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And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson


Entries in Upgrade with Dawn (480)


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.


Left Unsaid: Two Perspectives

In this Relationship UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson reminds us there are words best left unsaid, but others that need to be said.

"Words, along with all the manifestations of Christlike love, are a key to good relationships," Dawn says, "but do we truly care how we use our words?"

Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak,” and the wise Christian will learn when and what words are appropriate.

I. Some Words Need to Be Left Unsaid.

There’s a time to be silent.

I cannot count all the times I’ve “bit my tongue” during my marriage. Once I actually bit it as I started to say something sarcastic, then shut my mouth quickly and my tongue ended up between my teeth. My sarcasm bit me back!

Words can bless and encourage, but wisdom guards the tongue, knowing how hurtful and destructive words can be.

Words best left unsaid come from heart issues.

For example:

  • Haughty words come from a proud heart.
  • Ungrateful words come from a selfish heart.
  • Condemning words come from a jealous heart or an unforgiving heart.

James warns we need to bridle our tongues (James 1:26) or tame them if we want to live as a true Christ-follower. We must discipline the tongue, because it is unruly and rebellious.

My friend Kimberly Wagner shared 10 excellent ways to guard and tame the tongue. My favorite is to learn the H-A-L-T Principle. Learn to restrain your words—shut your mouth—and delay conversations when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. (Smart lady!)

Basically, in the flesh, we tend to spout off with "corrupting talk," but the Holy Spirit can give us the wisdom and grace to speak life-giving words (Ephesians 4:29).

II. Some Words Must Never Be Left Unsaid.

Yes, there's a time to be silent. But then, there’s a time to speak up!

Many Christians who have learned when to be silent have forgotten what it means to not be silent when speaking up is important, helpful, or sometimes even crucial.

1. We need to speak up about our greatest love—Jesus!

We need to fearlessly speak up about Jesus, because we have the promise that the Holy Spirit will help us (Mark 13:11) and His Word will not return to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11).

David Robertson, a minister in Dundee, Scotland, wrote that he was once a “secret Christian” because he wasn’t sure he could bear the social stigma of living in post-Christian Scotland. He says a group of Christians at his school asked if he would speak on their behalf in a debate and he reluctantly agreed.

After the debate, the head of the English department congratulated his "performance," but added, “You almost had me persuaded that you really were a Christian.” Robertson replied, “Sir, I am. And that is the last time anyone will say that to me.”

Robertson learned to speak up—what he calls “ordinary, courageous speaking”—out of love for the Lord.

“We speak up because we love Jesus and we want to see Him glorified,” he said. “We speak up, not to defend ourselves, but because we love those we are speaking to and want them to share in the greatest gift of all: Christ.”

2. We need to speak up when evil seems to prevail.

In a culture gone wild, with social norms crumbling and evil prevailing, Christians can’t sit back and “observe.” We have to speak up.

Rather than running away and hiding, we need to turn and face the enemy and speak the truth.

How the enemy responds is not our responsibility. Peter and John responded to the rulers who told them not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore (Acts 4:13-20) because they knew their culture’s only hope was the Savior.

“… we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard,” they said.

We don’t have to “win” arguments. We only have to stand up and speak up, and tell people God’s perspective as found in the Word.

It’s not about our opinions; it’s His truth.

When we speak the truth—always with the motive of love (Ephesians 4:14-15)—the Holy Spirit can use our words to make an impression for righteousness in the world and help our spiritual brothers and sisters mature into Christ.

3. We need to speak up when our brothers or sisters struggle or hurt.

Christians are meant to speak encouraging words to one another to build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), especially in times of struggle or pain.

We may think about sharing words of comfort, encouragement, challenge or hope ... but unless we act and actually speak up, how will our friends and family be helped?

Words of encouragement are sometimes like soothing oil, helping others to bear up under their burdens (Galatians 6:2). Other times they are like motivating cheerleaders, lifting people up (Proverbs 12:25) and stirring them up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:23-25).

What should be left unsaid, and what should not be left unsaid?

It might be wise to examine our hearts regularly, because we must never forget: the tongue has power to hurt and also power to heal.

"Death and Life are in the power of the tongue...." (Proverbs 18:21).

What about you? Do you need to seek forgiveness for hurtful, destructive words? Are there words someone in your circle of influence desperately needs to hear?

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 Prawny at Morguefile.


Motherhood: A Bumpy, Painful Road to Navigate

I've watched Julie Watson's life for several year. I saw her godly heart. Her commitment to good health and positive choices. Especially her choice, with her husband, to give three children a home where they can grow in every aspect of their lives. In this special Mother's Day UPGRADE, she shares her heart about that "mothering" journey, and offers positive principles for all of us who are mothers or who work with children.

“Motherhood.  Why didn’t anyone warn me how painful it can be!” Julie says. 

Painful? I (Dawn) thought at times, "excruciating!" Though I see now, on the other side of parenting, all the blessings that came our way, I still have memories of frustrating, trying days.

Julie continues . . .

Before becoming a mother at the late age of 45, I used to dread Mother’s Day! Year after year, I watched friends attend special Mother’s Day celebrations, receive sweet gifts made by tiny hands who revered the ground they walked on, and sip on sweet gestures from husbands who did their best to make the day special.

Each year that just reminded me that I still wasn’t a mother. My husband did his best to make my day fun, as a mom to several “fur kids.” 

But the pain was real. It hurt. And, I was not alone.

I found many women felt the same way. Those who, like me, couldn’t have children of their own, or had lost children, had pain-filled memories of their childhood, or a poor relationship with their mother. There were many reasons for the pain, but it was there. 

Fast forward 17 years!

I became a foster mom to three beautiful children.

Yet, Mother’s Day still did not feel “real” to me, because nothing is official with foster kids.

It would be another two Mother’s Days until I got my wish!

Mother’s Day 2016 was truly my first. Yes, I received those sweet little hand-made gifts, happy smiles, big hugs, and all the yummy goodness that comes with it... for about an hour.

Then, it went right back into the toils of war!

Parenthood is hard! Being a mom is HARD!

All those years dreaming of it, yet I only pictured the warm hugs, smiling faces, and Norman Rockwell moments that filled my head from one too many Hallmark movies.

I neglected to focus on the screaming tantrums, sibling rivalries, moments of sheer chaos, and the first time I was told, “I hate you,” by those same sweet, little darlings I dreamt of for years.

Motherhood is gritty and unpleasant at best most days. At least, it was for me for several years.  We are just starting to turn corners now, but every few days they remind me we haven’t really—at least not yet. 

Yes, we have lovely moments sprinkled throughout our days and weeks. I treasure those... truly!  We talk and laugh, dance and sing, watch movies, and share the love of Jesus. We’re a regular family just like anyone else. 

But my kids have a past. It isn’t pretty, easy, or loving.

It was filled with neglect, abuse, feeling unloved and unwanted for years. One can’t overcome that overnight. No. It takes years! 

And so, we wait, love them, and work through their issues together, one day at a time.  We know God turns beauty from ashes and joy from mourning (Isaiah 61:3)!

Whether you’re a biological, adopted, foster, grand, or step mother, please know there are proactive things you can do to reach your child, as well as ways to cling to God during this bumpy and painful road of motherhood.

1. Listen

Open your ears and heart and hear what your children are saying—not just with their mouths, but with their behaviors too. 

Children often can’t process their emotions because they don’t understand what they’re feeling or have experienced. Get down to eye level with them and let them talk to you.

They may need to punch a pillow because they don’t know how to handle their anger. It’s ok. They just want to be heard and acknowledged that their feelings are real and they matter.

Spiritual Counsel—Go to the Lord in prayer, and listen to Him.  He will speak to your heart and refresh your spirit. 

Be still, and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10). See also Jeremiah 31:25 and Isaiah 40:31.

2. Read their body language.

My kids always have tell-tale signs of their real feelings. I acknowledge what I’m seeing as well as what they say they’re feeling.

Then, we offer a safe space to talk about it and what it really means deep down. (For example:  they say, “I’m fine” or “I’m not mad,” yet their hands are balled up into fists.)

Spiritual Counsel—Use wisdom to decipher the truth and don’t let their fears control the outcome.

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Also, “…let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance…” (Proverbs 1:5).

3. Speak life and positivity into your child. 

They hear so much negativity all the time. Remind them of their godly gifts and talents, and that God has a perfect purpose and plan for their life!

Spiritual Counsel—Read the Word to guide you in raising your child in a godly way. The Bible is great resource for parental guidance. 

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). See also Jeremiah 29:11.

Are you struggling today with being a mom? You are not alone. Reach out to other moms for help and support! We need to stick together, not compare or condemn one another.

As soon as we realize we are stronger together, we might just come out of this bumpy, painful journey alive and sane!

What can you do to reach out to the children in your care and speak to their deepest heart needs? Who is in your “mom support group”?

Julie Watson worked in women’s and children’s ministries for 10 years as a Development and Executive Director before becoming a stay-at-home mom to three beautiful children. In 2016, God created a beautiful forever family when she and her husband, Shawn, were able to legally adopt the children. Julie now helps others find hope and freedom from emotional eating & unhealthy habits as a C.O.P.E. Certified Health Coach.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Theo Rivierenlaan at Pixabay.

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