy named David journaled, and we know that as the Psalms. He later became a king in the land of Israel, but never outgrew his need for his journal. He recorded his misgivings, anger, pleasure, confusion, joy and fears.

Look though the Psalms at how he processed those emotions and turned them into prayers. David was able to take his weaknesses to the throne of God, the One who created and understands them. Through that release, David found acceptance and the burden lifted.

He began with hurt and ended with humility before God.

What about you? Could you turn today’s failures into a statement of faith?

Let the Lord carry those burdens for you as you turn them into a prayer for His redemptive action in your life. May you find a safe haven as you write down your story!

Luke 2:33 says Mary marveled at what Simeon and Anna said about her baby boy. Let your journal be a place where you can marvel at God’s goodness.

Beloved, know that you, too, are called by God, you are blessed by God, you can believe God when He says He is for you, and you have many things to cherish.

How do you cultivate a sense of expectancy?

Sally Ferguson loves sharing God’s Word in all different forms! 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 latest retreat release, a women's retreat playbook with templates.

Painting of Mary by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898.


Mother Was Right—What My Mother Taught Me and Why It Matters Now

Janice Thompson is my sister-in-love. We share a love for her mom, Adele Wilson. In this Mother's Day UPLIFT, Jan shares some of the powerful lessons she learned from her mother—lessons all of us in the "Wilson clan" have come to love and appreciate—and I hope they encourage you as well.

"I vividly remember the day when as a young adult I said to myself, 'Wow, Mom was right!'" Janice says. "Perhaps you look forward to the day your child "gets it" too!"

Yes, I (Dawn) remember a moment of awareness. I'd thought my own Mom didn't understand the complexities of today's culture, but as it turned out, the principles that guided her life were timeless—much like those that guided Adele Wilson.

Janice continues . . .

Mom and Dad grew up together in a children’s home, each having lost a parent at a very tender age. Raised with 180 other children they called family, they both speak with gratitude of the care they received and the friends they made.

They also, however, determined when they married to try to create what they had missed—a welcoming home and intimate family life.

Mom is the first to admit they were clueless where to start, but God had His hand on them. They became Christ-followers shortly after marriage and immediately began to seek His wisdom. Between their study of Scripture and surrounding themselves with Christian families they wanted to emulate, they look back on their 72 years of marriage and trace God’s hand throughout their journey.

They are now enjoying the fruit of that dogged determination as they changed the course of their family’s trajectory and created a living legacy that has left a blessed imprint on three successive generations.

Mom gave me many gifts—including ones I didn’t always appreciate at the moment! I still marvel at how, without a mother’s role model, God gifted her with extraordinary wisdom.

She was undeterred during my adolescent years—that unpaved section of life—when I burst out in a tearful, “You don’t understand me!” She was on a mission, however, and nothing stopped her from standing firm on every value she held dear.

Here is my short list of what she taught me then and why it matters to me now.

1. Pursuit of God’s best.If you’re going to do a job, do it right—the first time.”

If I were ever tempted to skim the surface, I’d best think again. I dreaded her white glove inspection of my half-hearted dusting chore. Good enough simply wasn’t. God deserved the best I could give, and I was never to short-change Him or her!

Gratefully, she was relentless, and that value served me well in my academic pursuit, career path, and raising my own children.  

2. Pursuit of Family Harmony. Conflict resolution was a non-negotiable. Frustration, even anger, were acceptable expressions as long as it wasn’t accompanied by disrespect, yelling, or fighting.

In Mom’s words, “There is enough fighting in this world; when you entered the doors of our home, it will be a place of peace, joy, and support.”

Mom had mastered conflict resolution skills that somehow allowed me to feel valued and heard even as I stewed in my anger. This led to a joy-filled home where my friends longed to be. Laughter was the norm, and my friends were always welcomed.

I found myself applying those same conflict resolution skills as we raised our children and in turn, enjoyed the blessing of being “mom” to many of our children’s friends as well.

3. Pursuit of Wise Stewardship. This one still amazes me as I see how much she taught me about God’s values concerning the use of time, talent and treasure. Let me start with...

TIME: Mom loved and served sacrificially. She worked long and hard, yet would always greet me with a cup of tea when I’d come home from a date no matter the lateness of the hour. She enjoyed sharing every detail of my experiences and used those late night chats to help shape my values.

I realized shortly after marriage how much she shaped my wishlist for my life’s partner and kept me from settling for less than God’s best. My husband is still my best friend, and I have Mom to thank for helping me understand that priority.

TALENT: Giving more than you take was another top priority. Mom taught me to always look for ways to contribute. If you are faithful with what God has put in your hand, He will, in turn, bless you with more to give.

I can’t begin to describe all the ways that value has played out in my life.

TREASURE: Wise financial stewardship was another non-negotiable.

Mom (and Dad) always put God first, spent less than they earned, avoided the use of debt, worked toward long-term goals, and were generous toward others. Those habits prepared them to live comfortably now.

That example also prepared me for a career helping others wisely steward their resources and their families.  

4. Pursuit of a Proverbs 31 Woman.  Mom was—and still is—a very beautiful and strong, independent woman. She modeled pushing through obstacles to achieve goals.

While always supportive, it was not her job to make life easy for me. She taught me to own my mistakes, minimize excuses, and figure out how to resourcefully get back on track.

She believed in me when I felt vulnerable and encouraged me to step into my calling even if it didn’t look “normal” or “traditional.” My subsequent career path landed me in what years ago used to be considered a man’s world. I ignored gender, however, and never allowed inferiority to keep me from starting my own company. Mom taught me to push through the hard stuff and count my blessings with every opportunity to make an impact.

Like my Mom, you have little control over the legacy you inherited, but a great deal of influence over what you leave behind.

Since a legacy is inevitable, I encourage you to make it intentional because wisdom is challenging to transfer without it. Experiences and how you leverage them can turn brokenness into a blessing even when it doesn’t look like it at first glance. You don’t have to be perfect; just authentic and tenacious.

We have the powerful ability ever day to leave a lasting imprint on those we touch.

Prov 31:30-31 says,

She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed….

Charm is deceitful and beautiy is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised....let her own works praise her in the gates.

Mom, you were right on every point and I rise up today and call you blessed.

What makes you unique because of the legacy you’ve received? What value or wisdom point can you change or build upon to make the biggest difference in future generations you influence?  

Janice Thompson is the co-Founder and CEO of One Degree Advisors, Inc., a comprehensive wealth management firm focused on biblically-based financial solutions. Janice is a Certified Financial Planner®, a Life Stewardship Advisor, and serves on the Board of Directors of Kingdom Advisors. She has two married children with three grandsons and one granddaughter. She and her husband Tom live in San Diego.