Deborah Pegues

Deborah Pegues

Deborah Smith Pegues is a bestselling author of 16 transformational books, speaker, CPA/MBA, and founder/CEO of The Pegues Group, Inc., a boutique church financial consulting firm based in Southern California. Her book, 30 Days To Taming Your Tongue (over 1 million copies sold) has revolutionized conversations around the world. She hosts a weekly TV program, Winning with Deborah, on the TBN Salsa Network …where people turn to learn practical ways to apply the Word of God. Follow Deborah on FBDeborah Smith Peguesblog:, or sign up for her book excerpts and  “News, Nuggets, and Nudgings” at

Kathleen Cooke: What’s the one thing you’d like to share with women that God has recently taught you?

Deborah Pegues:  The Holy Spirit is constantly reminding me to rest my confidence in the all-sufficient God rather than in my experience, intellect, or connections. During my career, I have invested heavily in courses to perfect my technical, relational, and social skills only to find that eventually a assignment or situation was greater than my ability to respond.  What a relief it has been to show up in any situation totally relying on the grace of God to prevail. He has never failed me—and He gets all the glory. 

Kathleen:  What’s the one thing you’d like more women to know about that could improve the quality of their life?

Deborah:  Although women are excelling in many areas of society from politics to business, still too many are failing miserably when it comes to handling their finances.  Some women have simply resigned themselves to the fact that they just do not “have a head for figures” and put their trust in others to handle this key area. I’d like to see women abandon this mindset and take steps to learn more about investments, and begin to understand financial jargon and other aspects of money in order to make the financial decisions that improve the quality and stability of their future.    

Kathleen:  What have you learned about forgiveness especially when you’ve been wronged?

Deborah:  When my six male siblings turned against me because my father selected me to be the executrix of his Will, I learned that I needed more than a strong resolve to forgive, to let go of the anger I felt when they falsely accused me. I needed Divine assistance. By the grace of God, I stopped rehearsing the offense and chose to become the peacemaker. It worked.  Today, my first response to an offense is to immediately say, “I release that.” I cannot afford to wait for a positive feeling or an apology to begin to pray for the offender. I cling to Romans 8:28 which assures me God will bring something good out of all my adversities.

Kathleen:  We all impact others lives, but what’s the one thing you’ve learned about influence?

Deborah:  What I have learned about influence is that it carries a heavy responsibility because others are watching your behavior to emulate it. I would hate to think that I caused someone to stumble because I fumbled. Further, influence brings a hoard of people who want to “pick your brain” and know the secret to your success. Managing these requests can put a strain on your already limited time. A key strategy is to have answers to frequently asked questions already written or recorded and ready to be shared electronically at the press of a button.

Dawn Baldwin

Dawn Baldwin

Dawn Nicole Baldwin, is the Co-Founder and Lead Strategist, for AspireOne. For nearly 25 years, she has focused on helping organizations reach people more effectively. She’s considered one of the leading experts in brand and growth strategies for nonprofits and has championed the brand development and consulted on marketing strategies for ministries across the country, including the Willow Creek Association, The Salvation Army, and Wheaton College. She’s guest-lectured at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business as well as conferences nationwide, and in 1995 co-founded AspireOne, a strategy and communications firm that is a catalyst for helping organizations grow. Recently she and her team at AspireOne designed and developed the first-ever audio Bible app for Courage for Life, voiced entirely by women in partnership with Cooke Media Group. Feel free to check it out at ( ). She’s always on the go as a coach, consultant, occasional blogger, ( and sought-after speaker. Fun facts: She was on the advertising team for Big Idea Productions, (creators of VeggieTales) is an avid fan of Silly Songs, and a frequent dog-petter.  Follower her: Facebook:
Twitter: Blog:

Kathleen Cooke: We live in a culture of endless change. What’s the one thing that God’s taught you recently about keeping your footing in a constantly changing world?

Dawn Baldwin: “Trust me.” God continues to teach me so much, but this was something I needed to be reminded of. The ironic part is that my spiritual gift is faith, but I’m a Type A/planner/control freak by nature, so sometimes it feels like oil and water mixing. Last year we moved out-of-state, our grown kids went their separate ways for the first time, (at the same time) and my work schedule was bordering on insanity. But God aligned things in ways I never could have anticipated. I still shake my head in amazement.

Kathleen: The work/family teeter totter challenged me when I was raising kids and also imbedded into a highly competitive Hollywood industry and it continues to challenge career women today. Now that your kids have flown the nest, what wisdom can you share about this never ending battle women still struggle with today?

Dawn: Work isn’t the end goal. Or another way to look at it is, ‘Your kids will grow up whether you’re there or not.” I think a lie Satan loves to tell women, especially younger women, is that they need to trade their families for a career. That they’ll be left behind if they’re not all-in at work, and that’s simply not true. There is always a place for talented people and one doesn’t have to be sacrificed for the other. I spent most of my 20’s & 30’s building the business, working ridiculous hours, and missing out on my family. Work was put on a pedestal. But work doesn’t miss you when you’re gone. Your family does.

Kathleen: This is also true about balancing self-care and what I call “me time.”. What have you learned about the importance of rest?

Dawn: This really came out as a learning from the previous question. I was burned out and making terrible choices. But the truth is… this is a marathon not a sprint. It’s critical to set personal boundaries to refuel. If you don’t refuel, you’ll have nothing to offer anyone. This is especially important for high achievers to hear.

Kathleen: I have observed you as a role model and influencer of many women entering business because of the importance you place not only on professional knowledge but on wisdom and integrity. Why are these leadership qualities more important than ever in our age of digital connection? 

Dawn: I think influence has to do with our actions as well as our words. And both can have a positive (or negative) effect. As Christians, we need to remember the world is watching and we may be inadvertently keeping them from knowing Christ. Especially in today’s culture. The snarky comments and negativity I’ve seen online from Christian leaders recently is something we should be ashamed of. Is it necessary to argue with our brother or sister on Facebook about a divisive topic? Will that comment bring someone in or push them away from Christ? How we treat each other matters.

Carmi Gallo

Carmi Gallo

Carmi’s official title is that of a Production Designer, but she refers to herself as a visual storyteller, for Film, TV and stage. Her collective and extensive design career is credited to the many years of traveling, living and studying abroad in Europe and being exposed to many cultures and traditions. With a fine art, marketing, graphic design, architectural and textile design background, she applies those collected talents to every project and the overall “look” of the production. Carmi is also an actor which has played an integral part in her design process. She is a former member of the advisory committee for a Los Angeles college’s Multi-Media arts division and continues to lecture and mentors film students and art department personnel. Her cutting-edge and below-the-line software program, “Art of Facts” has been applauded and is due out soon in an all new platform. She is a dual citizen of both the USA and Canada, Carmi has worked on a variety of projects throughout the continent where she has exhibited her own creations of unique textile designs for fashion and home decor winning mixed media awards in Toronto. Presently, she’s been focusing her attention on developing TV scripts and a faith-based animated feature film.
Connect with her more at: carmigallo.comLinkedin, or

Kathleen Cooke: As a top production designer who has worked on many A list productions, what is the one thing that God has taught you about working on a high intensity and often stressful Hollywood set as a Christian?

Carmi Gallo: Be yourself because we were all created uniquely. Our greatest witness is how we treat others knowing that we are all works of God in progress. Sometimes it isn’t easy to deal with new people on a production set because it can be ‘fast and furious’ with a lot of pressure and no time to figure out personalities. Praying for wisdom, patience and tolerance help to bring the best out in those we work with so that creativity isn’t stifled. A simple ‘thank you’ for a good day goes a long way. I am truly grateful to all the mentors that encouraged me along the way and am reminded of this verse in the Bible that says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:10. 

Kathleen: Hollywood is a highly competitive industry and your field is particularly cut-throat How have you dealt with ambition?

Carmi: There certainly have been times of doubt and anxiousness during my life having jumped into situations without asking for guidance or overthinking situations. Like most, I planned and prepared all the right steps and covered all the bases for my personal hopes, dreams, and career.

In my early 20’s, I started working at CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp) based in Toronto, my hometown. I had applied to the TV graphics department having studied and worked in graphic design (all done by hand) fine arts and marketing, but God had other plans. To my dismay, the graphic’s job was filled but I was sent to see the manager in the set design department instead. I knew nothing about set design but, for some reason after they viewed my portfolio, I was hired for a 3-month probation period which ended up stretching to 5 years until I left to be a freelancer.

I worked very hard for those 5 years learning and studying as much as I could to prepare myself for freelancing, which as I experienced, didn’t guarantee full-time work. It just never occurred to me that I would be out of work at times. It wasn’t an option in my mind, but I persevered because I’m passionate about the work I do. Today, when my plans stall or get derailed, I always think back to that time and how God placed me in this industry in such an unusual way. It always reassuring to know that God does work behind the scenes – no pun intended!

Kathleen: A Hollywood career is one that can be defined as uncertain but God’s Word is certain and can be depended on. Is there one story you could share where He has proven Himself to you? 

Carmi: It was the mid-80’s and our family had just lost our beloved Dad to lead poisoning which caused progressive dementia in a very short time. It was devastating. Not long after he passed, I received a call from a producer I had worked with previously to consider designing an upcoming HBO Film. It was originally a play that dealt with dementia. Hume Cronyn and Vince Gardenia both starred as residents and widowers in an upscale assisted living facility. Each was petrified that they would become a zombie type person to their friends and love ones. After reading the script I felt uncomfortable because of my dad’s situation. I phoned the producer teary-eyed to decline and explain the reasons why I had to pass on the work. He kindly suggested I think about it and to call back the next day. He felt I was the perfect candidate to design the show because I understood the fears of the characters and those of their families who were dealing with dementia. He felt I knew intimately about their changing personalities and their odd actions. Actions like putting on two different color socks, ordering room service thinking they were in a luxurious hotel or saying hello to you using your mother’s name, as well as those of their caregivers who had to label faucets with notes that say “turn off.”

I prayed hard and decided to do the show as long as I didn’t have to be around when sensitive scenes were being shot. I knew I could not deal with hearing the dialogue on the studio sets and reliving it all again. However, little by little I realized it was actually helping me bring closure to my grief and to put things into perspective. I realized that all those things I had observed with my Dad allowed me to share with audiences visually in some small way and give honor to him. I knew too that the film would ultimately help others recognize the beginning signs of someone’s deteriorating mental capacity and more importantly, help those people who suffer when dealing with people who don’t recognize them anymore. Taking on the film, in the end, made me stronger for my family and I felt was actually a gift God gave me. One of my go to verses then and still today is, Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” 

Kathleen: We can get sidelined with work and personal responsibilities and forget that God wants us to know Him intimately and share His love with others. Why is that so important to remember when working on a Hollywood set?

Carmi: It is clear to me that God wants to send us to where He wants us to be a blessing for His glory no matter how many times we hesitate. I have often wondered if God really cares about the scripts we work on, or if the scripts we are given to work on are actually catalysts for us to go where He wants us to be which is close to Himself. Many years ago I remember getting offers to work on scripts that contained content that I hesitated working on so I would turn them down. Now, it’s not easy sometimes when we, as women, are used to being responsible organizers and life managers to others who depend on us. Turning down work is challenging when you are a freelancer because you never know how long it will be before you will get another offer. Looking back now, I can see that some shows I worked on were definitely a catalyst for God’s plans. It is humbling to see how He drops us into places for our good and not because of our talents or skills. It was an important lesson for me to learn. 

Several years ago, I was being offered one thriller/horror film after another and I was hesitant to be involved on any level. Finally, after the 3rd offer came in, I gave in and signed up. Little did I know that this particular show was orchestrated by God to open doors for me and to pave the way for divine connections. Connections I couldn’t see at the time because of my hesitation and even fear. I ended up meeting and working with a group of wonderful Christians who treated me like family, which is a plus when you are thrown into unknown locations and don’t know anyone. We ended up attending church together and ministering to extras, actors and other crew members on the set. God showed me that you just never know who is struggling silently but, when we are engaged with Him, He leads us to those like-minded people and where He can use us. I was able to share and bring the light of God into many lives and never imagined that God was trying to send me on a mission all those times when I had said no. You see, “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7. Be the best you can be with your work whatever that may be and go wherever God’s called you to go boldly, but don’t forget to be the light and love of Jesus.

Nancy Schraeder

Nancy Schraeder

Nancy Sawyer Schraeder is a writer, producer, and director who just wrapped production on the comedy web series, Zahra’s New World. Nancy scripted Magdalena: Released from Shame, a feature which has been translated into over 170 languages, and co-wrote the follow-up series, Rivka. Nancy wrote and produced “Portions,” which won Best Short Fiction Film at the World of Women Film Fair in Dubai, and directed “Equations,” a short film advocating for religious freedom. She has coached media teams in the U.S., Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan. Contact Nancy at; Instagram: nanschraeder; FB: Nancy Sawyer Schraeder

Kathleen Cooke:  Hollywood is a challenging industry for talented and passionate artists because of the competition. How have you been able to stay the course and not become frustrated and depressed?

Nancy Schraeder: The big things really don’t matter more than the little things. So much of my life has been spent dreaming about and planning for the big things I think God wants me to do for Him. But in reality, God is just as concerned (if not more) with how I’m doing in the little things. Have I been a good neighbor today, an encouraging wife, a diligent, loving employee or co-worker, a patient, constructive mother? Did I find joy in the menial errands and tasks I attempted today? Did I, most importantly, invite Jesus to be part of those interactions and tasks? Was I “in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25)? The day-to-day interactions, tasks, and disciplines are what hone and reveal our true character and, in turn, prepare us for the “big things.” Don’t attempt short cuts. Let God work through EVERYTHING you do — big and little.

Kathleen: You work on writing and producing projects that often take long hours and what seems like endless months of sweat and toil before they’re produced. How do you find sustaining joy in the process?

Nancy: Joy comes from being in a close relationship with God and knowing, deep in your soul and in spite of your circumstances, that God is good. When I was a little girl, I would ride my tricycle around my neighborhood singing songs to God. Much of my adult life has been spent seeking to regain that pure, trusting joy of simply being in God’s presence. I had the privilege of working on the book, God: Discover His Character with Dr. Bill Bright. Spending hours every week reading and writing about how God is all-powerful, unchanging, just, loving, righteous, merciful, and so much more finally caused the truth of His amazing faithfulness to sink into my being and I truly believed it. That’s when the joy came!

Kathleen:  You’re also a wife and mother. What are you teaching your kids about how they can stand out from the crowd?

Nancy: I often encourage my children to allow God to make them into a unique, intricate puzzle piece, to explore their strengths and weaknesses and risk to develop their unique personality, gifts, and talents. This means they may not immediately bond with just anyone romantically, creatively, or whatever. They’re not a flat puzzle piece that can be placed next to any other flat puzzle piece. (In fact, no one really is.) As they allow God to work in their lives, they will develop interesting features, bends, corners, so when God brings another wonderfully intricate puzzle piece to them, what a bond they will have! I remind them that the God who saved them is the same God who created them in my womb. He made all of us unique, so we must live into that uniqueness. Not to act out and rebelliously “push the envelope” (if our society even still has an envelope to push), but to bless the world with the one-of-a-kind creation we are.

Kathleen: What would you tell someone about how their influence impacts others?

Nancy: Many of us, in false humility, may believe we don’t influence other people. But that’s a lie to keep us from embracing the adventure God has for us. We ALL have an influence. Our every word and action have consequences. Our presence can encourage people to see hope in the world, to inspire them to dream, and to have the courage to trust God and try again. Or we can shut people down. That’s why it’s so important that as we live each day we’re filled with the Holy Spirit. Every morning, I ask the Lord to fill me with His Spirit so I will accomplish what He wants me to do that day, and I pray that I might bring Him pleasure. Honestly, I know I don’t always succeed, and I probably offer God more opportunities for embarrassed laughter than pleasure, but I’ve also seen God use me in ways far beyond my feeble human strivings. One example is when I traveled to Tunisia to teach at a media summit and shared a hotel room with a sharp, beautiful woman who spearheaded a sports ministry for refugee children. My daughter, Allie, was in the final weeks of her senior year, and my roommate overheard my frequent calls home admonishing Allie to finish high school well. Little did I know these loving but sometimes testy conversations with my daughter inspired my roommate. She later wrote: “Thank you, Nancy, for allowing our Lord to use your example as a loving mother to give me greater insight and confirmation of my ministry objective.” God is using you when you least expect it!

Suzan (Sujay) Johnson Cook

Suzan (Sujay) Johnson Cook

Suzan Johnson Cook was the 3rd U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom for President Obama’s administration and the first female African American and faith leader in this role. As principal advisor to both President Obama and Secretaries Hillary Clinton and John Kerry advocated and gave voice for religious freedom during foreign policy and national security discussions.  “Sujay” is a native New Yorker, mother of two sons, and is an ordained senior American Baptist Churches Pastor of 30 years. She served on the front lines of 911 as the first female NYPD Chaplin. Connect more with her at: AmbassadorSujay.Live  (

Kathleen Cooke: You were at ground zero and the aftermath of 911. Through your efforts and wisdom demonstrated there, you were appointed to work for President Obama as an ambassador for religious affairs. What’s the one thing God has taught you in both those challenging positions?

Suzan Johnson-Cook (Sujay): God has taught me how to be patient. I leaerned to take the time to really hear what someone else is saying without judgment and without hurrying them. Everyone has a story and needs to share it.

Kathleen: You have accomplished so much in your lifetime. I know the endless hours you must have put in during the aftermath of 911, the long hours and travel you did as an ambassador and now your ongoing endeavors to empower women of faith. What have you learned about rest?

Sujay: I’ve learned that rest is important for renewal, that recreation really means re-creation. In the Psalms, the word SELAH appears several times. It was an instruction to David, the psalmist, and David, the harpist, to stop singing, stop playing, and just pause/rest/reflect. There comes a time in each of our lives that we must stop, pause, and give God the glory.

I host SELAH BY THE SEA retreats for busy Christian women leaders each year, usually at a beachfront property because so many of the women who serve are inner city, nonprofit leaders, and all of us need a rest. Many of the women who entered the Christian ministry with me almost 4 decades ago, as trailblazing women, are either deceased or very ill. There were no role models to help us, teach us how to stop. It has become my passion and purpose to help our sisters who lead. You can’t get the word RE – SET without first having the word R-E-S-T.  The extra E comes from the ENERGY you’ll receive when you rest.

I’ve come to really appreciate the Lord’s prayer when God teaches us this line, “Give us this day our DAILY bread,” not a week’s supply nor a months, but just as God gave manna from heaven when the children of God were on their journey to the Promised land, there was enough for THAT day. We, too, must do only what our mind, body and soul can handle, and when you’ve done the best you can, STOP, Pause, REST. Take a nap and you will find how important it is for you too.

Kathleen: You were placed in a once in a lifetime unique position when 911 happened. What would you say to someone who often feels different and, perhaps at times odd and out of place, because they are unique?

Sujay:  Our uniqueness just reminds us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Embrace yourself, embrace all of you. I have been 5’10” since 6th grade. Many would say that height, especially for a girl, was a disadvantage. However, as I played sports all the way through high school (basketball) and then onto college and graduate school, girls were starting to receive Title 9 Scholarships. The boys were beginning to “get their height” as adolescents so being tall became a very positive attribute. I did not walk around with my head hung low. Instead I learned to stand up, speak up, and look my counterparts, who were mostly male, in the eyes. Entering the Christian ministry as a trailblazer, this confidence and being “comfortable in my own skin,” helped me not enter the ministry with a chip on my shoulder or feel defeated.

Rather I was able to smile all the way through.

I’m unique, chic, and love every fiber of my being. I love every limb that God blessed me with and now model for other “tall girls” and that the ”joy of the Lord” is without question our strength.

Kathleen: You have influenced so many lives over the years. What has God taught you about influencing other’s lives?

Sujay: One of the versions of the prayer of Jabez that I took with me as I traveled as U.S. Ambassador around the world was “Lord, increase my opportunities, let me touch more lives for you, not that I might get the glory, but that YOU will get all of the glory.  I see influence as a way to give GOD more glory.  God opens the doors. He allows certain circumstances to happen so that others will see HIs light shining through me and to glorify HIM. That’s influence.

Kathleen: Sujay, I want to personally congratulate you on winning the Empowering Women Dare to Overcome Grand Prize film award for 2019 for your short film, A Different Way. We were honored to have you in attendance and be able to announce your winning of the award at this past March Influence Women’s Evening in LA. Congratulations!
Watch her winning short on religious freedom here.

Shirin Taber

Shirin Taber

Shirin Taber is the founder and director of the Middle East Women’s Leadership Network. She is a media producer and the author of Muslims Next Door. With an Iranian Muslim father and an American Catholic mother, she has lived in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. Today she helps women leaders create media for their mission. She partners with United Nations, NGO and faith-based organizations. As result of her network gatherings, training, mentoring and follow up efforts, several collaborative media projects have emerged for the Middle East and around the world. Network participants create TV, film, audio, print and internet projects contributing to the larger movement of developing female leaders and innovative content. The network’s five sectors include peacebuilding, religious freedom, trauma healing, women’s empowerment and faith-based initiatives. The Los Angeles Times, Detroit Free Press, Fox News, and Christianity Today have featured Shirin’s writing and work among Muslims and Christians alike. Previously, Shirin served with Cru, Jesus Film Project, Visual Story Network and Christian Broadcasting Network. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and speaks English, Farsi and French. She lives in Southern California with her husband Clyde Taber and three children. For more information, contact: or

Kathleen Cooke: You’re a champion of women globally. How do you think God sees women and what has He taught you about empowering them?

Shirin Taber: I am learning that God’s heart breaks for women all over the world. God’s vision for us is to not only focus on our “personal success”, but to champion women everywhere. We must think beyond our salaries and glass ceilings to “setting the captives free”. We must invest deeply in helping marginalized women who are the victims of cultural and religious abuse. We must mentor, coach and empower women everywhere. I am convinced the fastest way to shift norms and inspire women to reach for change is through media. Thus, I believe women need to use the powerful platform of media to advance human rights and freedom for all. When we create great content, women will find the courage and role models to become change agents.   

Kathleen: Women are often criticized because they’re overly ambitious – pushing their agenda more than God’s. What have you learned about surrendering what you want for what God wants?

Shirin: I find that the best kind of ambition is Christ-centered and Kingdom focused. In college, I learned the principle of “relational thinking”. In every decision, I ask myself if the “outcome” relates to or advances Christ’s purpose. When I can line up my actions with Scripture, I can ambitiously throw myself into any endeavor or project. I don’t need to fear or make a second guess. I can freely, and evenly stubbornly, move in a direction until God closes the door. Healthy ambition for me is waking up every day and praying “God use me”. And trusting him for the results.

Kathleen: Stepping out into uncharted territory requires new levels of courage. What have you learned about stepping into uncertainty?

Shirin: For me, the process of breaking through fear was trial and error. I found I needed to try a lot of things and make some mistakes until I figured out what God uniquely gifted me to do. Once I developed a clear vision of his calling in my life, I learned I could move in a direction with absolute confidence. I could trust that he would give me the words and skills to execute his will. I use to be afraid to speak in public or lead a strategy session, today I am fearless whether at the United Nations or among a group of trusted colleagues. I now know that I am empowered by Christ and he wants to use me.