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And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson



Waiting on God for Dreams to Come True

Cathy Horning is a rare jewel of wisdom. The more I've gotten to know her, the more I realize we are heart-sisters with the same passion for the Lord and His truth. In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, she focuses on a popular topic: dreams.

Cathy asks, "Do you have a dream? One you have waited a long time to come true? A dream, that perhaps, you have all but given up on? Me too!"

Cathy's article came along at a time when I (Dawn) have been talking to the Lord much about dreams. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate her insight!

Cathy continues . . . 

I'd almost given up on a dream—until this summer when this nearly-60-year-old grandmother saw a childhood dream come true.  

1. God’s Timing; Not Mine!

I was 12 when I first decided I wanted to write a book. My books were going to be juicy, the kind of novels sold on racks near the checkout counter at the grocery store.

Then I met Jesus, and in His great wisdom, He tucked away my dream while He worked to grow me up and build my faith.

But one day, it was as if the Lord took my forgotten dream off of a shelf in my heart, dusted it off, and handed it back to me.

It was as if He said, “Remember when you wanted to write books for the world? Now, I want you to write books for Me.”

2. God Takes the Little We Have to Offer.

I was thrilled to rediscover my long forgotten dream. Eagerly, I began to write a weekly devotional for my women’s Bible study group.

Then, a few months later, I received two letters in the mail. Each note, from a young mom who had recently moved away, contained nearly-identical messages: “I have watched you as a mom … can you write to me about parenting?”

I cried. This just couldn’t be a coincidence.

But why would they ask me?

I prayed. God answered. And, I began to write letters—one letter a month for the next year and a half.

I mailed them to my two mom friends, then to a dozen more, and eventually to more than one hundred mamas.

In the days before social media and blogs, with four active children and my husband’s demanding career, it was the little I had to offer.

3. God Uses Detours, Delays and Busy Days.

Life got crazy, and my letter writing ended. God called us to a season of home schooling. Then we moved. Our new home soon became the hub for all of our teenagers’ friends. Plus, we kept busy with sports and hosting dinners, parties and youth events. Our basement was the place for our sons’ band, our daughter’s darkroom, and eventually, a dormitory for boys who wanted to move out, but couldn’t quite afford it.

Our lives were abundantly full.

I continued to teach Bible studies and speak at women’s events, but I did little writing.

Looking back now, there is no way I could have imagined how the Lord was using that very busy season of life to prepare, train and equip me (and our whole family) for purposes He had further down the road.  

4. God Will Give A Loving Nudge.

On occasions when I did speak or teach, I was often asked, “Do you have a book?” No, I hated to admit, I had nothing written.

However, that all changed on a flight to Arizona. The woman across the aisle recognized me from the gym, and for the next hour I had the opportunity to share with her the message I would give the following day. As we prepared to exit the plane, she called out, “I need your message. Do you have it written anywhere?”

I was utterly convicted.

So that summer, the year I turned 50, I began to write again. A book seemed daunting, so I decided to begin a blog.

Never again would I tell a hurting soul, “I have nothing written.”

5. God Rewards Sacrifice, Surrender and Obedience.

Our kids went off to college. Then there were weddings, and grandchildren began to arrive. As our family grew, our parents aged, and there were many unexpected health challenges and great family needs.

Through it all, I continued to blog as I was able. I worked to hone my writing skills, as I prayed my posts would encourage others.

Amidst all this, a spiritual season of winter hit hard. There were three long years of dying to self, serving my family, and surrendering my dreams to Jesus.

I began to believe my years of ministry were over.

Yet, as my hope waned, the Lord began to show me signs of spring. And slowly, this past year, God again opened doors for travel, to speak, and to show me that it was now time to write my book.

6. God’s Plan—for Such a Time as This.

Much to my delight, this summer—the year before I turn 60—my childhood dream came true! 

  • I cried as I held in my hands my very first book.
  • I praised God.
  • And, I dedicated it to the Lord.

You see, to my amazement my first book was filled with the parenting letters I had written twenty-one years earlier, even though I had long lost hope those letters would ever be a book.

But God knew. He had a plan that in His time and His way they would become my very first book, as He has whispered His word to me all year, “Who knows if you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

My dear sisters, do you have a dream God has placed in your heart? Does it sometimes seem they will never come true? Or, that it is too late or you are too old? 

Let me assure you, as you walk with Jesus day-by-day, in His perfect plan and time, He will bring to pass and allow to come true the dreams He has planted in your heart.

Please don’t ever give up!

What dream has the Lord placed in your heart? Which of these six points help you to trust God with your dreams today?

Cathy Horning has been a women’s ministry leader, Bible Study teacher, speaker and writer for more than 25 years. She loves the Word of God. Nothing brings her greater joy than sharing with others how very precious, practical, and powerful the promises and truths in God's Word. Married for 34 years, Cathy has four grown children, 10 grandchildren, and many spiritual sons and daughters. She loves long walks by the bay, a good book or movie, Starbucks ice tea, and especially family get-togethers. Her new book is Letters from a Mother's Heart. Read more by Cathy at her website.

Graphic adapted, courtesty of StockSnap at Pixabay.


Reasons, Not Excuses

In this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson admits to her own struggle with excuses, and how a more biblical perspective has helped her grow to be more like Jesus.

"There really is no personal growth or progress until we stop making excuses for bad behavior, bad habits, and wrong choices."

As a young pastor’s wife, I remember counseling a woman and hearing her litany of excuses.

Finally, when I could take no more, I lovingly but firmly said, “Those are all reasons—maybe even valid reasons—for you to feel the way you do, but they are not excuses for your behavior, because you have the living Holy Spirit dwelling in you, and He can empower you to do what is right.”

The woman seemed stunned. She stopped talking, blinked at me a few times, and said, “You know, you’re absolutely right. They are reasons, not excuses.”

That kind of counsel is easy to give, but hard to follow.

I’ve struggled in my own life with a list of excuses—and God’s Spirit kindly returns the counsel that I’ve given to others.

When it comes to making wise, biblical choices, there is never a place for excuses after the fact.

We simply chose not to do what we knew was right.

  • We may have been motivated by lies.
  • We may have had ulterior motives.
  • We may have chosen to fear man rather than God.
  • We may have lacked faith at that moment, or hope.
  • We may have given in to our emotions rather than living by the truth of scripture.

There can be hundreds of reasons for wrong choices.

God wants us to OWN UP to our wrong choices.

Some are sins that need to be confessed in true repentance (I John 1:8-9). Other choices are simply not wise—not necessarily sin, but not the best (Proverbs 1:7).

We can’t move on to make better choices when we cling to excuses and try to justify our words or behavior.

What should we do instead of making excuses?

1. Listen to your Conversations.

What do you say when you "mess up"? Are you always defending yourself? (See Proverbs 16:2, 25.)

What do you say to others when you make sinful choices? What do you say to yourself? Not only that: what excuses are you making in prayers to the Lord? 

I'm not kidding. I found myself excusing a sinful habit in prayer because "that's just the way I am, Lord." What was I doing? I was accusing God of making me sin!

The Lord wanted me to understand my position in Christ, and not give in to the enemy's evaluation of who I am!

How often are you making excuses?  (See Proverbs 16:2, 25; 21:2).

2. List your reasons for not following through with wisdom and obedience.

Take time to sincerely consider why you do what you do. Be honest!

The person who conceals or tries to cover up failings "will not prosper" (Proverbs 28:13a).

What motivates you to make unwise choices? Call that motivation by name.

I discovered in dealing with one of my own besetting sins, I was soft-pedaling my sinful overeating. It wasn't until I named the sinful motivation as gluttony and even idolatry that I began to see some changes in my attitudes and approach to obeying the Lord regarding my health. No more excuses!

Why do you think you disobeyed? Was it rebellion or ignorance of the truth (or something else)? Dealing with a root of rebellion or idolatry is different than ignorance—and the Spirit of God will encourage you to deal with them in different ways.

Examining the reasons behind sins and failings can bring you greater understanding.

3. Learn to acknowledge any wrong, sinful, or unwise choices—quickly!

If it is sinful, confess it (1 John 1:9) and then deal with your sin biblically. The person who confesses and forsakes sins "will obtain mercy" (Proverbs 28:13b).

Run to the cross and remember why Jesus died. No sin is too great to bring to the cross!

I remember the day it hit me.

Dawn, stop making excuses, because . . .

Jesus didn't die for your excuses!

Don't ever allow the enemy to convince you that you have no other choice. God provides a "way of escape" (1 Corinthians 10:13), but we have to be alert to it, and that's harder when you're listening to the devil's lies.

Determine to take the holy escape, not the harmful excuse!

Ask the Lord to help you, then make yourself available to Him. Keep in step with the Spirit of God! (Galatians 5:16).

4. Lean in to the unchanging Word of God and the Spirit of God.

The Lord will help you as you continue to counsel your hearts according to scripture and keep in step with the Holy Spirit. Ask Him for a heart that wants to hear and increase learning, wise counsel "and the skill" to steer your course wisely (Proverbs 1:5).

Excuses are fruitless. Rationalizing and justifying doesn't change anything.

But figuring out the reasons for our failings and then dealing with them God's way—that sets us up for a life of fullness and fruitfulness in Christ.

In what area/s of life are you making excuses? Can you see how the enemy uses that? What can you do to stop making excuses and live according to the truth?

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 knerri61 at Pixabay.


Singleness and Family - Part 2

Nali Hilderman is a successful single with a powerful message of hope in Christ. In this Relationship UPGRADE, she focuses on Christian singles and their relationship to the empowering, encouraging family of God.

"Last year I wrote about singleness and the desire for family," Nali says. "I had three suggestions for fulfilling the longing for family when there’s not much you can do about it, but I forgot what may be the most important “remedy” for singleness and family: The Body of Jesus—the Church! 

I (Dawn) think Nali is right! The Body of Christ came alongside me in my single days in so many wonderful ways, but I didn't think about the Church as the gift it was, at the time. I like Nali's proactive approach!

Nali continues . . . 

I was reminded of this oversight when I recently revisited a book called, When the Church was a Family: Recapturing Jesus’ Vision for Authentic Christian Community by Joseph Hellerman. 

Hellerman lays out the communal, family loyalty of the first century Mediterranean world and this cultural reality shaped the first century church.

Hellerman’s point in the book is that we ought to experience the Church and read the Bible, especially the New Testament, through the lens of "church as family."  

So, if you’re feeling lonely and desire a family as a single woman, let me encourage you with three things in that regard.

1. Rethink Relationships and See How Jesus Defined Them.

Hellerman writes* how—for those of us in modern America—we "expect marriage to be our most meaningful, intimate and satisfying relationship. We hope to find most of our emotional, physical, and material needs met in the context of the marriage bond." 

Yet, this was not the case for the first century world or early believers. In the ancient world the most important relationship was "the bond between blood brothers and sisters."

This, for Hellerman, is key to living a vibrant, communal life in the Church today. 

Sisters, understand that the strong "family ties" of the ancient world are powerful for those of us who have been adopted into the family of God.

We have family automatically in the Church!

2. Get Involved in a Local Church.

In order to tap into this communal life, the first thing we must do is actively get involved in a local church. 

Several years ago, I lived on the opposite side of the country from my parents and siblings, and it was only when I joined a local church and got involved in many activities that I felt loneliness dissipate.

We became family for each other, celebrated holidays and birthdays together, ate meals together, helped each other move, studied the Bible, and just over all did life together. 

Nearly a decade later, I look back on that time and remember the close-knit male and female relationships I had and how much I was fulfilled doing life with those believers.

3. Be Involved with All Age Groups in the Body of Christ.

A lot of our churches tend to segregate believers into "age/life season" categories.

But I challenge you to know and do life with all ages of believers—families, newly marrieds, singles, older people, children—all ages and all life seasons. It will make your life so rich!

I had the pleasure of being in a Bible study with five women in their 30s, and five women in their retired years. The Bible study was called Living Crosswise—by Dr. Gail Bones, who wrote and led the study. It was phenomenal to realize how much we women had in common, both in life and in our relationship with the Lord. 

Ladies, older believers have much to offer us, as do younger believers. Get to know them and find out what the joys and challenges are in their season of life. I guarantee it will help you see your season of singleness with fresh eyes. It will also help you find a "spiritual mom" or a "spiritual sister."

I know these suggestions do not replace the deeply-seated desire many single women have for their own family, but often life can feel so lonely and "out of our control."

We need to be active about what we can control. 

Ladies, are you involved in your local church? Do you have significant relationships with men and women of all ages and stages of life at your church? Actively seek those out and see the Body of Christ as your family— both in the interim and also for eternity.

Nali Hilderman is a professor of American history and Political Science at San Diego Christian College. She studies women’s history and Christian theology trying to make sense of how to be a confident, successful Christian woman who does not buy into the secular feminist mentality.

* Quotes from page 35 of Joseph Hellerman's book, When the Church was a Family.

Graphics adapted, courtesy of Pixabay and Lightstock.


Setting Up a Successful College Transition

An accomplished speaker and writer, Ellie Kay is best known for her financial wisdom and work with Heroes at Home, but in this Financial UPGRADE, she branches out to a topic that’s especially important this time of year for many: high schoolers’ transition to college.

Ellie says, “I believe that every student can be successful in college by following the Do’s and Don’ts of a smooth college transition.”

My (Dawn’s) first granddaughter is entering college this fall, so that’s on my mind a lot these days.

Ellie hits on some points I’ve never considered, both for parents and their college-bound students.

Ellie continues . . .

How can you prepare for a smooth move to college that sets you up for success?

When my daughter was four years old, she came home from a friend’s house sobbing uncontrollably. While comforting her, she blurted out, “I don’t want to go to college!”

Apparently, her friend had an older sister going to college and my daughter couldn’t imagine leaving us. I reassured her that college was a long way away and by the time she left, she was ready.

When parents are preparing their kids for college, I think they may have flashbacks of them as four year olds. It can be hard to send them away.

As a mom of seven, I’ve found there’s some “homework” you can do in the summer to make college transitions more successful.

1. PRIORITIZE key relationships.

DON’T fill up free time with friends at the expense of family. 

  • Friends come and go but family is forever.
  • Only a small percentage of your friends from high school will still be your BFFs throughout college.
  • Less than 2% of boyfriend/girlfriend relationships will last until college graduation.

DO tell your mama (and papa) that you love them.

  • Mend fences and build bridges with family members.
  • Expect there to be some pre-separation anxiety on both sides—parents and kids—so give each other lots of grace.
  • Students, please understand that this is hard on your parents, especially if you are moving away to go to college.
  • Parents, understand that this is hard on your child because they are about to do something they’ve never done before.
  • Students, take the time now to thank your parents, grandparents, friends, educators and coaches for their help in high school.

2. PLAN Your Finances.

DON’T think that you are too young to budget the money you have.

Luke 14:28 says, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first, and counts the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” This verse reminds us that it’s important to plan when it comes to our finances. “

  • You can set up a spreadsheet to track your money. We like to use mint because multiple people can track finances on the app.
  • If your parents give you money for tuition, books, rent or food, then this gives them a right to see how the money is spent, so be prepared to share your budget with your financial sponsors. Their love is unconditional, but their money is an investment in your education and it has conditions.
  • Be prepared to work hard and add income to your monthly budget through work-study programs, a part-time job or even an entrepreneurial source of income.

DO be prepared to develop good financial habits that will set you up for success before, during and after college.

  • Do listen to fun, upbeat podcasts like The Money Millhouse to learn more about managing your money.
  • Parents, you may want to get an additional card on your credit card to help your student build credit. These cards usually allow you to modify the spending limit.
  • We added additional cards on American Express and put these under our kids’ social security numbers. They charged preapproved items and then we paid the bill in full (and on time) each month.
  • By the time each of our children graduated from college, they had a 750 or higher FICO score which helped with everything from getting a lower rental down payment to paying less on car insurance.

3. PREPARE for Positive Changes.

DON’T make this all about you.

  • Parents, don’t create drama before they go or after they’ve gone.
  • Moms, don’t sob and cry and tell them you don’t’ know how you’re going to survive without them. Shedding a few tears is OK, but doing what Oprah calls “the ugly cry” isn’t.
  • Don’t post a bunch of “poor me-isms” on social media because it distracts your student from focusing on a successful transition to college.

DO keep it positive and focus on faith.

  • Do send happy texts, emails, cards, and care packages to your college student, these mean a lot. 
  • Do tell your student funny stories about a younger sibling or the dog, it will make them feel more connected to home and send pictures of the dog or pet.
  • Students, do clean up your social media channels because you never know what can come back to haunt you in college and you don’t want to embarrass yourself or become a target of unwanted attention.  
  • Do subscribe to Our Daily Bread and consider joining CRU to connect with others in a safe, faith based community.
  • Parents can join Moms in Touch or a Bible Study with parents in a similar situation.

Moving away from home can be hard but I believe that every student can find success by preparing your relationships, finances and faith as you make this journey into adulting.

What can you do today to prepare for success in college tomorrow?

Ellie Kay is the best-selling author of fifteen books including Lean Body, Fat Wallet, and Heroes at Home. She is a Toastmaster Accredited Speaker as well as a popular international speaker and media veteran who has given over 2,000 media interviews including appearances on ABC, CNBC, CNN and Fox News. She writes for six national magazines and has been a Subject Matter Expert for the Wall Street JournalNew York Times and Washington Post. She is the cohost of The Money Millhouse podcast. Currently, Ellie provides financial education to military members through her “Heroes at Home Financial Event” sponsored for USAA. Ellie is married to LTC Bob Kay and they have seven children. 

Graphic adapted, courtesy of YannaZazu at Pixabay.


Jesus Told Us to Shine!

In this Ministry UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson reminds us to shine for the Lord, because that will have two important consequences.

Even the secular culture knows the importance of light.

"It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."

Those words have been attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John F. Kennedy, Confucius and many others, although it was popularized in a sermon by William L. Watkinson in 1907.

Comic strip artist Charles M. Schlultz even referred to it. Sassy Lucy of Peanuts fame decided to ignore the saying, yelling, "You Stupid Darkness!"

Certainly, there is much darkness in our world we might "curse."

But we need a little backstory.

The truth is, all creation, including mankind, inherited the consequences of sin's curse when Adam and Eve disobeyed God's command (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 8:20-22).

Part of that curse and the "curse of the Law" is death (1 Corinthians 15:22a; Galatians 3:13). What we see in the world today—moral depravity and spiritual darkness—is a consequence of sin's curse; and creation groans with great longing to be delivered from the effects of the curse (Romans 8:19, 22).

God's Word tells us Jesus Christ has "redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'" He redeemed us ... "so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:13-14). Those who believe in the Redeemer, the Son of God (Jesus), have eternal life (John 3:36; 1 John 5:12).

And for those who believe, this is where THE STORY GETS GOOD!

We can shine as lights in the world when God indwells our hearts!

Jesus, the Light of the World, wants us to follow Him so we will won't walk in the darkness of sin (John 8:12).

Two Reasons Jesus Tells Us to Shine

"... let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

1. We're to Shine So People Will See Our Good Works.

As we follow the Lord by faith, become more sensitive to the indwelling Spirit, and live in obedience to the Word of God, two things begin to happen.

We become more sensitive to any darkness within us.

God works in us to change our darkness into light—to "sanctify" us, or make us holy in thought, word and deed.

Not only that, Jesus wants our good deeds and moral excellence to shine into the darkness around us.

We may not affect change ourselves; but our testimony of God's mercy and grace in changing us will become an out-in-the-open tool He can use (Matt. 5:14).

We are called "out of" darkness (1 Peter 2:9); and Jesus' disciples encouraged believers to confess sin, cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light (1 John 1:9; Romans 13:12).

We can't fool God. If we say we're fellowshiping with Him but we're walking in darkness, we're lying, scripture says (1 John 1:5-6).

It's not optional; we are to walk in the light.

"Now you are light in the Lord," Paul says. "Walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8).

To walk in the light is to:

  • Follow Jesus by keeping in step with the Spirit's promptings and in alignment to scripture so we make progress spiritually and are useable for God's kingdom (John 8:12).
  • Practice discernment, reject the empty "works of darkness," and do those good works that God prepared for us to do (Ephesians 5:10-13; 2:10).

2. We're to Shine So God Will Be Glorified In and Through Us.

We cannot generate our own light; our light comes from the light of God within us (Psalm 18:28).

We need to acknowledge that.

The Psalmist praised God for His salvation. He was glad God allowing him to walk before Him "in the light of life" (Psalm 56:13). Isaiah testified that those who walked in darkness "have seen a great light" (Isaiah 9:2).

I think about those young boys and their coach who were trapped in a dark cave in Thailand. Imagine their joy coming out into the light on the surface of the earth.

Now picture in your imagination the joy of one who has lived in darkness all their lives, suddenly entering into light! The words of an old hymn come to mind: "I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see."

Light is meant to transform us and bring glory to God.

And the world takes notice.

John MacArthur wrote, "Christians who do not have changed lives have a credibility gap." Those who aren't walking in the light appear to be "fakes" to a watching world.

But I believe those who have seen the Light of Life and truly experienced His transformation cannot help but glorify the Light-giver—our Father God.

God is glorified by the fellowship we enjoy with other believers as we walk in the holiness, love and unity of His light (1 John 1:7).

God is also glorified as we share the light with others, praying the Lord might "open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light" (Acts 26:18a).

God Himself said, "Let light shine out of darkness," and He has shined in our hearts to give us "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).

A song I learned as a young child continually comes to my mind:

"Jesus bids us shine, shine to all around.

Many kinds of darkness in the world are found:

Sin and want and sorrow; so we must shine—

You in your small corner and I in mine."

I want to shine in my "small corner," or anywhere the Lord leads—don't you?

It won't always be easy. Don't think everyone will love us when we shine for Jesus.

Light is always uncomfortable to those who are accustomed to or love the darkness (John 3:20).

It's hard sometimes to "shine," but remember this: When Jesus commands, the Spirit enables.

Jesus told us to shine, and we can—in the power of Christ.

Where might your works be tainted by a bit of darkness today? How can you change that so your life will bring God glory and your testimony touch a hurting world?

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

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