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Shonda Savage Whitworth

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Debbie W. Wilson

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Jamie Wood

And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson



Hope When It Hurts

I've read a lot of articles about hope lately, and many of them were "fluff," but Shonda Savage Whitworth's article is deep truth, because it comes from a deep rooting in the Word of God. In this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, she encourages us to seek true hope when we hurt.

"My dreams for my family’s future shattered when my oldest son was sentenced to prison," Shonda says.

"His conviction demolished the good mother image I erected in my mind. With this image decimated, my emotions spiraled into a dark abyss."

I (Dawn) know several families with incarcerated children, and they all deal with tough issues, some struggling everyday with hope.

Shonda continues . . .

After my son began his life in state prison, my life of being held captive by guilt, shame, and condemnation started. Despair enveloped me like a heavy fog keeping the light from shining in my life.

We read in Proverbs:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12, NLT).

The anguish gave way to hopelessness, and I was diagnosed “situational adjustment disorder,” which is a classification of anxiety and depression.

My personal life stalled while the world around me moved forward.

While the life I had and the future I expected dissipated, I knew I could not remain stuck in the sorrow. My family needed me to be present in their lives.

This realization allowed a ray of sunshine to peek through the fog of despair and I encouraged myself in the Lord, just as David did when he was greatly distressed. 

Here are three ways I found hope when it hurt.

1. Praising God

In my pain, I played worship music and sang along to praise the Lord. Many times, the words to the worship songs triggered tears, so I just cried out, “No matter what, You are God.”

Dr. John G. Mitchell wrote, “To give thanks when you don’t feel like it is not hypocrisy; it’s obedience.”

Hebrews 13:15 tells us, Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (NKJV).

There are times when giving thanks out of obedience is a sacrifice, but the reward is worth it.

Through worship, my focus turned to the Lord and off of my circumstances. As a result, new hope poured into my spirit.

2. Meditating on the Word

A colleague told me, “Shonda, be sure you put your hope in God because man will fail you.” In hindsight, I realized that I put my hope in the attorney and the justice system instead of God.

To pull myself out of the darkness, I read the Bible daily and Scriptures about hope popped up. As I meditated on the word, I learned hope in God is our expectation in what He can do, not what I can do or what any other person does.

Then I came across Zechariah 9:12:

“Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you” (NIV).

At that moment,

I chose to be a prisoner of hope instead of a prisoner of despair.

As a prisoner of hope, I released my expectations of man and the system and placed my confidence in the Lord.

3. Praying

Before the tragic events unfolded that led to my son’s imprisonment, my prayer was “Lord, I ask You to hedge him in so he cannot follow his own path” (based on Hosea 2:6).

I believed my prodigal son would find his way home. Instead, he went to prison.

During the months leading up to the trial, I prayed for my son’s freedom. After his conviction, my hope dissolved and my desire to pray evaporated.

As I meditated on Scriptures, Jesus taught the disciples to pray, “Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10) And Jesus prayed, “nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

My prayers were the opposite, so I began to pray like Jesus taught and modeled. As a result, my perspective changed.

I now see how prison saved my son’s life—both in the eternal and in the natural.

In my hurt, I found hope as I offered up the sacrifice of praise, meditated on the Word of God daily, and prayed God’s will.

Through these daily disciplines,

  • the fog of despair lifted,
  • my good mother image has been replaced with knowing who I am in Christ,
  • and my life is moving forward filled with joy and peace as I know God, my source of hope.

If you’ve lost hope due to hurtful circumstances in your life, my prayer for you is from Romans 15:13:

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (NLT).

Are you struggling with hope today? Which of these three ways to find hope when you hurt is missing or lacking in your life? How can you change that today?

Shonda Savage Whitworth is the founder and president of Fortress of Hope Ministries, Inc., giving hope to those with incarcerated family members. She is a speaker and author who connects with her audiences through her transparent testimony of personal tribulations and triumphs in Christ. Her book, Appeal to the Courts of Heaven: Prayers for Prisoners and Prison Families, is scheduled to release in the fall of 2019. You can read more about Shonda’s unexpected prison family journey on her blog

Graphic adapted, courtesy ofLechenie Narkomanii at Pixabay.


Hope for the Hurting at Easter

In this pre-Easter UPGRADE, Dawn acknowledges the pain of those who hurt during this celebratory season, but points back to the purpose, promise and power of the resurrection.

"My daddy died near Easter, years ago," Dawn says. "It was a deeply painful time for me, but also a time of great hope."

During those days I chose to breathe out the pain and breath in the presence of God. It's the only way I felt I could survive the great loss.

I remember sitting in church that Easter, weeping over Daddy's passing, but then weeping with joy as we celebrated the risen Savior. It was bittersweet on so many levels.

I've since thought about those I know who hurt during many holidays.

  • Those who lost their income at Christmas.
  • Those who lost their home to fire at Thanksgiving.
  • Those who recalled their family losses on Mother's Day and Father's Day.
  • Those who lost their health with a sudden "diagnosis" at any time of year when others are celebrating.

So much pain.

But the key words there are "lost" and "losses." Yes, losing people and things we love is painful, but the bigger picture for the Christian is the purpose, promise and power of the Lord's resurrection and how that can and should impact our lives.

1. The Purpose of the Resurrection

I have to admit, my first reaction to a friend who shared truth with me when my Daddy died was to want to choke her! "Just remember what Jesus did; we have victory over all those ugly emotions now," she said.

How insensitive, I thought.

But after I calmed down, I knew she was—at the root of truth—correct.

It was normal to grieve. I'd lost my dear daddy! But it was also right to take my raw emotions to Jesus—my risen Savior—who understood everything about me and my circumstances.

  • He came to reach out to us in our pain and separation from God.
  • He came to die for our sin and reconcile us to God.
  • He came to live a perfect life as an example of righteousness.
  • And in His resurrection, He came to conquer the effects of every evil, every false thing, every painful thing that would touch our lives.

The simple truth of Easter is—Jesus died, was buried and rose again (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). But there was so much more in God's purpose for the resurrection.

  • The purpose of the resurrection was to show the immense power of God. He is absolutely sovereign over life and death. Only the awesome Creator of life can resurrect life after death.
  • The purpose of the resurrection was also to show us who Jesus claimed to be. Because He is truly the Son of God—the long-awaited Messiah—His resurrection authenticated His ministry and the "sign of Jonah" (Matthew 16:1-4). It proved He was God's "Holy One" who would never experience "corruption" (Psalm 16:10; Acts 13:32-37).
  • The purpose of the resurrection was to forgive us and set us free from every sin (Acts 13:38-39). He can only set us free because He actually did what He said He would do—rise from the dead (Acts 17:2-3; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34).

We can rest—even in times of frustration, confusion or pain—in God's great picture purpose for the resurrection of Christ.

2. The Promise of the Resurrection

The promise of the resurrection is that God would indeed reverse the ugliness of sin and death and give us victory over the grave—there remains no "sting" in death (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). He is indeed the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).

The promise is that because He lives, we too shall live (John 14:19). He is "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Though we hurt when loved ones pass away, we can have confidence that we will once again see and recognize all our loved ones who have died in Christ.

Why? We will see Jesus, be raised from the dead and instantly be present with the Lord (Titus 2:13; 1 Corinthians 15:12-57). This togetherness is suggested by the events in the "rapture" of the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

And we can believe that the God who loves us and is faithful is working for our good and His glory.

Any loss on earth is meant to be overshadowed by our Father's great lovingkindness now and in heaven.

3. The Power of the Resurrection

Because Jesus rose from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 10:12), we get to experience the power of His resurrection.

We are to experience that power now, not just in eternity in heaven.

  • We will find power as we respond to God's grace. As we repent of our sins and confess them, embracing God's forgiveness and grace. (Ephesians 2:4-5; Titus 3:4-7; 2 Corinthians 12:9)
  • We will find power as we exchange the emptiness of "religion" for a dynamic relationship with the Lord through faith. (Romans 4:4-5; 11:6)
  • We will find power as we serve the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, "Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." This is true because it is God who gives us the "victory" through His Son (v. 57).
  • We will find power as we begin to embrace eternal priorities. (Matthew 6:33)
  • We will find power as we learn to die to our selfish desires and agendas. (Romans 12:1-2)
  • We will find power as we anticipate God working on our behalf in ways we cannot imagine, as we surrender to and trust Him. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • And we will find power as we remember God will give us new bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and make all things new (Isaiah 43:18-19; 65:17; Revelation 21:5; Ephesians 2:15; 4:24; Hebrews 8:13).

When I think only about the hurts in my life—the losses and pain—life is harder to endure. But when I think about the power of the resurrection, something within me stirs: HOPE!

The power of the resurrection is our hope in God who raised His Son to new life—the same God who desires to raise us and our loved ones in Christ to new life as well.

He is the same great God who will restore all that is broken and bless us with blessings beyond our imagination. (Ephesians 1:3-14; 1 Corinthians 2:9)

That is the hope for the hurting at Easter.

Are you hurting today? How can a more intentional focus on the purpose, promise and power of Jesus' resurrection help you with your struggles?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator the blog, 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 vector adapted, courtesy of MKencad at Lightstock.


When Words (Should) Fail You

Kolleen Lucariello's unique personality is a gift from God. She sees life through a different lens than most people. I love how—in this Communication UPGRADE—Kolleen challenges us to choose our words carefully, especially when facing a friend in grief. "As soon as the words began to slip through my lips, I knew," Kolleen said.  

"In my attempt to say the right thing to the father whose 37-year-old daughter had just passed away—I had failed. The tension was immense."

Sometimes I (Dawn) feel like I'm part of a not-so-special "club" of people who say the wrong things or the right things at the wrong time—even when they mean well. Kolleen apparently joined that club. But she's learning how to choose her words wisely and biblically, and she has wise counsel for all of us. 

Kolleen continues . . .

My insides began to twist—as though a crank began to turn—followed by a conversation within my head.

“Kolleen, you need to apologize. Right now. Tell him you are sorry for asking an insensitive question.”

My apology was quick. Overcoming my embarrassment, however, was not. 

Some words are just better left unsaid.

But there have been occasions when words roll off my tongue because of a nervous-need-to-fill-the-silence moment.

Sometimes, they fall out because of an insensitive-I-didn’t-think-first moment. Thankfully, I-don’t-care moments happen less often than they used to. But, in my attempt to offer the right words at that moment I missed the mark.

It’s not always easy to find the right words in the heat of someone’s hard moment.

Just ask Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They were three of Job’s friends who, in their desire to bring comfort to their friend, discovered their words had backfired.

Once known as the greatest, wealthiest, and most respected man in the east, Job had suffered through great loss (Job 1-2).

He was a changed man when his friends arrived that day. Sorrow and suffering can do that to you.

After hearing of his suffering, the three traveled to mourn with Job and comfort him (Job 2:11). When they arrived, their own grief took over when they found their friend unrecognizable (Job 2:12).

They did what good friends do.

They sat beside Job, and for seven days and seven nights no one said a word (Job 2:13). Silence. It’s a sacred, beautiful thing, but it can also be uncomfortable. Especially for someone who—like me—feels a heavy weight beneath too much silence.

When the sound of silence becomes too loud I, like Job’s friends, find myself speaking words out of uneasiness, rather than thought.  

This is when the “fixer” in me rushes in to save the day, and do away with silence. Let’s find the reason, discover the cause, and then move on to the remedy.

But the words chosen may have a lasting effect on the one with whom I sit—and on me.

When Job broke the silence, and began to speak out of his heartbreak, his friends responded out of their “anxious thoughts” (20:2).

  • Eliphaz wanted Job to understand he was being disciplined for his sin. "Consider the joy of those corrected by God! Do not despise the discipline of the Almighty when you sin" (Job 5:17 NLT).
  • Bildad wanted Job to repent. His “If you…” statements cast blame on the man God described to Satan as blameless (2:3).  “God will not cast away the blameless" (8:20). In other words, “You’re not so blameless after all, are you Job?”
  • Zophar felt Job needed to be rebuked and reminded that God was punishing him far less than he deserved (11:6). Who needs to hear that when surrounded by sorrow and suffering.

     Bring an Upgrade to the Life of Someone Suffering   

1.  Job’s friends did not recognize him in his time of grief.

Job had lost everything but his wife, and he was covered in grief and boils.

You may not recognize your friend in their time of sorrow and suffering. Sit with them amid the silence without trying to fix anything.

2. Job explained his heartbreak.  

“If my misery could be weighed and my troubles be put on the scales, they would outweigh all the sands of the sea. That is why I spoke impulsively” (Job 6:1, NLT).

Friends in the midst of sorrow and suffering may speak impulsively. Grief isn’t always expressed neatly, or nicely. Let them speak without patrolling their every word.

3. Don’t jump to conclusions on why this is happening.

Job said, “Stop assuming my guilt” (6:29).

Before Job entered into this test God described him as "blameless"—a man of complete integrity (Job 1:8).

At the end of the test, each friend had been rebuked by the Lord. Job was the only one God said spoke accurately of Him. In their need to fill the silence with opinion, the friends spoke inaccurate assumptions (Job 42:7).

“One should be kind to a fainting friend, but you accuse me without any fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14, NLT).

When our friends feel faint because of grief and sorrow, they need our kindness and prayers. Don’t bring accusations, opinions or words to fill the silence.

Find comfort in the silence.  

Kolleen Lucariello, #TheABCGirl, is the author of the devotional book, The ABC’s of Who God Says I Am and Co-Executive Director of Activ8Her, Inc. Kolleen and her high school sweetheart, Pat, reside in Central New York. She’s a mother of three married children and Mimi to five incredible grandkids. She desires to help others find their identity in Christ, one letter at a time. Find out more about Kolleen here:

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Serena Wong at Pixabay.


How to Be a Donkey

I'm not surprised Susan Stewart wrote this post. After all, she does care for animals—and I don't mean the human kind! But Susan is also a great teacher, and this Palm Sunday UPGRADE encourages readers to think outside the box and "be a donkey" for the Lord's use.

“Palm Sunday is coming,” Susan says. “A day when Christians around the world commemorate Jesus’s triumphal entry in to Jerusalem. The king entering his earthly kingdom.”

I (Dawn) love Palm Sunday. It's a reminder that another special Sunday is coming! But it also reminds me how fickle a crowd can be when it comes to Jesus.

Susan continues . . .

Oh, the reception He received! The people were ready to be freed from the tyranny of the Roman oppressors.

Many were expecting him to arrive on a horse as the military ruler to overthrow Caesar’s army. Instead they saw a man coming on a donkey … the lowly donkey.


Jesus was coming as a ruler, but not a ruler coming to battle. Horses were a symbol of war. Kings rode horses into battle. Jesus was riding as a ruler coming in peace. Kings rode donkeys in time of peace.

Let’s look a little deeper at this small, young beast.

Eric Davis, a veterinarian from University of California expressed what many of us think, “Donkeys are the least of the least.” Thought of as stupid, stubborn beasts of burden, these animals don’t seem worthy of the task of carrying a king, much less the king of the universe. Certainly not what the Israelites in Jerusalem expected.

The Gospels tell us Jesus sent his disciples into the village of Bethpage to find the animal he was to ride. He knew where this donkey and her colt would be tied up. Jesus was even prepared for the owner to question the disciples about taking them.

When they started to untie the animals, the disciples were questioned. Jesus prepared his friends, “If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately’” (Mark 11:3). They followed Jesus’s instructions, and the owner let them go (Mark 11:6).

Like me, you may not be surprised the animals were tied up. Here they were waiting for Jesus. After all, although described as the least of the least, the small equines were valuable for work. Their owners didn’t want them to wander off, especially a mother and her colt.

The restraint shows ownership. They needed to be untied to serve him. As instructed, the disciples untied them to take the animals to Jesus.

The poor donkey has a reputation of being stubborn. Often, they will not go where people think they need to go. This is not stubbornness, this is caution. A donkey may refuse to even cross a shadow if it is unfamiliar with the path and thinks there may be danger.

There is no indication this pair resisted. They willingly went. After being untied, they followed the men back to Jesus. Mother donkey didn’t have a sense of danger.

Like most animals in the equine family, donkeys need to be trained for the service they render. Mark indicates Jesus rode the colt. Likely untrained, it didn’t balk at the task it was to perform.

Donkeys can also be loving and trusting of humans they encounter. This colt trusted Jesus and allowed the man on his back.

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey, he related to the common people. He didn’t set himself above them with a grand entrance. He rode not just a donkey, but a small young donkey. The king was on a humble creature.

On Palm Sunday we may enter our places of worship to repeat what the people did. We rejoice with songs of hosanna and shouts of praise.

Should we maybe enter in, emulating the donkey?

1. Do we need to be untied?

Each of us desires to serve God. Far too often we are tied up to work, leisure, friends, and so much more the world tells us is important. We also may need to be untied from burdens, guilt, cares, addictions, even devices.

When we allow the Holy Spirit to untie us, we are free to serve.

2. Do we go in peace?

Have you ever argued with God? I have. Surely, Lord, you don’t understand.

When God speaks, I should be listening. Then follow peacefully without question.

3. Do we trust?

The colt would naturally follow the mom donkey. But mom would have been more cautious, even defensive for her child.

She followed. She trusted. She didn’t show any signs of stubbornness.

The colt trusted Jesus. This colt had no training, had never been ridden before. That didn’t keep it from doing the assigned task.

4. Are we humble in our service?

Jesus rode humbly on the donkey. The donkey, the least of the least, was not showy, didn’t stand out from the crowd. This little guy just went about the assigned task.

Ouch. We don’t mean to. We don’t consciously seek attention or accolades. But, let’s be honest, we do like it when we are noticed serving.

While we are rejoicing at the coming of our king ...

Let’s pray:

  • to be “untied” yet free,
  • trusting,
  • peaceful
  • and humble servants as a donkey.

Regarding the mentioned four ways to be like a donkey, which still needs some work in your own life?

Susan K. Stewart—when she’s not tending chickens and donkeys—teaches, writes, and edits non-fiction. Susan’s passion is to inspire readers with practical, real-world solutions. Her books include Science in the Kitchen and Preschool: At What Cost? plus the award-winning Formatting e-Books for Writers. You can learn more at her website

Graphic of donkey adapted, courtesy of Malcolumbus at Pixabay.


Uplift the Military Child and Family

Morgan Farr is a remarkably strong woman, because she knows where her strength lies—in the Lord. In this special UPLIFT, she calls our attention to the special needs of military families, and how we might reach out to help them.

"Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis said,  'If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters very much.' And You know what?, says Morgan Farr, "I agree with her."

I (Dawn) remember that comment by Mrs. Onassis. It helped me firm up my family priorities, so I'm glad to see Morgan use that quote in such a positive way in this special pro-military-family post.

(Note: April 2019 is the Month of the Military Child.)

Morgan continues . . .

This quote by Mrs. Onassis was on the wall in the military hospital’s obstetrics office where I found out I was expecting our first child.

The quote sat directly above a sign that said, “We chose this. We live this. We can do this."—which is a popular saying among military families.

I remember reading that quote and thinking to myself, how hard could it be?

Well, three children later I can tell you—raising kids in a military family is both incredibly rewarding and incredibly difficult at the same time.

We have been married almost six years and we are about to complete our fourth move. This move will be quite an adventure with a four-year-old boy, a three-year-old boy, a one-year-old girl and an ever-patient pup.

Thinking about that sign and my response makes me chuckle as I wrangle the kids and the dog as my husband is currently TAD—gone for a training event, for all you non Army folks.

The combination of those signs in the doctor’s office has stuck with me throughout our parenting journey for a couple of reasons.

I don’t want to mess up my kids, especially since they didn’t choose this.

My husband was in the military before I met him. I don’t want to say I fully knew what I was getting into as a military spouse, because you cannot know the reality of it until you live it; but I at least had the choice.

My kids didn’t get a choice in this life and yet they take all the challenges in stride. So today, I want to share with you:

How to UpLift Military Children and Families

1. Look at the Reality.

Military life often means that parenting is a solo job. When the servicemember is on staff duty, TDY, or deployed, the other parent has to carry all of the weight, alone.

So when the military wife comes into Sunday School pushing an infant in a stroller, trying to wrestle in a wayward toddler, and get the preschooler to the potty—don’t sigh that she brought her kids. Welcome them.

Mark 9:37 says,  

Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Offer to go reserve seats for them. Get her a cup of coffee. Distract the toddler. Hold the baby. Smile at them. They need it. 

2. Look for Needs.

When you move to a new place, your household goods almost never arrive at the same time. This means your family often end up sleeping on the floor and eating out until their stuff arrives.

Romans 12:13 says,

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Offer the new military family your crockpot, your air mattress, or the use of your washing machine.

Tell them which grocery stores have the best produce and which coffee shops are the cleanest. If the husband is TAD or deployed, offer to mow the yard or shovel snow.

Help to meet the tangible needs that military life so often creates.

3. Look for ways to pray.

PRAY, PRAY, PRAY! I cannot stress this one enough.

Shroud this family in prayer constantly.

  • Pray for the servicemember as they are TDY or deployed.
  • Pray for the parent at home keeping the homefires burning.
  • Pray for the children to lean on Jesus when they are lonely, scared or missing their service member. 

Ephesians 6:18 says,

In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other's spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”

With the constant movement, the separations and the unsure future, it is easy for military children and families for fall out of the church and to get left behind.

Pursue them, encourage them, support them, pray for them.

The official flower of the military child is the dandelion. It is carried away by the wind and can bloom in the most unlikely of places.

Military children watch their parent leave for TDYs that can last days, weeks, or months. They endure months long deployments, last minute cancellations, and not being able to hear their parents wish them a happy birthday.

We as a community need to care for these families that sacrifice so much for our nation every single day especially because they didn’t chose this.

God chose them for this life. 

How can you reach out to a military child this week?

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 of military family adapted, courtesy of—image/id/6174782835#!Reunited.

Graphic of dandelion adapted, courtesy of domeckopol at Pixabay.

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