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And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson



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


Focus on the 'Beneficial'

In this Choices UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson shares a principle that helps her make a lot more wise and godly choices.

I reached out for another Dove candy. Now there’s nothing wrong with a Dove candy. I love the dark chocolate, the milk chocolate and all the other new flavors. (I'll be honest. I love just about ANY kind of chocolate. Don't even get me started on See's. But let me tell you my Dove story.)

I reached out for a chocolate, nestled in my crystal candy dish, and I heard this little voice in my brain. . . 

“Now how is that going to help you?”

“What do you mean HELP me?” I asked the voice.

“I mean,” the voice continued, “I know you want the chocolate. I know you even crave the chocolate. It’s inviting and there’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Right—so what’s the problem?”

“An hour from now, is it going to be something you'll be glad you ate?”

I wanted to say, “Of course.”

But I stopped short, my hand poised over the candy dish.

Why? Because another voice (and I believe it was the Spirit of God) reminded me of a scripture.

Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians 10:23:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.

“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

In other words, there are lots of lawful (morally legitimate or permissible) things we are free to do because God is generous to His children and we live under grace.

"But...", Paul says.

It's that word "but" that stopped me from taking a piece of candy.

Now there is nothing sinful about a Dove candy. In fact, sometimes it might be a good and right choice.

But in that moment, when I thought about it, I knew this was not the time for a chunk of chocolate.

But how often do I even stop to THINK about it.

As I am thinking about food and a lot of other issues in light of Paul's words, I’m noticing:

  • Not everything is good for me.
  • Not everything is advantageous.
  • Not everything is helpful.
  • Not everything strengthens my body.
  • Not everything builds up my character.
  • Not everything edifies my spiritual life.
  • Not everything is a good example to others.
  • Not everything shows sensitivity and deference.

For years I’ve written about choices. We make them every day. And as I’ve said, we make so many choices without a thought.

I’ve found the toughest choices are about the things that are OK, but not necessarily the best for me.

I don’t have to get crazy and legalistic or endlessly dissect every option that comes my way. But there's something I should do.

I need to consider what is best for me, is a blessing to others and is a means to honor God.

I need to think about how I can live well and help others live well, and how I can please the Lord.

Beneficial choices are “favorable or advantageous, resulting in good.” They have positive benefits and are valuable, profitable and rewarding.

Who wouldn’t want that?

This topic of things being beneficial was a powerful concept for Paul. In 1 Corinthians 6:12, he gave more insight, writing:

“Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial.

“Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything.

There's a lot more at stake than we think!

How do we focus on what is beneficial so we can make wise choices?

1. Ask God for wisdom.

The sovereign God knows what is best for us. He knows how our bodies and our lives should operate. He wants to help us know too, but we must pray and ask Him for wisdom (James 1:5).

I remember hearing a “missionary story” years ago. A missionary prayed for some special foods he was craving, and when a crate arrived from the states, he opened it with great excitement.

Imagine his dismay to find bags and bags and bags of white rice. He said he struggled with godly contentment in that moment.

But sometime later, he became gravely ill and the doctor prescribed—you guessed it—white rice! The missionary thanked his Father in heaven for sending exactly what he needed ahead of time.

Rather than asking amiss (James 4:3), let’s ask God for what is right and helpful, the most beneficial. HE KNOWS what we need!

2. Give Yourself More Beneficial Options.

When I decided I wanted to become healthier and lose weight in the process, one of the first things I did was reduce and eliminate the unhealthy options in my kitchen and replace them with lots of good, healthy “eats.”

When constantly faced with something that’s NOT beneficial, it’s only a matter of time before we’re tempted to give in to temptation.

But stocking our pantry with healthy options invites a healthy focus. We still have to choose wisely, but it’s smart to give ourselves positive, healthy alternatives.

A Helpful Note: While you consider the "options" in your life that can help you conquer your unhealthy or ungodly habits, be careful not to make room for the enemydon't give the devil any opportunities (Ephesians 4:27). Is there something that needs to go?

3. Set Your Heart on the Master.

The early church struggled with what to do regarding food sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 10:23-33). In that context, Paul said everything is permissible or "lawful" (v. 23), but—as I said earlier—he also didn’t want to be "mastered" or dominated by sinful habits (1 Corinthians 6:12) and he didn't want to be a stumbling block to anyone coming to Christ.

Paul didn’t want habits and choices to hinder him or destroy his testimony and ministry.

He wanted to do all to the glory of God and with a spirit of gratitude (1 Corinthians 10:30-33).

Likewise, we don't want to be enslaved by sexual immorality, lying, gluttony, arrogance or any other sinful patterns. We want to do all things to the praise of God's glorious grace (Ephesians 1:6).

Another disciple, Peter, knew that whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:19).

Rather than be overcome, we can be overcomers in Christ.

When our hearts are set on the Master, we will live in freedom and not want to BE "mastered" by enslaving choices and habits. In Christ, we can make choices that are beneficial for our own lives and the lives of others.

We might mess up a lot and make unbeneficial, enslaving choices—I certainly do—but what direction are we moving. Toward obedience and contentment? Or toward wilfulness and foolish discontent.

  • Instead of focusing on your weaknesses, focus on Jesus, your strength.
  • Instead of focusing on what you can't have, consider all you already have!

4. Don’t Forget God’s “Benefits”

When we think about something that is beneficial to us, we don't want to forget the One who gives us these benefits!

He blesses us simply because we are His children. He extends great mercy. He gives great grace. He saves us and then transforms us.

We already are so blessed. Let's never forget that.

In Psalm 103:1-5, the Psalmist praises God because He:

  1. Forgives all our sin;
  2. Heals all our diseases—in eternity, if not now;
  3. Redeems us from the “pit” of destruction in hell;
  4. Crowns (lavishly surrounds) us with His faithful love and mercy;
  5. Satisfies us with good things; and
  6. Renews our strength.

We are such discontented people. We want more and more, and forget our abundance in Christ. I am thankful for all of these things the Psalmist listed and so much more. I am so blessed.

Yes, God saved me, is changing me, and He desires to satisfy me with good, beneficial things.

Sometimes He might bless me with "white rice"—because He knows what I need.

And sometimes He might bless me with a yummy Dove candy—because He loves me and delights in giving good gifts.

What are some of the benefits you are enjoying as a child of God? How can focusing on those benefits give you a different perspective for change and spiritual growth?

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 Heartsand 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.


Communicate Well with that 'Irregular' Person

Kathy Collard Miller speaks well to relationships, and especially how we get along. In this Communication UPGRADE, she offers biblical insight into communication skills we all need.

“Someone has said, ‘An irregular person is anyone we don’t get along with,’” Kathy says. “But we should remember someone may be calling us their irregular person! And maybe it’s because our communication skills could improve.”

That is so true! I (Dawn) discovered that when the Lord opened my eyes about someone I thought was too direct and a bit critical in our conversations. As it turned out, I was hyper-sensitive and reactive—something I needed to change.

Kathy continues . . .

It’s easy to think negatively about someone when there is a lack of harmony between us.

“After all, if she weren’t such an irregular kind of person, she wouldn’t misunderstand me. All my other friends understand me. It must be her."

I’ve been studying the biblical book of Proverbs and communication is an important topic in that practical book. Let’s see what insights God offers us for better communication. Maybe we are more irregular than we think.

There are always skills we can learn.

1. Talk less than you think you should even if you feel defensive.

Proverbs 10:19 urges us, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (ESV).

How true, how true. We all are able to hold our tongue and, at that point, things are going well.

But then we reach our limit and we try to defend ourselves with many words.

Most of the time, many words get us in big trouble.

The more we say, the less we are heard and understood. One temptation is adding points that aren’t relevant to the current topic.

“Oh, and by the way, I’ve been meaning to tell you also about how a month ago you….”

Our many words have now become more complicated and the real issue is harder to deal with.

Less is more in relationships, and especially with someone we aren’t connecting with well. Let’s ask God to help us speak less than more.

2. Keep your voice soft.

Of course such advice as “keep your voice soft” seems impossible, but it really is possible to learn. You’ll be motivated even more when you begin to see the advantages it brings.

Proverbs 15:1 tells us, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

At the time of dealing with someone who seems against us, we feel powerless. They won’t listen nor heed what we’re saying. Everything within us wants to be heard and by golly, we’ll raise our voice to make it happen.


It’ll be the hardest thing ever, but don’t. Instead, use the “broken record technique.” Just say the main point over again in a normal voice.

For instance, “I hear you think I said … but I really said ….” When the person raises her voice and is defensive, again repeat softly, “I hear you think I said … but I really said…” Repeat again as needed—softly!

This is extremely hard but it is possible in God’s power. As a result, you’ll see anger is less likely to be stirred up and there’s a better possibility of a positive conversation.

3. In the end, God must be the one we depend upon to protect us.

After all we’ve done, our efforts may not gain us what we want. Our “irregular” person may respond more aggressively, and we wonder what they are thinking of us. Is it even worse than before?

Our only peace must come from the truth of Proverbs 30:5: “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”

Our words haven’t gained us what we wanted, but God’s Word never goes wrong. The Lord knows the truth about us and our intentions, and He will protect us according to His loving will for us.

We can trust Him.

What can I do to help communicate with the person who seems irregular to me? When my efforts don’t turn out the way I’d prefer, how can I find God as my refuge?

Kathy Collard Miller is the author of over 50 books, her most recent is No More Anger: Hope for an Out-of-Control Mom (Elk Lake Publishing, Inc.). She loves to speak at evenats and has spoken in more than 30 US states and eight foreign countries. Learn more about Kathy at

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Pasja1000 at Pixabay.