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   Dawn Wilson



Fear... or Coffee

The super-talented Joy Elben has always struck me as confident and capable. But I've learned we all have struggles, and in this Gifts and Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, Joy shares how she moved from fears and feelings of inadequacy to using her gifts with confidence in the Lord.

“I would never have told you I was afraid,” Joy says. “In fact, I would have told you the opposite.”

I (Dawn) sense a kindred spirit here. Years ago, I could have written this same post. I'm glad Joy did. So many people hide behind their fears; and Joy encourages us to come out of hiding!

Joy continues . . .

I would have said that I'm bold. I’m adventurous. I pursue my dreams.  

When the reality was, there was a part of me lying dormant.

I hadn't actually forgotten that part; it just wasn't necessary anymore. 

Or was it? 

You see, growing up, I was the girl who was always writing. 

All over.


  • My Lisa Frank trapper keeper. 
  • My lunch box.
  • My brother's lunch box.
  • My brother.

The girl who, when the teacher would ask you to put your name in the front flap of each book, I put my name right on the front cover.

In big, BOLD letters. Yep, that was me.

My teachers may not have appreciated that. I may have been the inspiration for the modern book cover.

But letters were art and words were powerful, and I liked the look and sound and feel of the script flowing from my pen to my page. 

My high school English teacher was the first to say it:

"Joy, you have a gift! You need to write." 

I did? I should?


I devoured every book I could. Every genre, prose and process.

Collecting words as if they were treasures. I was going to take over the world and inspire anyone who would listen with all the eloquence and wisdom of my sixteen-year-old self.

My freshman year of college, there was a campus-wide essay contest and I won.

My professor said,

"Joy, you have a gift. You should write." 

I studied and honed my craft and my family repeated the refrain,

"Joy, you have a gift. You should write."

But then life happened. 

And the voices in my head began to tell me:

  • "Joy, maybe you can write, but really, what makes you more interesting than anyone else?"
  • "Joy, you're only (insert the age). What makes you think that you have any wisdom to offer?"
  • "Joy, you are the pastor's WIFE, and sharing from a platform is his job."
  • "Joy, you are surrounded by brilliant writers—let them do the writing."
  • "Joy, Joy, Joy ....”

The voices chanted my inadequacy.

And I hid.

I hid behind all of the voices and I did it with the conviction that I was honoring God in the process.

Doesn’t Proverbs warn us time and again to weigh our words? I seemed to have forgotten that it also says, 

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a GOOD WORD makes him glad” (Proverbs 12:25).

Recently, when invited to join a new friend at our local coffee shop, I shared my hesitation and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and she urged, "Joy, if God has given you a gift, then you need to share your voice and write!"

In the spirit of good conversation, I reciprocated and asked her to share her passion. 

She responded with, "This is my passion."

Wait, what?

"Having coffee."

I was a little baffled. I mean I like a good cup of coffee as much as the next gal, but…huh?

She was a mother and a missionary and a remarkable woman, and her passion was having coffee? 

She explained that for her, sharing coffee meant using her gift of encouragement to create connection and relationship.

Coffee is to her what writing is to me. A mode of connection.

My heart received the message and I knew that I had a choice to make.

I could continue to hide under my own veil of self-doubt and fear of vulnerability,


I could choose to live by faith and write.

So today, I will make the choice to use my words for encouragement and sharing a good word.

What is your passion? Is it writing? Is it coffee? Have you been given a gift that is lying dormant and you hold back because of fear? 

Don’t do it. Don't hide. 

Write, teach, serve, draw, sing—whatever it is for you—and drink coffee, all for the glory of God!

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Take a moment to examine your heart and ask the Lord to reveal if there is any part of you that He has CREATED FOR MORE.

Listen carefully. 



The Lord longs to help you live in the fullness of who He created you to be.

What is your gift? How are you using it for God’s glory?

Joy Elben, born and raised in sunny San Diego, is serving alongside her husband at Forest Home Christian Camps and Conference Center, in the picturesque setting of Ojai, California. She is a pastor's wife, adoptive mom, foster parent, enthusiastic traveler and owner of Joy Elben Design, a home staging and design business.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Engin_Akyurt-Pixabay.


Pursuing Happiness? Upgrade to Joy!

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

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

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

Joanie continues . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy is eternal. It transcends our circumstances.

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

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

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

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

How can we upgrade happiness to joy?

1. Thanksgiving 

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

2. Praise

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

3. Scripture

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

4. Testimony

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

5. Helping Others

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

6. Forgive

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

Forgiveness generates joy.

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

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

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

Graphic adapted, courtesy of dimitrisvetsikas-Pixabay.


7 Ways to Be a Woman of JOY!

Kate Hagen is a gifted and insightful writer with a heart for women's issues. On her blog, she took readers on her journey of grief, insight and joy as her precious mom struggled with cancer. In this Attitude UPGRADE, she shares part of the the incredible character that made up Peggy Leslie.

“On my mom’s gravestone it reads ‘Woman of Joy,’” Kate says.

I (Dawn) already wrote a tribute to Kate's mom last year, but as we near the anniversary of her home-going, I asked Kate to share some of the things her mom did on a regular basis that made her such a joy-filled woman of God—earning that gravestone tribute.

Kate continues...

It’s no small thing to me that I was raised by a joyful mom. 

Of course I didn’t appreciate it as a kid. Yet, as I approach the one-year anniversary of her death, I am in awe of the joy she had throughout life and throughout cancer, and I am inspired to be more like her.

Here are 7 ways my mom was a woman of joy (and how you can be too).

1. Always Be Interested in Others.

The second you walked into Mom’s house, she would stop what she was doing, grab your face, look you in the eyes, and welcome you.

And, although she often complained about forgetting things, she had an uncanny ability to remember details about everyone’s lives.

She wouldn’t just say hello. She would ask about the last conversation you had and let you know she’d been praying for you. Somehow she made everyone feel like the most important person on earth.

Joy builder: "Let each of you look no only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil 2:4).

2. Be “Game” for Everything.

The answer to all requests we made of Mom were an enthusiastic, “Yes!” She did almost everything any of her 5 kids or 12 grandkids asked her to do. She only reluctantly said no if she already had plans. Even if she didn’t feel like doing the activity you asked her do, she did it so that she could BE with and ENJOY you.

Joy builder: "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace" (I Peter 4:10).

3. Pray and Read the Bible without Stopping.

Mom was faithful in her morning routine of Bible reading, prayer and journaling.

Each of her kids had a special prayer day (affectionately called SPD) where she prayed especially for us. A text or phone call would inevitably come that day as she talked to God about us.

This was a vital beginning to her morning - a time when she asked God to help her be more joyful.

Joy builder: "Pray without ceasing" (I Thes 5:17).

4. Do What You Enjoy.

Although Mom was constantly serving others and looking to their needs above her own, she also took a lot of personal breaks.

She loved a glass of coke, Snickers bar and a good book. The two places you’d be most likely to find her were in her big, comfy recliner reading, or at her beautiful office desk writing.

Both of those things gave her joy and she made sure to do them almost every day.

Joy builder: "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well" (James 2:8).

5. Don’t Give Up Looking for Joyful Solutions.

Mom was never defeated!

If something wasn’t going as she hoped, or she didn’t have all the resources she needed, she loudly proclaimed, “There’s almost always something you can do!”

She was hilariously resourceful and didn’t let troubles define her; she found solutions for problems.

She looked for joy!

Joy builder: "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come" (Prov 31:25).

6. Don’t Be "Normal."

Mom was not afraid to be her unique self. She was not like other moms; she was fully HER.

I remember complaining about something strange she did, and she replied, “Would you want a mom who’s normal?” Well, yes. In Jr. High I did.

But, now, I’m so grateful she didn’t give into the pressure to be like those around her. She appreciated whom God had made her to be and she lived it fully and joyfully!  

Joy builder: "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well" (Psalm 139:14).

7. Don’t Worry; You’re in the Lord’s Hands.

Her famous quote throughout cancer was, “I’m in the Lord’s hands.”  She literally said this hundreds of times.

As I’ve read through her journals, I see she told herself this over and over as well.

She believed, without a shadow of doubt, that God was holding her. That God loved her. That God was sustaining her. She loved Him and trusted Him so deeply. And this brought her joy.

She was not afraid of cancer or death at all. Her attitude was, “Why should I be? I’m in the Lord’s hands!”

Joy builder: "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt 6:34).

Mom is STILL a Woman of Joy!

"You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).

I would be honored if my mom’s life and death encouraged you to become a greater woman of joy.

Let me know which of these is most difficult for you and how you hope to grow in that area. I’d love for us to encourage each other together in this pursuit of JOY!

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 Well Do YOU Listen?

Becky Harling is one of the most practical women I know, often tackling topics women need to hear like "performance" and dealing with our emotional scripts. In this Relationship UPGRADE, she asks us to honestly evaluate our listening skills.  


"I remember well when I asked my teenage daughter, 'Honey, do you think I listen well?' Honestly," Becky says, "I was expecting rave reviews, but what I received was something entirely different"

I (Dawn) think Becky was so brave to ask her teenager for input. But what I admire most is her desire to act on that input!

Becky continues . . .

Mental note to self: Don’t ask your kids what they think unless you’re prepared for the answer!

There was a long pause, and then Bethany said,

“Well… sometimes you listen well… but, you seem distracted a lot, you interrupt me a lot and you dive in with your own story and you give me way too much advice!

"Mom, I just want to feel heard!”


That night in bed, I had a lot to consider and I remember wrestling in prayer.

But finally, after several sleepless hours, I prayed,

“Lord, I want my daughter to feel heard and loved. Help me to change. Show me how to work on my listening skills so that those I loved feel heard.”

Author David Augsburger wrote, “Being heard is so close to being loved that they are almost indistinguishable.”

God created us for relationship with Him and with others. And that means we need to value our relationships by listening attentively.

Relational wisdom from Proverbs teaches us, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning” (Proverbs 1:5).

Jesus Himself warned, “Consider carefully how you listen’” (Luke8:18).

Most of us are busy and stressed out, so how do we consider carefully how we listen and take steps to improve our listening skills?

It’s not as hard as you might think. It will take practice, but there are a few steps you can take right away.


If you take these simple steps you’ll improve your listening skills immediately and those who are dear to you will feel more loved right away!

Simple Steps:

1. Silence Your Inner Fixer.

Have you noticed how tempting it is to try to fix other people’s problems? I’ll give you a secret. People don’t want you to fix their problems. They want you to listen. They want to feel heard and validated that their situation is difficult and challenging.

So next time, you’re tempted, ask a question instead. Which brings me to my second simple step.

2. Learn how to ask questions.

Any great conversationalist knows how to ask great questions. Jesus Himself was the Master question asker“Who do you say I Am?” “What do you want me to do for you?”—and it’s a pretty easy skill to learn.

Before you meet a friend for coffee, think of three questions you’ll ask so that they’re already in your head. Do the same whenever you attend a meeting where you’ll meet someone new.

Think through a few great questions and even write them on an index card. Then look at the card right before you go into your meeting so the questions will be fresh in your mind. Watch and wait for the opportunity to ask a question.

Hey, if you need help in the question-asking department, I’ve got good news for you! I’ve got a great free gift called, How to Get the Conversation Started up on my website. It’s loaded with great questions you can use in any situation!

3. Let Go of Distractions.

Don’t buy into the myth of multi-tasking. It will hurt your relationships.

When you’re with someone, discipline yourself to be fully present to the conversation.

Turn off or silence your cell phone. Shut down your computer and turn off the T.V. and simply listen to the other person. Seek to understand their heart and what’s behind the words they are speaking. 

The one way it’s valuable to multi-task is to pray for wisdom as the other person is talking. Pray that the Holy Spirit will set a guard over your mouth and help you to speak only what’s helpful.

4. Ask.

Finally, ASK.

Dare to ask at least two people you love, “How well do you think I listen?”

However they reply, don’t push back. Simply receive and then take it to the Lord and ask Him to change you!

Which of these simple steps might UPGRADE your listening skills today? Choose one, and "practice" on your family and friends. Who knows ... the Lord might open new doors to better relationships.

Becky Harling. Authentic. Passionate. Funny. Insightful. Becky is a frequent speaker at conferences, retreats, and other venues. She is the author of Rewriting Your Emotional Script, Freedom from Performing, The 30 Day Praise Challenge and The 30 Day Praise Challenge for Parents. Becky is married to Steve Harling and has four adult kids and five grandkids. Visit her website and blog!

Graphic adapted, courtesty of StockSnap at Pixabay.


The 60-Minute Money Workout

In this Financial UPGRADE, Ellie Kay, America’s Family Financial Expert (®), says it’s never too late for a good “money workout.”

“The number one reason cited for divorce in America is arguments about finances," Ellie says, "but there is a way to be able to talk about money with your mate and live in agreement.”

Whenever I (Dawn) find myself with some financial flab, I know it's time to whittle down. Ellie's tips here are a great help!

Ellie continues . . .

When Bob and I were first married, we didn’t like to say that we “argued” about money. Instead, we had “intense fellowship” because he was a born spender and I was a born saver.

We knew we had to come up with a better way to “fellowship,” so we followed the instruction of James 1:5:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.”

With God’s help, we could develop a way to talk about money without losing our tempers or throwing rolls.

We called this our weekly “Money Workout,” and it helped save not only our marriage, but our finances as well.

You don’t have to be a couple to workout, either. You can do this workout with a friend, if you aren’t married.

We start our workout by setting boundaries such as no condescension, no negativity, no name calling and no throwing food.

We also decided to limit our workout to one hour so our discussion would have a start and a finish.

The key to success is consistency and commitment.

So, let’s get started. Get a timer and set it for each of the following sections of your one hour workout.

1. Make Up Your Mind Warm-Up (five minutes)

When you read about people who have lost weight and kept it off, most of their stories begin with a watershed moment when they decided they were sick and tired of being out of shape and make the decision to do something about it.

The same is true with your finances. This is the time to decide what financial topic you want to work such as a budget, debt repayment, planning for a vacation, retirement, the purchase of a car or any financial topic you decide to work on for the next hour. Then make the commitment to get into good financial shape. 

2. Couples Strength Training (10 minutes)

It usually takes more than one person to get a couple into serious debt. Even if one spouse does most of the spending, the other person usually tolerates the destructive behavior in some way.

This part of the workout is a time to record common goals so that you will have a tangible and objective standard to work toward.

You can also discuss any roadblocks that have kept you from reaching your goals in the past and strategize ways to overcome these obstacles.

3. Budget Burn (20 minutes)

During this section, you do the hard work by filling in the blanks for a budget or researching how much debt you must pay down.

This may not seem like a lot of time on this section, and you may not get all the work done during the first workout, but you can come back to this in the next workout.

The key is to keep the discussion moving forward.

We used the Mint app to set up a spending plan, and plugged in our numbers during the budget burn part of the workout.

4. Taking Your Heart Rate (20 minutes)

If you are making progress, then continue during the work on your topic.

But if you have hit a wall, or begin to have stress or disagreements, then change direction during this portion of the workout.

If you’re not having an issue, then continue the work you started in the previous section.

For example, if your topic is “paying down debt,” you could use this time to check your credit report. Order a free copy online at Annual Credit Report

5. Congratulations Cool Down (5 minutes)

Sit back and grab a glass of something cool to drink and reflect on all you've accomplished in just one hour!

Take this time to tell your spouse one thing you appreciate about them to end this exercise on a positive note.

Then, set up a time, topic and place for your NEXT money workout.

When will you schedule your first money workout and who will be your workout buddy?

Ellie Kay is the best-selling author of 15 books, veteran of 1800 media interviews and founder of, a non-profit organization that provides financial education to military members in live events around the world. She’s married to Bob, a fighter pilot, and they have seven children. For more financial insight or resources, check Ellie's website.

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