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And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson


Entries in Be Still (6)


Create More Opportunities for Margin - Part 2

In Part 1 of the Self-Care UPGRADE, “Create More Opportunities for Margin,” Dawn Wilson, explained the importance of creating more “spacious opportunities” in our lives to counter the busyness and mindlessness that can lead to stress, over-commitment and exhaustion.

To repeat from Part 1: We won’t have wonderful, spacious opportunities unless we're purposeful in making room for them.

“Margin,” said Richard Swenson, M.D., “is the space between our load and our limits.” We want to intentionally fill that space wisely, even if it means “not filling” by allowing more space to grow.

In Part 1, we considered the need for more margin in our home, calendars and budgets. In Part 2, let's tackle four more areas: Health, People, Mind and God.

4. Create more space in regard to your HEALTH. For the Christian, this is important not only for ourselves, but as a testimony to others of the power of God working in our habits (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

How do we create margin for better health?

  • Leave more time at nightfall for quality sleep. Work toward a healthy nightly rhythm that leads to better and deeper rest.
  • Think: healthy eating! Stop stuffing your body with multiple snacks and processed foods. Give your stomach “room” to function efficiently. Intermittent fasting can be beneficial. So is mindful planning for a weekly caloric budget and sticking to it.
  • Carve out time to move your body with whatever exercise you find most enjoyable. Think in terms of freedom of movement and building core strength.
  • Practice deep breathing! Breathe in through your nose, hold that breath, and then exhale slowly through your mouth.

One of the strongest voices helping me create nutritional margin is Lysa TerKeurst in Made to Crave, especially her devotional based on the book. Also, Lean Body, Fat Wallet is a double-whammy for health and finances, writen by Ellie Kay and Danna Demetre. Danna is one of the founders of Ageless Woman Living.

5. Create more space for PEOPLE, especially for family and friends. Our office files can’t hug us, and the television won’t give us love. Creating margin for relationships is even far more than social media, although that can play a small part.

Time is limited, so aim for true connection. Quantity time AND quality time.

Shut things off and turn up the volume on face-to-face connections. These times together will feed our need for emotional growth, and they will help us understand how we can “spur on” family and friends “toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

We need one-on-one time to practice the "one anothers" of scripture.

Our busy lives leave us less than satisfied. God’s Word and people, it is said, are the only two things that last from earth into eternity; and that should give us a sense of what is truly important.

There are so many good books available on this topic. Just be sure their relationship counsel lines up with scripture truth. I learned a lot from Mary Kassian's Conversation Peace; Shaunti Feldhahn's book, The Kindness Challenge; and Gene Getz' book, Building Up One Another. And "Relationship specialists" Bill and Pam Farrel at Love-wise offer many, MANY books on building relationshps.

6. Create space for your MIND … time to think, ponder and meditate.

If we don’t want our brains to become mush, we need to feed them with truth and wisdom (James 1:5; Psalm 90:12). We need to renew our mind so we can know and do the will of God (Romans 12:2).

Spend time with a good book. The Bible, of course, will train our minds (2 Timothy 3:16); but biblically-based books or books of wise principles that do not contradict scriptural truth will also challenge us to think better. Or planning a social-mental “spacious opportunity” in a Bible or book study with a group of friends (Proverbs 13:20)

Think Biblically! (edited by John MacArthur) helped me think with a Christian worldview; and Lies Women Believe (updated/expanded edition) by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth helped me zero in on some foolish, unbiblical thinking. (Note: Lies Men Believe, written by Nancy's husband Robert, will come out in August 2018.)

7. And this is most important: create a greater margin of time for God.

  • We need space to pray and worship without distractions.
  • We need time for the Lord every day (Psalm 55:16-17) to feed our spirit, train our responses and calm our hearts.
  • We need to “Be still” and listen—to get to know our Father’s heart so we’ll know how to make wise choices (Psalm 46:10; Proverbs 2:6).
  • We need to live with eternity in mind, walk by faith, and aim to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 4:18; 5:6-10).

A life filled to the brim with a crowded or misguided schedule will never allow time for the Lord to fill us to overflowing with Himself.

By far, the book that helped me understand the need to create a daily time with the Lord was Seeking Him by Nancy Leigh DeMoss (Wolgemuth) and Tim Grissom; but Experiencing God by Henry T. Blackaby and Richard Blackaby also built that relationship.

Notice the word “create” in each of my seven points about margin.

Be creative. Be intentional.

How can you create more spacious opportunities? Ask the Lord what would be best eliminated or pared down in your life so you will have more room to breathe and grow.

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices TodayLOL 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


Before You Enter the New Year

Becky Harling often encourages women to forget about "performance" and take time to seek  God and find refreshment in time alone with Him. In this New Year UPGRADE, she suggests taking a day for personal reflection.

"Every year between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I take a day for prayer and personal reflection," Becky says. "Honestly, it’s become one of my favorite days of the year!"

In all the busyness of the holidays, I (Dawn) have found I need a quiet place of rest and reflection; so I appreciate what Becky is sharing here today.

Becky continues . . .

By creating the space to be alone with God I am able to refresh and revive. As I spend time alone with God in prayer and praise, the Holy Spirit brings my spirit into alignment with His.

  • During that day, I spend a lot of time listening to God—I want to know what His desires are for my life as I enter the New Year.
  • I also reflect back over the past year and consider my relationships and different aspects of my life.
  • I then ask the Holy Spirit to speak into that area how he wants me to grow in the coming year.

I turn off my cell phone and take a break from my computer. It can feel scary at first, but it is so freeing to unplug and simply luxuriate in God’s presence.

Rather than setting a tight schedule for my day of prayer, I include certain elements:

1. Praise music to help me settle down in God’s presence.

Worshipping God on my knees sets my focus for the day and brings my heart into alignment with God’s heart. (At the end of this guide you will find some new and wonderful praise songs that I recommend for your praise time.)

2. Scripture

God speaks through His Word, the still small voice of His Spirit and through others. 

I often read through a passage like John 15. Then I underline and circle whatever phrases seem to jump of the page at me. As I read, I look for specific patterns. I ask the Holy Spirit to open my eyes to what He wants me to see in Scripture. 

I then choose some key verses for the coming year and commit those to memory.

3. A Journal

As I read scripture, I record principles that I believe God is speaking. I watch for patterns or phrases that keep reappearing. I may look for one word to focus on in the New Year.

4. Silence

My world, like yours, is filled with noise: cell phone, TV, social media, etc.

In many ways, I’m addicted to noise.

I love people. I love music. I love the adrenaline rush of lots going on.

But, my soul needs quiet to re-calibrate and connect with God.

Rarely do I hear God’s voice in the chaos and cacophony of daily noise.

I have to be intentional. I have to pull away and do as Jesus invited, “Come with me, by yourself to a quiet place” (Mark 6:31). There in silence, I listen for the quiet whisper of God’s voice.

5. Beauty

I believe God created our souls to enjoy beauty. As part of my day of prayer and reflection I incorporate beauty.

Depending on where we are in the world, I might take a walk by the beach. Or, I might go for a walk in the snow, or by a river. Or, I might simply spend time gazing at the mountains.

Beauty reminds me of the majesty of my God.

6. Reflective Questions help me to understand what’s going on in my heart and what the Holy Spirit might want me to surrender or embrace.

I ask myself questions like:

  • What do I want to see God do in my life in the next year?
  • Which relationships do I need to focus on more closely?
  • How well am I listening to those I love?
  • Do I need to do a better job with self-care this up coming year?
  • Is there a specific cause that God is inviting me to join in the upcoming year? If so, what steps do I need to take to get involved?

Friend, here’s the thing. Without intentionality you won’t find the space to spend time in reflection, so I encourage you, pull out your calendar and mark the day that you’re going to spend with God. Then gather the tools I mentioned and find a quiet place where you can retreat with the Holy One.

Here are some recommended songs for your quiet retreat:

1. "Abba (Arms of a Father)" by Jonathan and Melissa Helser

2. "There is a Cloud" by Elevation Worship

3.  "I Believe" by JJ Heller

Which of these songs best helps you reflect on the Lord?

Becky Harling. Authentic. Passionate. Funny. Insightful. Becky is a frequent speaker at conferences, retreats, and other venues. She is the author of Rewriting Your Emotional Script, Freedom from Performing, The 30 Day Praise Challenge and The 30 Day Praise Challenge for Parents. Becky is married to Steve Harling and has four adult kids and five grandkids. Visit her website and blog!


The Big Break

Wendy Hamilton is an inspirational, everyday life writer who loves to tackle the daily tough stuff with truth and grace. In this UPLIFT encouragement, she encourages us to give ourselves a break in more ways than one.

"I sat across from my new friend aware that this was the first time in a long time that I was on this side of the table," Wendy said. "Usually it was me telling other women to take a break, rest, create fun in their lives or for their families, and not overdo." 

Wendy made me (Dawn) sit up immediately when I read that. Resting has been one of my big issues, one of the reasons my body fell apart and my ministry suffered. As Wendy points out here, sometimes we're our own worst enemy when it comes to rest.

Wendy continues . . .

That day it was me weary and undone. Everyday life felt like an overwhelming burden. I managed my day on autopilot, living that day much like I had lived the day before with little hope that tomorrow would be different.

“You can’t continue at this pace. You are headed for burnout. You need to rest,” my friend cautioned. “Take the rest of today and rest. You will be better for it.”

Her advice seemed counter-intuitive. I had so much to do.

Deadlines loomed. My house looked in many ways to be one more pile of clutter or laundry way from perfect for an episode of "Hoarders." Yet, I knew her advice was the truth.

“You are right," I confessed. "I’m not going to get anything done in the way and at the level I want to when I feel this tired.”

I thought back to scriptures I studied earlier that week. 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

Both of those verses reflected an attitude and posture much different than what was reflected in my current pace and to-do list.

God’s good for me was a quieter pace.

His expectations for me did not require that my house look ready for a magazine feature or even “company ready.”  His expectations for me were to walk with Him, be with Him and rest with Him.

What God models reveals a way of life that keeps us ready to love Him and others, and allow us to be rested and not fatigued. God never is a tough taskmaster with an impossible to-do list. That method is you and I at work, not honoring who God created us to be the way God designed. 

The way of life God models is designed for us to know that we do not walk life alone. God promises:  “Never will He leave me and never will He forsake me” (Hebrews 13:5).

When I create the impossible pace in my day and in my life, I forget that I do life with God. 

I make myself and my talents, abilities and strengths an idol, and I place "me at work" above God at work in my life. I live life focused on what I should do instead of living in the victory of what God has already done.

The result of such heavy self-imposed burdens is weariness.

God knows our tendencies to rely more or ourselves than on Him. That is why He calls us to receive His comfort, love, faithfulness and presence.

God draws us to Himself through scripture and stillness so we can take a break and have a break. 

What He asks of us leads to more life and more freedom. We don’t get tired of what God gives us when we function in everyday stillness and get to know Him more. What God has for us as we listen to Him speak in scripture and in our everyday lives is “immeasurably more than all we could ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

What God designed is our big break and rest.

Where is God calling you to rest and take a break? What areas of your life does God want you to surrender to Him so He can give you more than you could ask or think?

Wendy M. Hamilton is a writer and songwriter from Dallas, Texas. When she is not ministering with her church family at Valley Creek Church, a multi-site mega church, she is volunteering at The Salvation Army or teaching and encouraging others to minister and lead with their art and bring inspired ideas to life. Wendy and her husband, Mike, are the founders of Inspired Life Ministries, and they love living a messy, busy and fun life with their 4+1 kids. Her most recent published song compilation, "Here We Go," is included on Compass, the new Valley Creek Kids Worship CD released May 2017 from Valley Creek Worship.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Lightstock (free download).



Back to the Future: Retreat to Plan the New Year

Kathy Carlton Willis is an encourager to the max! She knows how to motivate women to upgrade their lives. In this New Year’s UPGRADE, she suggests we all go on a “retreat.”

Kathy told me, “As a career coach I often hear the excuse, ‘I’m just too busy.’ I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it. Each person is given the same number of hours in the day.”

I (Dawn) do think there is a “too busy” level for all of us, but I’ve discovered better planning, delegating, and eliminating the non-essential and what God says “has to go” suddenly can free up a lot of time I didn’t know I had! So I am shouting a hearty “Amen” to Kathy’s words.

Kathy continues. . .

Sure, we all have different energy levels and abilities, but I’m positive we have exactly the resources we need to fulfill the purposes God has for each of us.

The next time you’re tempted to offer up the excuse, “I’m just too busy,” instead I challenge you to say what is the real reason: “It’s simply not a priority for me.”

We get to choose what is important in our lives.

One way I adjust my priorities is to have a yearly personal retreat, either at home or a remote location.

A familiar Psalm indicates what happens during a personal retreat.

“He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still and quiet waters. He  refreshes and restores my soul (life); He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23: 2-3 AMP).

Here are some pointers for your retreat:

1. Start and end with God.

Put your agenda aside. Focus on His strengths and skills. Fall in love with Him again. Be wowed by His power and wisdom. Worship Him, not for what He has done for you, but for who He is.

If you find your mind trailing off, use the alphabet to stay fixed on Him. Come up with a word that describes God from every letter in the alphabet.

2. Use a variety of worship techniques.

  • Walk with Him in nature.
  • Take photos of His creation.
  • Sing along to praise music.
  • Dance to the tune.
  • Draw.
  • Invent your own sign-language to symbolize the lyrics.
  • Personalize Scripture.

3. Get filled up.

Surrender your life to God again. 100% God and 0% you.

Once you are filled up and yielded, then you are ready to proceed.

4. Evaluate the year just ending.

  • What surprised you?
  • What exceeded your goals?
  • What derailed or disappointed you?
  • What is still left undone?
  • What desires and direction did God plant in you that indicates the New Year will look different?
  • What was within your control to do that you procrastinated?
  • What was not within your power that changed your plans?

Give the old year to God. Leave it behind without regrets as you move into the New Year.

Clean slate: either a second chance to get your current goals accomplished or brand new goals for a brand new year.

5. Ask God to show you His plans for your New Year.

Don’t merely ask Him to bless your agenda.

Be willing to follow God’s lead wherever it takes you—out of your comfort zone and into the faith-zone.

People ask my secret to getting so much done, and goal-setting is the root of my productivity. It’s not about success as the world sees it, or achievement. I’m focused on being and doing everything God has designed for my life.

Here’s a sample template for my goal-setting session. It varies depending on the year, so feel free to alter it to fit your needs.

  • My spiritual growth goals for 2017 include:
  • My mental/emotional growth goals for 2017 include:
  • My physical goals for 2017 include:
  • I will use my ability of ______ by doing:
  • I will work on a relationship with:
  • Finances will improve when:
  • I will read ___ books.
  • To be healthier, I will:
  • I have a problem procrastinating. This year I will improve in the area of:

Fill out your goal worksheet, then sign it as an indication you will give 100% to God’s agenda.

Does God have a surprise for you in the New Year? Put on your eyes of faith so you can see it when it arrives.

Kathy Carlton Willis shines for God, reflecting His light as a speaker at writer's conferences and women's retreats, and as an author - contributing to three books and writing hundreds of columns and articles online and in print publications. She wrote Grin with Gracewith AMG Publishers and has several books releasing over the next few years. She and her husband Russ live in Texas with Jazzy, their hilarious Boston Terrier.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of depaulus, Pixabay


When Faith's Song Goes Silent

When I think of Cynthia Ruchti, I think of hope and wisdom. It's the hallmark of her life and ministry. In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, she calls us to value the unique song of silence.

“What happens," Cynthia says, "when faith’s song goes silent? Or is missing key notes? Or grates on our nerves because it feels out of tune?”

Oh, how well I (Dawn) remember a whole long year when faith's song felt out of tune. I was miserable and depressed. And I know what Cynthia says is true.

Cynthia continues . . .

Many of us express our faith in song:

  • He’s a Good, Good Father
  • I’m Standing on the Promises of God
  • He’s All I Need
  • How Great Is Our God
  • This Is Amazing Grace
  • Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine

But the heart doesn’t always feel like singing, at least not an upbeat, confident, triumphant song.

Life’s circumstances can threaten to turn our “praise songs that work great for cardio exercises” into a dirge, a lament, or a barely-hanging-on-how-miserable-can-this-get? blues tune.

Every time we open to the book of Psalms in the Bible, we’re reminded it’s not a twenty-first century problem. Listen to the way the psalmist David intertwined the wrestlings of his faith with the truths that held him in their grip:

“Get me out of this net that’s been set for me because you are my protective fortress(Psalm 31:4 CEB).

“I rejoice and celebrate in your faithful love because you saw my suffering—you were intimately acquainted with my deep distress” (Psalm 31:7 CEB).

“Have mercy on me, Lord, because I am depressed. My vision fails because of my grief, As do my spirit and my body ...

"Strength fails me ...

"I’m a joke to all my enemies ... I scare my friends, And whoever sees me in the street Runs away ...

"I am forgotten, like I’m dead, Completely out of my mind ...

"But me? I trust you, Lord! I affirm, ‘You are my God.’ My future is in your hands(Psalm 31:9-15 CEB).

No matter how long the lament, how soul-rattling its lyrics, how far distanced from hope its tune, the song turns from minor key to major when the Truth gets its solo.

When faith’s song seems to have gone silent, for whatever logical or unexplainable reason, we have options:

  • Listen to the fear-inducing noise our rusty, creaking soul makes in the hollow, silent spaces.
  • Listen to the unbelieving or skeptical world that claims silence is a sign of God’s absence, despite reassurances to the contrary in God’s never-silent, never-will-I-leave-you-or-forsake-you Word.
  • Realize that silence is its own song.

My music educator father often said, “Play the rests with as much intensity and focus as you do the notes on the page. Rests are not moments of nothingness. Play the rests.”

When only twenty-two, the hymn writer Robert Robinson penned these faith-gone-silent words in 1757. How true they ring today.

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

Listen for the significant, pregnant-with-promise moment of silence after that familiar confession in this modern version (video) at the 5:15 mark. It will steal your breath, and steel your resolve to keep listening in the silence.

Do you value the silence or fear it? And if your answer is fear, reflect on the “and”the moment of resting and regrouping—in Psalm 46:10.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Unlike many other verses in the Bible, these eight words appear without alteration in translation after translation. These words.

Stillness—or silence—was prescribed by God as a prelude, or an accompaniment, to knowing He is God, and finding our rest and courage in that truth. Is it in part because a whisper sounds loud in the silence?

So I’ll ask again, and prepare myself to answer the questions honestly too.

     Do you value silence?

          Have you heard its song?

               What did it teach you?

Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in hope. She’s the award-winning author of more than eighteen books and a frequent speaker for women’s ministry events. She and her husband live in the heart of Wisconsin. Connect with her at or hemmedinhope; or check out her recent releaseSong of Silence.

Graphic of bench, courtesty of Morguefile.