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Yvonne Ortega

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Gail Purath

Marcia Ramsland

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And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson


Entries in Thanksgiving (11)


"Thank God!" (Even When Life's a Struggle)

As I (Dawn) wrote this Thanksgiving UPGRADE, I was so aware of people I know who are struggling this year. How can they be thankful? 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us it is God's will that we be thankful IN all things—in the midst of them—not FOR all things. (1 Thess. 5:18)

I think this is an important distinction, because frankly, sometimes life stinks. Pain. Loss. Confusion. Offenses. Desperation. Suffering.

Yet we can learn to be grateful in the midst of it all.

I remember the Thanksgiving after America’s 9-11, with the destruction of the Twin Towers and so much suffering. The grief was overwhelming.

And then stories came out that warmed my heart. People were searching for something good in all their pain.

I remember friends struggling last year in Texas with the flooding after Hurricane Harvey.

And yet some reached out to bless others. (I have a personal story of a flood “victim” who turned her loss into a victorious opportunity to help my family in another state!)

I think back to a time of deep personal pain, and how friends and family gathered around my husband and I to help us move forward in so many ways.

Their kindness helped us embrace the future, and I thank God for them.

I think about the wildfires California has experienced in recent years and especially this fall. Homes lost. Deaths. Incalculable pain. So many questions.

And then again, in the midst of calamity, stories of kindness and hope.

While I’m no Pollyanna, I do try to search for things to be grateful for when I hurt—a solidly biblical approach to life’s struggles.

I believe there are times for legitimate lament as well as celebrations.

If you doubt that, search out the Psalms of lament, or even the book of Lamentations. Part of learning to grieve well is getting a biblical perspective on all the pain. It doesn’t erase the pain, but it helps us bear up under the suffering with a sense of hope in God.

Ask God to help you see His good hand and loving heart in your circumstances.

I think this Thanksgiving Day I will meditate—as many others are this year—on some of the things we can be grateful for even when life is tough and confusing.

For that, I go to the solid, unshakeable rock of scripture.

1. "Thank God!"—He is always good. Even when life seems unbearably bad.

Psalm 31:19 - His love is abundant, stored up for those who take refuge in Him.

Psalm 34:8 - Taste and see ... He is good.

Psalm 59:16-17 - God is our fortress and refuge in the day of distress.

2. "Thank God!"—Our lives find meaning when we are centered in the Lord.

Philippians 1:21 - He is the center of our lives and, in Christ, even death is gain.

Philippians 3:7-8 - Even if we suffer great losses, nothing can compare to what we gain in Him.

Philippians 4:11-12 - He teaches us how to face great abundance and great need.

James 1:17 - Every good gift we have is from the Lord.

3. "Thank God!"—Even though tough things happen (because we live in a world cursed by sin), our Father has a big-picture plan of redemption.

Heb. 12:10-11 - Our most painful struggles discipline us and yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

James 1:2-4, 12 - Our trials produce steadfastness and cultivate maturity.

I Pet. 5:9-10 - We may suffer, but the God of all grace desires to restore and strengthen us.

Rom. 8:28 - He redeems His children's circumstances, creating something good.

Jer. 29:11-13 - He desires to give us a future and hope so we will seek Him with all our heart.

4. "Thank God!"—Suffering won’t last forever; but in the meantime, there are opportunities for blessing even in our suffering.

Psalm 71:20 - God will "bring us up" from our troubles and calamities.

Jer. 31:13 - God turned His people's mourning and sorrow into comfort and gladness.

1 Peter 3:13-17 - When we suffer for righteousness' sake—for doing good—God will still bless us.

5. "Thank God!"—There is always hope, because we can go through anything in the Lord's strength.

Phil. 4:13 - We can do all things—everything we need to do—through strength in Christ.

Psalm 18:28-29 - God lightens our darkness and gives us His power and strength.

6. "Thank God!"—We can experience Him—His help and healing—in His many attributes.

One thing is certain: This side of heaven we will all face trials and struggles sooner or later.

In time, we will all feel physical, mental, emotional, social or spiritual pain at some level. 

Thank God, we can learn the truths of scripture now—to prepare our hearts for when troubles come.

Which of these "Thank God" truths can help you most today? Are there any scriptures you could memorize to "store up" for difficult times?

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 adapted, courtesy of Julie at Lightstock.


5 Tips to Strategically Simplify Your Holiday Season

Because Marcia Ramsland is one of the most organized people I know during the holiday season, I asked her to prepare us for Thanksgiving and Christmas with some helpful strategies.

This Holiday UPGRADE is based on her practical book, Simplify Your Holiday Season, and it includes a free download!

“If you do anything more than once in life," Marcia says, "organize it and simplify it. That’s especially true for the holidays that come year after year like clockwork. “  

I (Dawn) totally agree with the "organize and simplify" concept. Along with walking in the Spirit and experiencing His peace in our hearts (Galatians 5:16, 22), one of the blessings of being properly prepared for the holidays is the peace that flows into our celebrations and activities!

Marcia continues . . .

There is ONE DATE that signals it’s time to launch your holiday planning every year—November 1st.

Knowing that, you can be ready and sail through the holidays by taking these five action steps early. These five steps—and my free 8-Week Holiday Planning Calendar—will get you ready early and make it the peaceful Thanksgiving and Christmas season you’ve always dreamed of.

1.  Mark Your Holiday Dates for November and December.

Thanksgiving is “early” this year on November 23, which means Christmas is a little over four weeks after Thanksgiving. That’s really good news!

But you still need to follow a good Calendar Plan so too many details don’t mount up at the end to cause you holiday stress.

2.  Write A Master Gift List.

List the names of people that you are planning to give gifts to. Better yet, FIND YOUR LIST from last year and follow that same order early in November.

Can’t find last year’s list? You could download my free Master Gift List.

You can download the 2017 Free Master GIFT LIST and Holiday CALENDARhere.

(NOTE: If you already have my Holiday planner, put the list in the front pocket!)

3. Organize Your Gift Wrap Center.

Right now, you don’t have to wrap any gifts. Just organize your Gift Wrap Center with 7 key items all together, say in an under-the-bed box or drawer. 

Include: holiday wrapping paper, gift bags, gift tags, fresh tissue paper, bows & ribbons, scotch tape and a dedicated pen. Get it organized and ready to use.

4. Plan Ahead by Writing Things Down.

Mark your calendar with family coming to town, favorite concerts, kids school vacation dates, and business vacation days. This forms the structure for your holiday season.

5. Sort Your Holiday Decorations Early.

The best weekend to put up Christmas decorations this year will be Thanksgiving weekend or the weekend after, but not turning on lights until December 1.

That way you can enjoy them for five weeks before taking them down after New Year’s weekend.

Donate what you don’t use early in December. Why?

1) Someone else can enjoy your excess decorations this Christmas.

2) Charities won’t take them after Christmas, because they don’t have room to store them for 11 months.

Free up space by donating this year!

Planning is powerful! And with a good plan and your eye on the calendar, you can simplify your holiday season.

Instead of playing “catch-up” and feeling stressed, you will experience freedom and calm.

With an organized plan in action every week—written out on an 8-Week Holiday Calendar Plan—you can say wholeheartedly like the angelic heavenly host who praised God when they appeared to the shepherds and said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” Luke 2:13-14.

Let me share a holiday prayer just for you.

"Dear God, today as I work on preparing my heart and home for Christmas, may I reflect on the events of the first Christmas and find strength in knowing you have a special plan for my holidays this year.” Amen

What holiday activity will you start this weekend to make sure you’re calm and ready to celebrate this holiday season?

Marcia Ramsland, the Holiday Coach, is the author of two holiday books: Simplify Your Holiday Season: Turn Seasonal Stress into Holiday Success” and Simply December Devotions and was a spokesperson for Sam’s Club Holiday Entertaining. Download Marcia's free 2017 Holiday Calendar and Master Gift List HERE

Thanksgiving/Christmas blocks in the graphic available at BuzzingBeesCrafts on, while quantities last.


Pursuing Happiness? Upgrade to Joy!

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

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

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

Joanie continues . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy is eternal. It transcends our circumstances.

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

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

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

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

How can we upgrade happiness to joy?

1. Thanksgiving 

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

2. Praise

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

3. Scripture

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

4. Testimony

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

5. Helping Others

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

6. Forgive

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

Forgiveness generates joy.

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

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

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

Graphic adapted, courtesy of dimitrisvetsikas-Pixabay.


I Can (Thanks to Jesus!)

In this Thanksgiving UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson invites us to be thankful for all the things we can do ... in Christ.

I was one of those bratty kids who stomped her feet and pouted with an obstinate, "I CAN'T!"

Mom would hear none of it. She promptly showed me how quickly I could, with a little "backside encouragement," do what she asked.

Old habits die hard. I still tend to say, "I can't," whenever the Lord asks me to do something.

God says, "Invite that woman to church."

"I can't. I'm afraid."

Or, "Teach that class."

"I can't. I'm not as smart as so-and-so."

Sometimes my "can't" really is a stubborn "won't," but most of the time it's because I think I'm not enough.

Not good enough, smart enough, young enough, connected enough. So many excuses.

You'd think I would have learned by now that God is my sufficiency in all things—especially those things HE calls me to do.

It's not that we are necessarily qualified to do anything on our own, but our competence and sufficiency come from the Lord—"It is God who makes us able to do all that we do" (2 Corinthians 3:4-5).

It's amazing how scripture can cut through all the "I can't-because-I'm-not-enough" excuses.

Here is another verse that is often quoted (and seldom fully embraced):

"I can do all things," it says in Phillipians 4:3, "through Christ who strengthens me."

All things.

Through Christ.

Believing that truth frees me to choose wisely, grow strong and be faithful to all God calls me to do.

I've learned that:

1. In Christ, I can DO it.

I can do the hard things. The things I've avoided, made excuses about or feared.

I can even do the thing the enemy keeps throwing up to me as "impossible," because "with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).

2. In Christ, I can FACE it.

I can face my ugly past—and we all have one, from God's perspective. I can do this because God has forgiven me and made me righteous in Christ and right with God (1 John 1:9; Ephesians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

I can face tough circumstances now because the Spirit of the Lord is with me (Psalm 118:6; 23:4; Matthew 28:20b).

I can face an uncertain future with hope and confidence too! (Psalm 23:6; 2 Corinthians 5:6, 8; Romans 8:28). 

3. In Christ, I can OVERCOME it.

I can take heart because Jesus, who has already overcome the world (John 16:33), can help me overcome my sins and addictions. God is faithful to help me, and when I am weak, He is strong (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 12:10).

By faith, I can overcome, because Jesus in me is greater than the enemy Satan and his hoard of demons (1 John 4:4; 5:4). I can CHOOSE not to be overcome by evil, but instead CHOOSE to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

I am an overcomer, because I am no longer a slave to sin. God's light has shined into my darkness and changed my heart (John 1:5; Romans 6:6, 6:18; Galatians 4:7).

Why did I make this "I Can" post my Thanksgiving praise today?

I praise the Lord for all the BLESSINGS that have come into my life because of this great truth: I CAN ... in Christ! 

When have you said, "I can't"? What is God telling you today?

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.


Count on God and Count Your Blessings

Sharon Paavola is one of those trophies of God's grace; I've seen the Lord work powerfully in her life and in the lives of those she loves. In this special Thanksgiving UPGRACEwhich is also a spiritual UPLIFTshe encourages us to be joyful on "two counts."

"My husband accepted Christ later in life," Sharon says.

I (Dawn) think it's always special when people receive the Lord, but there can be challenges when that choice comes later rather than sooner. But Sharon experienced an unexpected blessing in a lesson from the Lord after her husband came to Christ.

Sharon continues . . .

My husband accepted Christ later in life seven years after we married. 

He had not grown up in a Christian home and attended church seldom as a child. His first prayers were precious and at mealtimes he thanked God for simple things like our home, our dogs and for always having abundant food to eat.

Most of his prayers ended and still do with thankfulness for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins and the gift of eternal life. 

I grew up in a pastor’s home where mealtime thanks could become routine, but not rote.

Eric’s petitions were fresh. They were not tainted by years of hearing the same words.

I realized I had accepted a pattern of praying.

Listening to Eric brought me up short. I realized how rarely before eating I truly thanked God with my heart. 

Now our pre-meal petitions contain random praise for all kinds of daily mercy and blessings. As a result of this practice, I have incorporated thankfulness into my communication to God in new ways. Throughout my day, I find small and large situations and events to be grateful to God. 

I have also learned that:

  • Thanking Him before He has answered my prayers for how He will work brings hope and expectation, releasing the worry or anxiousness of the need.
  • Praising Him for glorifying His name leads to more faith. What joy comes then when He does answer even if it is not what I had anticipated. 

During the years I taught a Bible Study at my church, I told my leaders when a "mountain" came against us, "God knew this was going to happen. He is not surprised. He has already gone ahead of us to work out the details, smooth the path, and solve this situation. We only need to thank Him.”

I saw their shoulders drop and heard big sighs.

God remains faithful! We can count on him as Psalm 40:5 says:

“O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.”

I have often sung the hymn, "Count Your Blessings" at Thanksgiving time. It is quite appropriate in our spiritual lives daily and at mealtimes to count our blessings.

Thank the Lord even for the heartaches, the losses and the unexpectedanticipating how He will work.

We can thank God for many ways He has blessed us.

In my life today:

  • I thank God for my contacts and my glasses that allow me to see as well as I do. I started wearing glasses for nearsightedness at age ten. Now I am considered legally blind and have glaucoma and cataracts. I also need glasses for reading. I want God to know how grateful I feel to see as well as I do. I sometimes whine about my eyesight, but as I put my contacts away at bedtime, I realize what an amazing invention they are for me and am grateful again.
  • I thank Him for a comfortable bed to sleep in every night, for a mind that thinks as well as it does, and for the gift of my sweet puppy dogs.
  • I thank the Lord for my darling 10-month-old grandson. He is a miracle! Years of tears went before him, and through in vitro fertilization he was born to my daughter and her husband. That is a big thank you!
  • We thank God every night at dinner for our salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ's sacrifice.

In summary:

  1. Thank God for all things—and always for His salvation plan.
  2. Daily run a constant praise to Him for what He has done throughout those twenty-four hours.
  3. Give Him gratefulness for how He will answer our prayers, no matter how difficult or impossible.
  4. Appreciate the unexpected and how God paves the way before we even knew it would happen.

Are you joyful on two counts? Are you counting on God today? How will you count your blessings? (Can you name them one by one?)

Sharon Paavola writes a blog on book reviews and her thoughts for assisting women to find peace and healing from depression, pain and loss. She loves being a new grandmother, has been married for twenty-three years, and has three grown children. When not reading books, she sews, walks, and gardens. She helps lead a post abortion recovery Bible Study and assists at her Precepts study at her church. Learn more about Sharon on her blog.