Rebekah Dani

This plot twist is for all you planners out there. The ones that like to, at the bare minimum, have the next step planned out.

They are willing to give up some control in their lives, but to give up all control is out of the question. And to have no idea what the next step of life is? We might as well just call it quits. 

After graduating from undergrad I had a pretty good sense of what the next couple years of my life would look like. I had just started working on my masters degree and was recently engaged. Life seemed to be going as planned. I would graduate with my masters degree in one year, one month later be married, spend a few years working in the area until my husband finished his masters degree and then consider relocating. To my knowledge it was a great plan, especially because we were Christians and were doing all the right things to keep God in the center of our lives.

It wasn't until 5 months after engagement that I had the biggest plot twist of my life. The perfect plan that I thought was set in stone was ripped from beneath my feet. The wedding was called off. 

It was like I was hit from behind with a semi-truck, it was so unexpected and I just felt so thrown off. I would of NEVER thought something like this would happen to me. How could it? We did all the right things, now not only was that different but every aspect of my life was put on trial and I questioned everything.

I never thought of having a plan B; I was 100% sure that plan A would work. It was the first time that I had no idea what to do, and for days/weeks I had to just go through the motions of life. I had decided to stop school and take a leave of absence and finish at a later time. I just didn't see how I could sit in class and not be a hot mess at moments notice.

It’s crazy how one set back can make you feel unqualified in multiple areas of your life. Fear tried to stop me from continuing to pursue the things of my heart. Through all of this I felt such a strong sense of optimism and strength to look at this drastic life change from a different lens.

As much as I could of just sat and wallowed in the sadness of my story, I felt challenged to use it as motivation to grow and learn. I wanted to do this for myself, and I just felt like I kept hearing, “do not give up, keep going, you can do this.” If it wasn't for those silent whisper’s from the Lord I do not know where I’d be now.

Right before the next term of my program started I decided to not call it quits and finish. It wasn't an easy decision because I did not know if it would be too much for me at the time but I decided to take a step of faith and try. I had so much support from friends and family and most importantly the Lord, which gave me so much peace

I have such a passion for travel and exploration and I had put extended traveling on hold for so many years due mainly to school and being in a relationship. And when I least expected it a new door had opened. I had been waiting for the opportunity to live in another country for years, it had been a desire in my heart since I could remember. And it was now a reality. I could finish the term, and complete my last class online while traveling. It was perfect, but I felt so scared of the unknown.

Taking off, leaving my friends and family, moving out of my house, it was like hundreds of changes coming at me at one time and I felt so overwhelmed and again was going to allow fear to dictate my life path.

After much prayer I decided to make another life changing decision and go abroad. 

I do not remember the last time I did not have a plan and just lived step by step in complete faith, waiting to hear the Father speak about what was next. And now I am on the journey of a life time. It is hard, yes. Is there still moments of uncertainty, yes. I am being so stretched outside of my comfort zone. But I am getting the chance to travel through Europe experiencing life in so many new ways. The time away has helped me focus on my writing, connect with people about future career opportunities and focus on myself. Is my journey over? No, honestly I think it is just beginning. I am not allowing this plot twist to stop me because there is so much more life to live. 

The main thing I have learned through this is to always be ready for change. Life always has a way of throwing curve balls at us and throughout it all with the help of my amazing Father in heaven I am realizing I can get through anything.

Despite what opposition may come my way I must never forget that I AM CAPABLE, I AM CALLED, AND I AM ENOUGH. Because of taking a risk and stepping into the unknown I have been able to experience a life that I never expected would happen this soon. 

Rebekah Dani is a traveler, artist, writer, motivational speaker, and entrepreneur . She is no doubt a city girl from Los Angeles, California. She has a passion to reach people through different creative forms. Encouraging and pushing people to find their "thing" that they were created to do and grace this earth with. She also has a heart to show people how cherished and loved they are through the message of Jesus Christ. Currently, she is finishing her Master in Business degree and plans to start a non-profit arts and design school, combining her passion for business and the arts. Meanwhile, she is doing some traveling filling her heart with culture and good food. 

 

Website: www.extravagantlycreating.com

Blog: www.rebekahdani.com

Instagram: @rebekahdani

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/bekahdani/

Jeanette Hickman's Plot Twist

  Imani Givertz Photography

Imani Givertz Photography

“Here's to first-time performers fighting nerves You who are brave
Afraid of potential rejection
My audience

Understand that when we stitch our souls to the very bindings of the pages that we read from
We are risking affliction
Offering our backs for you to bless or burn

We put our lines on the line Praying you'll accept our sacrifice” 

Never in a million years did I imagine my life would look this way. 

I had a plan for post-college, adult Jeanette. I knew what I loved and I knew what I wanted. 

And then I graduated. 

I crashed head first into a plot twist known as the recession. Any idea of job hunting and moving across the country to follow mythical dreams was cast out of the picture. So I stayed in South Florida. I continued working. I existed. But I felt stuck and I felt stagnant. And if I were being completely honest, I felt forgotten, as I watched the social media sagas of friends finding their callings and fulfillment, and here I was wondering if life would always look the same. I found myself in an internal battle as self-doubt and disgust strained to set in. Where was my great adventure? My legacy? How would I impact anyone? 

Sometimes a backslide is actually a blessing in disguise. 

I stepped into a coffee shop one day to attend a small open mic run by a friend.
A single show was all it took to change my life forever. I fell in love. With the people, with the talent, with this creatively-charged safe space where all were welcome. I found belonging. I immediately started writing and the next month, with shaky hands and pounding heart and unsteady voice, I performed a piece of poetry for the first time. I shined. Not from the performance, but from the resounding rally of those around me, encouraging me. The more I spent around these creative people, the more inspired I became, the more I began to write and share and hone my skills. I wanted to be a part of the magic. I started getting there early and staying late, assisting in setup, even cohosting. 

And then I was given the news that would alter the course of my life completely. The founder and host of the show was moving away. The open mic would be disbanded. 

Plot twist- Unless I stepped up and took over the event. 

I tried to walk away. I tried to think of every excuse that would tip the scale over to NO. I was afraid and I was overwhelmed. I almost let my doubts dictate my destiny. 

But despite my best attempts to convince myself that I CAN’T DO THIS, I carried on. I cried out to the Creator to help me now create. I asked for strength and support to make this something truly great. I unclenched my hands and took a breath and gave it all to Him. 

I am now known as “The Hostess with the Mostest.” I run multiple shows each month- some of the most successful in South Florida. I perform Spoken Word across my state and recently even went on tour. I have found so much fulfillment and I have been a part of some truly magical moments. 

The journey to this point was NOT easy or quick or pain-free. But it was important. I am able to see my legacy and my impact. Every show I have the opportunity to instill worth and value in the gifts that artists share. Every show I get to celebrate other first time performers. I get to honor their vulnerability. I get to witness words heal wounds and I get to watch walls come down. There is such beauty in the cracks of our exterior and there is something so powerful about a microphone, and a stage, and a community that is ready to see all the broken bits and painful puzzle pieces that make up every individual who steps up to our spotlight. There is something so meaningful about finding a place to belong, a place to shine, a place to shine the light onto others. 

So hold onto the important things. Know that sometimes receiving the answer “no” is not the end of your story and don’t let your doubts defeat you. Be wise enough to know you cannot go at this alone and be brave enough to step up to the stages in your life. Adjust your eyes to understand just how important encouragement and uplift truly is, and be someone that shines your light onto those around you. 

Fight for what makes you feel alive and if you don’t have that yet, find it. You will fail and you will fall but Beloved, the destination is worth it all. 

  Imani Givertz Photography

Imani Givertz Photography

Jeanette Hickman lives in West Palm Beach, FL with her beloved cat, where she works for a family entertainment company by day, and hosts events/performs spoken word at night. She is most passionate about creating art that focuses on truth, calls to action, and uplift., and strives to push her audience to move, change, and think. Her mission also revolves around empowering the next generation, speaking worth into lives, and spreading the love and message of Jesus Christ through her words. 

Jeanette recently returned from a spoken word tour up the East Coast with four other artists and is looking forward to future traveling and speaking opportunities. She has performed for organizations like Hope For Freedom, the Homeless Coalition, No Child Hungry, Rescue Upstream, and more. Also once she fell off an elephant. 

Big things are on the horizon. The sky is no longer a limit. And a community of support is SO important. Please, join her in the adventure. 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeanettehickmanpoetry

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeanettehickmansays

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnFw1- 3Pw1Pdlxh3AQGa_Vg

Taylor Griggs, "Sand and Sequins"

Video by Ian Gutierrez, FidesRex.com, Instagram @Fides_Rex

Taylor is a lifestyle blogger who loves weaving words together and uncovering the magnificent in the mundane. She spent her adolescence as an avid reader/writer. Upon moving from St. Louis, MO to San Diego, CA she found a place for her writing and launched her blog Sand and Sequins. Taylor also works as a Marketing Project Manager, Social Media strategist. She enjoys yoga, riding her pastel blue beach cruiser, and collecting whimsical coffee mugs.

Instagram: @SandSequins

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/sandandsequins 

Twitter: @SandandSequins

Blog: www.sandandsequins.com

"Stars in Your Eyes," by Valerie Lohman

Maybe it’s due to an abnormally large ego, but I’ve always had this horrible desire to become a successful performer.

When I was 12, I got into my dream school, a performing arts High School where I would get to study Musical Theatre every day (basically, my life was like the 80’s classic ‘Fame’). As I opened my acceptance letter, I suddenly knew what it was like to be Charlie Buckett in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ when he finally finds that Golden Ticket. THIS was winning the lottery of all lotteries. I was absolutely positive that my life could not, would not get any better than this. I mean, come on, who doesn’t want to sing show tunes 24/7? Am I right?!

I started as a mere 8th grader, and was in love by the second week of school. Two years went by, and I felt like this place was my home, I was somewhere that I belonged, where I was happy and loved. But, I still wasn’t feeling seen. Sure, I wasn’t terrible or anything, but I also wasn’t the best. I wasn’t really given solos, or leading roles in any of the mainstage pieces. I thought that maybe I had just thought I was special, and that maybe I really was only destined for 3rd chorus girl from the right. It broke my heart, though I just assumed that this was going to be the norm for me and the rest of my career. But deep down, I knew I needed more.

Then, (plot twist!) I won the role of Dorothy Gale in a local regional theatre’s Summer production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could be successful doing what I loved! When school ended right before I started rehearsals, I had every intention of coming back for my Junior year, but as they say, the best laid plans do change.

For the first time in a long time, I felt like I might be able to do something more than I had been led to believe.

It started as a small passing fancy, but more and more, I realized that this was what I wanted. I didn’t want to go back and play second fiddle. I wanted to go out and act.

But then for every moment that I felt strong and powerful in my decision to leave, the next moment I felt sad, hopeless, lonely and scared.

I didn’t want to leave my friends. I didn’t want to leave everything I knew and had devoted the past 3 years of my life for. That would be crazy.

Anxiety kicked in and asked ‘What makes you so special?’ and ‘What gives you the right to leave?” These questions haunted me that entire summer, and they do still. What gives you the right to feel so powerful?

I wonder every single day if I made the right decision. 

I think I did, but who really knows? But this darn little voice that asked for something more would not leave me be. So by the end of the summer, as I was taking my final bows in ‘Oz’, I decided to leave for the unknown. It was my own journey over the rainbow.

And somehow, it worked. Fast forward to now, just 3 years later, and I couldn’t be happier. I am doing what I love and I am making it work. I’m eternally grateful that I’ve had so much support from friends and family.

The main thing I learned was that not only does life hardly goes the way you expect it to, but also that we have the power to never settle. We are so worthy and need to not let the little evil ‘what if’ voice rule us. Because what is life without adventure and a little rule breaking? 

 

Valerie is an old soul trapped in the body of a sassy Disney-loving teenager who pretends to be other people for a living. She has credits spanning Theatre, Film, TV, and New Media. When not acting, you can either find her writing, binging Netflix, or at Disneyland pretending to be a Princess! 

Stay up to date with Valerie's journey:

@ValerieLohman

www.facebook.com/ValerieRoseLohman

www.valerieroselohman.com

 

Fashion Friday: Swirly Spring

Who doesn't love a vintage throwback with a classic twist?! In this case, the plot twist is this chunky clock button necklace. The combination of sophistication with a pop of funk makes the look your own!

These Jessica Simpson lace up flats extend the line because of their color, and pointed toes!

Hack: This dress was too large for me. Instead of taking it in, I added this belt to cinch in the waist!

I'll never get over this clock necklace. I discovered it on a rainy October day in Bryant Park, in New York City. I wear it with EVERYTHING, and get stopped by strangers because of the uniqueness of it. Unforgettable pieces like this are a great investment!

Holly Lee: Plot Twist

If you were to ask me seven years ago what it felt like to be vulnerable I would most likely describe one of those slow motion dreams…

You are standing in front of a room full of your peers about to give a very important speech. It’s silent, you are very aware of your heavy breathing and your sweaty palms. You look down and the paper your speech was written on has become blank; also blank is your body which is now a naked canvas. The room that was once silent explodes into laughter and you’re plastered in judgement. The only safe shelter you could possibly seek would require you to climb inside of your own skin and hide. We all dislike that feeling but we know it too well.

I never would have imagined living out my most vulnerable moment; having it completely tear me down would break me open to a life of gratitude, loving fully, and sitting in the now.

    Seven years ago I was driving home from rehearsal when my car collided with another and overturned on the freeway. I only had a moment to react. That was my “now.” The moment planted before me was completely out of my control and I had no choice but to accept it. Everything slowed down. My car flipped multiple times in what felt like an action packed movie sequence, and came to an abrupt stop landing on my window. All I could hear was honking horns and traffic screeching to a halt. Visually all I could make out were head lights beaming through my shattered window, blinding me one car after the next. I sat quietly in that chaos and thought “this is how my story ends.” It was peaceful and quiet in this realization for what seemed like hours then I was jerked back into reality. I was overly aware of everything around me. I knew I had to get out of this car. I quickly lowered myself in my seat to where it was possible for me to kick the window. I gave it my best attempt and still wasn’t successful. I knew I wasn’t getting out of there without help.

    Help. That word…up until this point had made me sick to my stomach.

I was always slightly bratty and independent as a child/young adult. Help was not only something I never wanted to ask for under any circumstance but it was also that word my parents told us never to say unless we absolutely needed it. Cut back to my chaos on the highway in that tiny car. I needed help. Ok fine. I dropped my head to rest on the window and up until this point I had not shed a tear. I closed my eyes and whispered a barely audible “help.”  I wasn’t sure who my silent cry was for. It felt like a surrender but not a “giving up rolling into a ball” type of a surrender, like an “open arms something bigger please guide me” surrender.  In that exact moment a man knocked on my passenger window.  “Your car, your car is on fire. Get out. Please!!” He pulled and tugged on the extremely mangled door and it released. I stood on my window reached my arms up and cried. I felt so small. This was that moment my parents spoke of, the moment I really needed help and could ask for it. “Help, oh my God please help me.” To hear myself say those words I felt free, connected, and vulnerable.

    He disappeared just as quickly as he appeared.  The first responders couldn’t believe someone pulled me out of the pile of metal they saw crunched up before them. It appeared to be a miracle. I walked away from the accident with a shattered rib and some wounds that weren’t visible, and the next two years following were a whirlwind of ups and downs. It seems strange that I enjoy looking back on the incident, but I remember my guardian angel and how one stranger reaching out and frankly saving my life left me seeing so clearly.

The connection between every single thing on this planet astounds me.

I made a promise in the days following my accident to be aware, grateful, and present in every moment. Just like everything else in life it hasn’t been an immediate change but rather a constant practice.

Now is the only moment we truly have and it’s the only moment that doesn’t end. You are always in it. Live it. Feel it. Love it. Own it.

Holly Lee is a native Southern Californian, currently working her magic at the Disneyland Resort.  Lover of the arts, nature, animals, people, coffee, and Oprah, Holly plows forward every day with enthusiasm and vigor, ready to live in the now and make the most of every moment.  She treasures her friends and family dearly, and couldn't embrace new and scary things without their unyielding support (such as writing a guest blog for example).  She hopes you will find the light even in darkness, and free yourself to experience the abundance waiting just around the corner.

Tory Freeth: Loving Yourself

Post-grad.  I wish they offered a class titled “life after graduation.”

I would have been first in line.  They didn’t, apparently you’re supposed to learn as you go.  Being the good student that I am, you can imagine how the idea of being unprepared stresses me out. Don’t get me wrong, the first year out of school has come with lots of freedom.  On the other hand, this first year, has been, well, like freshman year all over again.  Except this time, there’s no Resident Advisor or New-Student Orientation to help you along.   

When I said goodbye to this overwhelming sense of guidance that college had to offer, I was frightened to accept the new normal: it’s just me now. This season, for me, has been about going it alone. I don’t mean to sound like a martyr; every recent graduate is experiencing similar trials.  However, here was my lesson #1 in adulthood: in real life, you don’t experience every part of your day with your friends; it’s impossible.  So this season has been about living a day-to-day life that is uniquely my own: from running practical errands to lofty day-dreaming, it’s been about standing on my own.  Like my training wheels were taken off.   

Let me rewind a bit.  This past summer, I found myself in a blank space.  I had no plan, and I wasn’t sure where to begin. 

At the time, I was terrified, but I now realize it was a blessing in disguise: an opportunity to re-prioritize a bit.  I started to spend lots of time alone: every day, I would drive to a designated alone space, equipped with my favorite things (Starbucks coffee, my journal, my Bible, and a couple of good books).  At first, it was really hard, but after time, I began to reap the reward and actually crave time alone.   

You see, when you spend time alone, you begin to hear your own voice over the noise of life,

and more importantly, you begin to hear God.  If you’re like me, perhaps you’ll notice that God would never speak to you the way you speak to yourself.  I confused humility with self-criticism: setting impossible standards and passing judgment when I failed.  Those characteristics don’t resemble the gentility and compassion of our Lord and Savior; rather, they resemble the pride and hostility of the Pharisees. Yikes. 

But what does it mean to “love yourself”?  We are often afraid to embrace ourselves because we don’t want to come off as arrogant or self-absorbed. 

However, I’d like to argue quite the contrary. We won’t be able to claim our identities as God’s beloved children if we are too busy denying ourselves any self-affection.  In Brennan Manning’s book titled, Abba’s Child, he develops this idea:

“If I am not in touch with my own belovedness, then I cannot touch the sacredness of others.  If I am estranged from myself, I am likewise a stranger to others. 

"Experience has taught me that I connect best with others when I connect with the core of myself.  When I allow God to liberate me from unhealthy dependence, on people, I listen more attentively, love more unselfishly, and am more compassionate and playful (58)."

I think loving one’s self is a discipline.  I don’t know what it looks like for you, but I hope you start with the little things. For me, it’s meant occasionally treating myself with ice cream, writing down my victories when I feel discouraged, reading books that are life-giving, and most importantly, forgiving myself when I make mistakes.  So as Justin Bieber would say, “you should go and love yourself.”  Really.  You’re fashioned in the image of the Creator of the Universe, and He is writing a story just for you.  I can’t think of anything more worthy of love. 

Tory Freeth grew up in Southern California with her incredible and outgoing family.  She recently graduated from Azusa Pacific University with her BFA in Acting for the Stage and Screen, as well as a minor in Journalism.  After closing “Empire the Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, she is back on the audition grind.  Tory hopes to one day have a full-time career in storytelling, inspiring others to embrace their own story as they embrace the One who has written it for them.   

 

Amber Jackson: Her Inner Light

 In this day and age, self-love would appear to be running rampant. After all, we have personal social media sites where we get to display pictures of ourselves, our lives, our favorite things, and of course, our selfies. We get validation when we get a like or two from our peers. It would seem that self-love was at an all-time high. Look at the pictures-- our lives look amazing, right?

I have come to discover that self-love is far beyond what we allow the world to see of ourselves. True self-love lies within. When we can reach a place where we love ourselves entirely, the messy parts as well as the most worthy parts, that is when we reach true authentic self-love. In my experience, self-love was not an overnight success story. It takes work. Trust me when I say, it’s worth the work. You’re worth the work.

When we fall back in love with who we are and accept ourselves, we can truly and authentically love and live beyond the chains of self-doubt, self-judgment, and self-destruction.

    About a year and a half ago I was diagnosed with an auto immune thyroid disease called Hashimotos. After years of searching for answers as to why I didn’t feel well and why I felt sick all the time, it was somewhat of a relief to have a diagnosis. Although I finally knew what was ailing me, I found it difficult to not be angry at myself and my body. “Why can’t I just be healthy?” “I SHOULD be able to make it through the day without needing a nap!” “I wish I could just be normal.” These were thoughts that crossed my mind often. An interesting fact about auto immune conditions is that the body is literally attacking itself. For me, my body was attacking my thyroid gland.

This physical attack was being mirrored in my mind. I would attack myself with judgment, criticism, and comparison. No wonder I felt sick!

One morning, after a restless night, I lay in bed and prayed for wisdom, for healing within. As I laid there in the silence, desperate for a cure, a quick fix, the Lord quietly spoke and said, “Remember who you are. You are my child and you are fearfully and WONDERFULLY made.” At first I thought, “That’s nice to remember but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m suffering”.

After my pity party concluded, a light bulb went off. I understood.  I am a piece of God’s creation. He designed me. He shaped and molded me in all my intricacy and complexity. Every time I said something hurtful towards myself or got angry at my body I was discounting the masterpiece. I was forgetting to see the beauty in the brokenness.

The human experience is messy. We are each a vivid masterpiece. Illness is a part of that masterpiece. Struggle is a part of that masterpiece. Brokenness is a part of that masterpiece. It is in the messy areas of our lives that we can find compassion and love for ourselves.

I learned that in order to love myself and live authentically I had to accept every part of myself. This is not a destination but rather a journey, a daily practice. 

I have found that appreciation and gratitude have been the most vital pieces of my personal journey to self-love. Rather than thinking about and focusing on what my body isn’t doing right I reframe my thoughts and begin to say gratitude statements for what it is doing right. “Thank you for the air in my lungs, thank you for the ability to experience joy, to laugh, to dance.”

Gratitude can change even the darkest of days into one filled with vibrant joy.  I find that journaling, taking long walks, and rocking out in my car are how I reconnect and recharge. For you it might be taking a bubble bath, watching a sunset, going for a run, whatever it may be, open your eyes to the beautiful masterpiece that is you. Open up your heart and mind.

Accept the messy, beautiful, chaotic, and vibrant light that you are in this world and go out there and shine.

You, EVERY part of you, is enough. You are a masterpiece. 

Amber Jackson is a Southern California native who grew up with a love for the arts and a passion for people. After being diagnosed with an auto immune disease she felt fatigued, frustrated, and detached from her true authentic self. Her own healing journey led her back to school where she studied holistic healing through the mind, body, and soul connection. Amber is a Certified Transformational Nutrition Coach and is committed to helping women break through the blocks of insecurity, depression, and self-doubt. These blocks coincide with many illnesses and stressful life circumstances today. She encourages women to rediscover their inner light and shine that light by living life authentically.

Stay up to date with Amber's journey here: herinnerlight.com

Taleen Shrikian: Like Real People Do

A week or so ago, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and stumbled upon a video that my dear friend and fellow dancer, Brigitte Butler, had posted. In the video, she was experimenting with some freestyle contemporary dancing, just in the open space of her bedroom. I've seen Brigitte and other dance friends post videos like these dozens of times, but what caught my attention about this video was the caption. She wrote that she was "trying to use all [her] limbs to their full capacity and not be so small". 

Brigitte is 5' 10" and has gorgeous, long limbs for dancing... But I still knew exactly what she meant. Whether you are 5' 1" like me, or 5' 10" like Brigitte, the world tells us (as women, especially) that being big and taking up space is a bad thing.

Whether it's crossing our legs while sitting, or speaking with soft voices, we are unconsciously conditioned to take up as little space as possible.

Even the phrase "taking up space" has a negative connotation - like we are in the way or imposing ourselves on the people around us.

BUT, in dance and other art forms, that's not the case! We in fact spend years training ourselves out of being small and are encouraged to love our bodies and use those limbs and voices to their full extent. In art, taking up space is a good thing. Whether it's a singer's / actor's voice, or a dancer's body, taking up space is a beautiful and freeing and expressive way to communicate the message behind the art. Sadly, most people walk around afraid to take up space because society teaches us that we're not supposed to - but as artists, it's quite literally our job to take up as much space as possible! 

As I sat there, no longer paying any attention to my Instagram feed, I gradually came to realize how transformative this idea of taking up space has been for me as an artist and a person. Growing up, I went through typical adolescent phases of feeling insignificant - of feeling small and like I wasn't good enough or pretty enough or tall enough or skinny enough or whatever enough. (Let's be real, these thoughts still creep in today.) But, no matter how much I was drowning in self-doubt or self-hate, I always had dance and theatre to shake me out of it.

When I was in a dance class or on stage, I was encouraged to be the biggest, most full, and confident version of myself. I was free to take up as much space as possible.

It made me feel like a rockstar! And to this day, I use my art to re-center myself when I'm feeling out of sorts - usually a "when in doubt, dance it out" kinda thing. 

Even if you don't consider yourself to be an "artist", I want to challenge you to try taking advantage of any and all opportunities to take up space with art.

And if there are no opportunities available to you, create them.

Anytime, anyplace. Seriously, go for it! Sing your heart out in the shower, share a crazy story with a friend, or make up a dance to a Hozier song in your backyard (see video below) - exercise the gift of taking up space with art every day! I promise, you won't regret it.

Taleen Shrikian is a Southern California native who recently graduated from Boston College with a BA in Theatre Arts and a minor in General Education. While at Boston College, Taleen was lucky enough to pursue her love of theatre and dance through performing and choreographing with the BC Theatre Department and the BC Dance Ensemble. Since moving back to California, Taleen has been getting involved with as much as she can in the LA arts scene. Between a professional acting internship with A Noise Within classical theatre company, a recent ten-minute play series with The Underground Theatre, an upcoming performance as Tracy Turnblad in "Hairspray" at The Orpheum Theatre, and becoming a member of LA based theatre company, The Vagrancy - Taleen is thrilled to be following her dreams, living and working as an artist in Southern California.

Follow Taleen's journey here:

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNURc9GsE9oUYlPpIjH0mdg

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/taleenshrikian

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/taleenshrikian/

Dana Lundblad: Fearlessly Made

Fear has got to be the best and the worst emotion that anyone can experience. 

The biggest battle with fear is learning how to harness them to work in your favor instead of letting them cripple your dreams. 

I would consider myself to be a perfectionist and I hold myself to the most impossible standards. So therefore the toughest fear I’ve had to face is the fear of not meeting my own standards. I learned a long time ago that I can’t control what other people think of me and I can’t please everyone, but I do have control over my own actions and expectations. When I make a mistake, the hardest criticism I receive is from myself and it’s triggered by insecurity. I’m sure we all face that nagging voice in our heads saying "you aren’t good enough." 

A season in my life where fear took over would have been my entire high school experience. I never truly felt like I belonged or that people wanted to have me around. I had friends of course, but when it came to extracurricular activities I decided it was safer to opt out instead of facing rejection from my peers. It was an overwhelming feeling of being small and insignificant.

College was a pivotal time in my life where a lot of growth in my faith, and self-confidence occurred thanks to encouragement from my mom and my mentor Naisa Wong.

It was as simple as hearing from someone that your best effort is enough and it relit a spark in me.

I was given the opportunity to stage manage a show in college and it reminded me that I’m a good leader with natural leadership abilities. I wanted to then continue to pursuing leadership positions which my university gracious gave me. Through those jobs I was given I realized my passion for directing and producing stories for Film.


Upon starting my career after graduation I began to hear that voice again telling me that I wasn’t good enough and I should stop trying. The voice was different though I felt that my career choice to pursue film was a long shot and I should be practical to make a steady living instead of being young and silly. Then I realized that I could actually use my fear to work in my favor. I decided that being afraid of my dreams was a waste of time! Instead, I needed to be more fearful of not achieving my dreams. The thought that I could I could fail myself by denying my goals actually fueled my passion and hunger, which caused me to work harder.

It’s like that saying: "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade." I’ve decided that when life gives me fear, I'll  make a new goal.

Let the fear of not getting to that goal fuel something positive within you instead of feeding something negative. "If you reach for the moon you might not get the moon but you will certainly land among the stars." 

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Dana Lundblad is originally from Phoenix, Arizona and recently graduated from Azusa Pacific University in May 2015 with a BA in Theater Arts. She has a background in Theatrical directing and stage managing and is currently a Production Assistant for ‘The Talk’ on CBS. Her long term career goal would be to direct and produce in the entertainment field either theater, film, or any other medium of entertainment. She is passionate about story telling and the humanity behind each story. She believes that stories are a universal language that unites human beings and creates a unique community. 

Monica Ricketts: Treading Water

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Sixteen years ago, on a glorious, summer day, my family and I were invited to attend a barbecue at my Mom's friends house. I was eight years old; full of spunk, energy and enthusiasm; ready to take on any challenge thrown at me. When we arrived I immediately got into my swimsuit and water wings. I wanted to feel the cool water on my skin and splash around in their beautiful outdoor pool. 

Because I had never learned how to properly swim before, the water wings were of extreme importance to my safety. I would jump into the pool, climb back out and jump in again; over and over. I had never felt so free, floating about and laughing loudly.

 An hour passed and for some strange reason, I impulsively decided to take the water wings off. There was a strange jolt of bravery in my heart, and I thought to myself, "I can do this." My mom's friend Monica noticed this and she called to me, "Are you sure you don't want to wear your water wings?" and I replied, "Yeah! I'm fine!" I jumped in and out a few more times. It was so wonderful to be independent of the small inflatables on my arms.

But, the last time I jumped, I had gone too far into the deep end, and hadn't realized it.

And once I got in, my feet could not touch the bottom. I began to panic. I didn't know what to do next. All I could think to do, was to flail my arms above my head, as I high I could and hope that someone would see. This struggle carried on for minutes it seemed and to my fear, nothing was happening on the surface. I was accepting my fate.

 As i tried to analyze the situation, the first though that came to me was: "I haven't even had my first kiss and now I don't think I ever will." My mind was spinning and I began to lose momentum and strength. Images of my beloved family and friends circled around me, as the water began to fill my ears and nose.

And just when I thought all hope was lost, someone's hand was aggressively clasped onto mine, pulling me out of the water. It was Monica, and she saved my life.

The moments afterwards are all a blur, but the years following were greatly affected by this event. I was ruled by fear. The fear of loss and of death, for I been so close to it. I had difficulty trying new things and being adventurous in my childhood.

 However, my timidity changed, when I was hired by Disney Cruise Line, at eighteen years old. In order to become an official cast member, I had to pass a extremely thorough swimming test. I was so distraught at the news, for I knew that if I didn't pass, one of my cast mates could potentially replace me. I had never prayed so hard in my life.

 It was pouring rain that day at the outdoor pool and I was the last one in the entire group to complete the test. I was beyond petrified. After two hours of sinking, crying, trembling, and physical exhaustion, I miraculously discovered how to face my greatest fear and learn how to tread water in a pool 15 feet deep. I learned how to swim!

 This success was intensely fueled by being given an opportunity of a lifetime. I was granted my dream role to play princesses on a stage for a nine month contract. and I wasn't going to let my fear get in the way of that.

Allowing my worry, anxiety or fear overcome me, was not an option. I had to just JUMP IN, and hold my head above it.

The fact that I was able to accomplish such a task still baffles me to this day, and is a constant reminder to not give in to the negativity that is found in our world at times. As many of you may know, being a performer in Los Angeles can often be exhausting and discouraging. But as soon as I look back and recognize that I was able to tackle such a feat and succeed, I am encouraged! The experience of nearly drowning, and being able to push through that fear to reach a goal, has become a metaphor in my life. Fear of rejection is similar to my fear of drowning, and the only way to overcome that, is to dive in and learn how to float with ease and tranquility.

 Although I am often afraid, worried or emotional, I am learning to use that energy as motivation to push harder. In these past two and a half years living in LA, I have faced many challenges that have required me to face more fears than I can count. Driving in crazy traffic, auditioning regularly, being vulnerable at those casting calls, playing challenging roles such as Ilse in Spring Awakening, and not losing sight of my dream to be on Broadway someday.

 I know that life may throw me hundreds of different shapes, sizes and temperatures of swimming pools to splash around in, but through experience, I am properly prepared: with scuba gear, life preservers and oxygen tanks at hand. What I will leave you with is this: In the words of Dory, the adorable, often forgetful fish. In difficult times you just gotta"... Keep Swimming!" and cherish each day that is filled with all of the wonderful blessings that the world has to offer. You are not alone, and there is always a way to reach your dream if you apply yourself and wipe away the doubt that may keep you from reaching that goal. Celebrate your dreams and the journey it takes to get there, it will be so much less scary to step out of "what if" and step into "I'm so glad I tried that!"


Monica Ricketts is a 24 year-old, Los Angeles based actor, singer and Disney enthusiast. She has lived in the area for almost three years and enjoys the lively, exciting life of a performer. Having grown up in a small town, the experiences here have truly shaped who she is today in a very powerful way. She hopes to continue to bring joy and hope to others through theater, storytelling and song.

Instagram: @monicadanae

Website: www.monicaricketts.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/monicarickettsofficial/

Zenna Hodge: Conquering Fear

Zenna Hodge, a California native, is a makeup artist, actress, and youtuber. For the past 3 years, she has been taking LA by storm, working on projects ranging from late-night talk shows, to sci-fi movies. She prides herself on her versatility, working for networks and companies such as Hologram USA, The John Kerwin Show, and Ritz Carlton. Her passion is to impact others through her work by being a positive influence wherever she goes. Follow her journey here:

https://twitter.com/zennahodge

https://instagram.com/zennahodge/

https://www.facebook.com/zennabethhodge/?fref=ts

Snapchat: zennabeth

Audrey Dukes: I'll be home for christmas

There’s just something special about Christmas songs, right? You hear them and somehow they have the ability to soothe right over your heart and make everything feel just a little bit brighter, a little bit warmer, comfy cozier. We all love that classic, beautiful, smooth voice of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, The Carpenters, or the ever lovely and unique Zooey Deschanel singing their lovely rendition of I’ll Be Home For Christmas. It kind of brings a warm smile to your face and heart just thinking of Christmas time, being with loved ones, and celebrating one of the warmest, love-filled times of the year. This year, for me it also brings longing.

For the first time, I am away from home at Christmas time, and that longing for home could not be more real. Unbeknownst to me, this longing set the stage for God to drop a whole lot of Christmas revelation into my heart that may just forever change the way I hear and respond to this classic Christmas song.

As you listen to I’ll Be Home For Christmas, it is nearly impossible not to think about where/what home actually is for you. I immediately thought, “Well, home is where the heart is, where you grew up, where your family is, where you feel most at home, where you long to be..." and I think most of us would agree.

But I felt like there was still more to home than what I was experiencing. I really needed to feel at home now, even being away from the place I have always known as home. So I asked the Lord to help me, and what He said was SO sweet and SO TRUE. He said; “Audrey, HOME is wherever I AM.” Home is where the Lord is. Being with Christ is our home. HIS PRESENCE IS HOME.  This means that home is lot so much a place, but a relationship. No matter where I am, I can always be at home; and Jesus is always constantly calling us home to himself. The question is, will we be home for Christmas, and in fact are we living a life where HE is our home and where He is at home in our hearts?

The Lord has been showing me that this lines up perfectly with the first Christmas story. Let’s look at the wise men and the star. They saw the star and followed it as it led them right to Jesus.

“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” (Matthew 2:10-11)

 Here we see people seeking Jesus, finding Him, and upon seeing Him being overjoyed to worship Him and to offer Him their gifts! They found what they were looking and longing for! And being in His Presence spurred forth action from them in offering Jesus their gifts. This is so for us as well! The gift we can offer is ourselves, our whole heart, our life.

Just like the wise men on that very first Christmas were invited to be with Jesus, we are also invited into intimacy with Him! We are invited by God in His Word to make our heart His home. In John 14:23, Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them." Nice! And I absolutely love Ephesians 3:16-19 where once again the close intimate home relationship between Christ and us is promised.

“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God."

As we say yes to Him, He is faithful to make our hearts His home, and it goes on to promise that as we get to know and follow Him “we will be made complete’. Who doesn’t want to be complete? To know you are where you were made to belong. Often times I find myself in the thick of the Christmas season just longing for something more. I am listening to wonderful Christmas songs and trying to do all the things I think will make me feel complete or full of joy, and satisfied, but it is not until I still myself and bring my longing to God that my spirit is truly lifted, especially in this season that is really all about Him.

Christmas is a great time to get recalibrated, so to speak; so I feel like this revelation is SO perfect for right now. At Christmas time more than any other, the whole human race longs for belonging, the sense of home, love, and purpose. I believe that Jesus is fully aware of this, and is prepared to offer us all we need! We need only to seek and pursue, love and long for Him – our HOME, and from that love, we can offer Him our lives in obedience.In this life chapter I am in right now, I am away from what I have always called home, and I have felt such an extreme longing to be in that place. As I sought the Lord he made it very clear that He wants me to long to be with Him even more so than I was longing to be home in California. And as I set my eyes on Him I realized something:

I have also never felt more at home than where I am in life right now because I am seeking Jesus, trying to make His Presence my home, following Him and His leading into my calling and destiny. I am SO AT HOME and right where I belong because I am with Him, walking with Him in His will for my life. Where He leads, I will follow, where He goes, I go, wherever HE IS, THAT IS HOME. I AM HOME WITH HIM. And the great truth is, home is available at all times for all people!

Being that it is Christmas time, we are especially attune to this longing for love and home. My prayer is that we would LONG to be with Him, in His Presence, making Him at home in our hearts, our life, more than we have ever longed for anything before. And as we seek Him this Christmas, and always, making a home for Him in our hearts, may He continue to bless us unfathomably with His Presence, causing us to truly feel at home for Christmas and always.


Originally from sunny Southern California, Audrey has recently set out on a grand adventure pursuing life and Jesus in the arts and entertainment world of Musical Theater, Film, and Television over in NYC. God is surely shining His light there and moving mightily. Being there has grown in Audrey a heart for the homeless and for those needing freedomfrom oppression physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually; and she is interested in seeking how she, with Jesus and the Church, can be a bigger part of helping meet that need. Audrey is passionate about life and shining the love, peace, light and JOY of Jesus! Leading worship is also a huge passion of Audrey’s. She believes that praising and encountering the Lord together in worship is a beautiful and powerful thing, and that we are meant to live a lifestyle of worship. God is our GOOD Father! When off the stage you will most likely find Audrey soaking up the sun, sipping an iced soy dirty chai, and water coloring. ☺

Kim Giron: Noel, a journey in the midst

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You guys, I have a confession to make.

I have a slight obsession with Christmas decorations. Whenever the holidays roll around, I am constantly on the lookout for the latest adorable Christmas decor for my house. This year I started to notice a pattern in my shopping habits. Anytime I see the word “Noel” I am instantly drawn to that piece! As I sit on my couch now, I can see at least three decorations that include that word! My affinity for the word Noel has neither rhyme, nor reason. The Christmas carol is a favorite of mine, but it’s just such a pretty word, isn’t it? It glides off the tongue with such grace, ease and simplicity. Yet, as I read further into the history of the word, I discovered that an alternate spelling, “Nowell” can be traced back to English roots.

Nowell. Hmm. Not nearly as pretty! Why does that spelling of the word strike such an uncomfortable chord with me? Surely I do not like the word simply for the way it is spelled. Let’s keep digging, shall we? It is ultimately derived from the Latin word natalis, which means birthday, or anniversary. Ah there we go! Birthdays and anniversaries, THESE are a few of my favorite things! Cupcakes and presents, anyone?!

In the Christmas carol, The First Noel, the song talks about the birthday of Jesus, as chronicled in The New Testament. The birth of our Savior is arguably one of the most profound, yet humbling beginnings recorded in human history.We all have one; we all have beginnings. This beginning, however, was special. This beginning marked a day that the world changed, the Earth was still, and ahush fell over creation.

Everyone knows this universal beginning. Most anyone can recognize this famous opening verse of The First Noel.  Go ahead, sing it to yourself - I’ll wait.

"The First Noel, the Angels did say

Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay

In fields where they lay keeping their sheep

On a cold winter’s night that was so deep"

Can you imagine what it must have been like on that crisp, deep, still night? Many of us have probably envisioned that scenario at some point or another. You might even know the next part of the story…

"They looked up and saw a star

Shining in the East beyond them far

And to the earth it gave great light

And so it continued both day and night."

The shepherds took a leap of faith. They followed a star. They wandered and walked in the cold to witness the humble beginning of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We know how important this story is! We know it holds such weight and meaning and so we finish the song by singing:

"Then let us all with one accord

Sing praises to our heavenly Lord

That hath made Heaven and Earth of nought

And with His blood mankind has bought.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel! Born is the King of Israel!"

But did you know there is more to the story? Did you know there are three more verses in the traditional carol? I would be willing to bet there are very few who can recite these words:

"And by the light of that same star

Three Wise men came from country far

To seek for a King was their intent

And to follow the star wherever it went.

This star drew nigh to the northwest

O'er Bethlehem it took its rest

And there it did both Pause and stay

Right o'er the place where Jesus lay.

Then entered in those Wise men three

Full reverently upon their knee

And offered there in His presence

Their gold and myrrh and frankincense."

Now, I am not saying that we should sit for hours and hours at church this year and sing every obscure verse of every Christmas carol ever written. But I do think there is something to be said about those middle verses.

Without the middle, we can’t quite grasp the whole story.

In this middle of this carol, we hear about the wise men. We read about people seeking a King, we sing of the place where Jesus lay! The middle of this song is where all the meat is! Oh, how I would love to sit across the table from each of you and dig into the juiciness of this song! Isn’t it beautiful and wonderful and remarkable and all of those other adjectives?

But friends, the point here is that if we fail to acknowledge the middle, we fail to see the entire story. When we disregard the middle, we run the risk of missing out on some of the most important pieces of the puzzle! Jesus laying in a manger, wise men on bended knee in the presence of our precious Savior. If we pretend these verses are not there, we ignore such sweet blessings.

What is your middle? 

What could God be trying to show you in the mundane, the everyday, the commonplace? Are you savoring each moment or are you rushing through trying to make it to the end as quickly as possible?

There is so much to be learned from the middle, for better or for worse. Don't hurry through this holiday season rushing to the finish line. The next time you hear a holiday carol as you are waiting in line at the mall, stop and savor the moment to rest. The next time you are begging your child to just walk a little bit faster because you are late for school, pause and appreciate their gentle reminder to slow down. The next time you are wishing the monotony away, pause for a moment and think about your middle. Ask God to whisper blessings and favor in the middle.

You never know what sweet verses could be in store for you.


Kim Giron is an elementary school teacher from Southern California. She holds a B.S. in Child Development and is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Educational Technology. Kim is passionate about instilling a genuine love for learning and zest for life within her students and is always striving to grow as an educator. When she is not surrounded by third graders, she enjoys leading worship alongside her hunky husband, trying out new restaurants and cuddling on the couch with her sassy pup. She craves real, raw conversations and authentic connections with other women and is always up for a good chick flick!

Jenae D. Thompson: this christmas

I have met and gotten closer to several people who now have permanent residency in my heart…because of my family’s take on Christmas. In my household, Christmas is about more than decorations, yummy treats and opening presents (which are all awesome things we pine for year-round, let’s be honest); and it even goes deeper than a textbook celebration of Christ Jesus.

Our purpose is warmth and love and being a tangible vessel of both of those elements.

And because of my family’s insistence upon and downright NEED to do so, there has almost always been at least one not-so familiar face at our annual Christmas Morning Breakfast for the past several years.

It’s interesting…As a woman of faith, who has grown up in a household of faith, I find that the holiday season is that one sneaky time of year when people celebrate, evaluate and practice Agape love (the sacrificial kind of love), even without knowing they are. It’s the one time of year when, world-wide, people make it priority to show love and be love and GIVE love in many forms. It’s the one time of year when we are willing to step outside of ourselves and our circumstances to elevate another person, and even the time when people who do not normally adhere to or even acknowledge a higher power take a moment to bow their heads and whisper “thank you”. It’s that “hide the vegetablesin the meal, so the childrenget all their nutrients” viewpoint that makes my all-time favorite Christmas song..well… my all-time favorite Christmas song!

Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” at first listen sounds like a Christmas song for lovers; a blossoming couple perhaps sharing their first special holiday and finding themselves falling deeper in love via the magic of the season, but from the moment I hear that first line: “Hang all the mistletoe; I’m gonna get to know you better—this Christmas..”, I am immediately teleported to my family’s living room amongst the hubbub and music, seeking out that one not-so-familiar face and thinkingjust that…“I’m going to get to know you better;”… and thinking the same of my family members as well. When we share our Christmas experiences, a hot meal, and God’s word with one other, I learn so much about the people closest to me and I feel how highly favored, blessed and protected we are--and it makes me so happy and excited to share that with people who may not have or have never had that for themselves.

“Hang all the mistletoe I'm gonna get to know you better This Christmas And as we trim the tree How much fun it's gonna be together This Christmas

Fireside is blazing bright We're caroling through the night And this Christmas, will be A very special Christmas, for me

Presents and cards are here My world is filled with cheer and you This Christmas And as I look around Your eyes outshine the town, they do This Christmas

Merry Christmas Shake a hand, shake a hand now Wish your brother 'Merry Christmas!' All over the land”

–Donny Hathaway, 1970 Shake a hand, shake a hand now… ☺

Jenae Thompson is an L.A. native singer/actress who studied Theatre Arts and English with a Creative Writing emphasis at Azusa Pacific University and Dance at Citrus College. She has had the honor and privilege of working theatrically for eight years, five of which have been professional musical theatre productions across the U.S.; including two wonderful years touring with The American Family Theatre for Youth as "Cinderella" and various characters. She has been writing since the age of four-years-old. All glory to her Father in Heaven, and special thanks to her loving, ridiculous family and her "Sunbeam" Ms. Renna for this opportunity.

Lisa Liberatore: An Attitude of Gratitude with Style

Did you know that gratitude increases positive focus by 25%?

When you are grateful you act out of the truth of abundance instead of the myth of scarcity.

What 3 things are you grateful for today?

Scientific research indicates those who write down 3 things a day they are grateful for have more alertness, enthusiasm, optimism & energy. It also proves that those who record 3 blessings a day are more motivated, likeable, others-oriented, forgiving, generous, and more likely to give.

Here are 3 things I’m grateful for today:

1. Connection

Real, genuine, authentic human connection – Those simple moments, often unexpected, that connect us with each other. A shared smile, a deep conversation, a laugh, a handwritten note, a simple text, or even your favorite piece of jewelry handmade by a woman thousands of miles away that you may never meet face to face– these points of connection have the power to change the world. They create ripple effects. You never know how a connection made today will lead you to your passion, open a new door, or simply brighten day.

"Give thanks for the unknown blessings that are already on their way to us." -Native American saying

2. Beauty

It is said beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We choose the beauty we wish to see, which means there’s potential for beauty all around. Having a passion for fashion, I find beauty in style. I love putting together the perfect outfit that expresses what I want to communicate to the world this day through who I am and the beauty I exude. Going even further, knowing the purchases I make can change a life and create a connection is a beautiful thing.

"Clothes aren't going to change the world. The women who wear them will." -Anne Klein

3. Joy

Joy comes from gratitude. Comparison is the thief of joy. It is so easy to be discouraged in the world today. Everywhere we look and often our very own circumstances don’t naturally produce joy, which is why it must be a conscious choice made daily. Joy is not a rejection of reality, but rather an embrace of gratitude. Take the challenge and write down 3 things you are grateful for today and I promise it will create more joy. After all, you’re never fully dressed without a smile!

"How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest light to all the world." - Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

Hear what Lisa has to say:

Lisa has a passion to see young women around the world empowered, equipped, and encouraged. She is currently pursuing her Doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership at Pepperdine University, having obtained her bachelors in Political Science from Westmont College and masters in Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California. She is the Administrative Director at 31 Bits, a social enterprise that creates sustainable income with holistic training for 170+ women in Northern Uganda through beautiful jewelry handmade from recycled paper. She also works at Anthropologie where she loves giving style advice and turning customers into friends.

Stay up to date with Lisa's adventures here:

Blog: https://fashiondiplomacy.wordpress.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lisaliberatore/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/lisaliberatore

Calli Kunz: a life behind bars

Prisons. Society tries to always keep them at an arm’s length. Or, let’s be honest. An arm, foot, leg, and any other object they can put in the way to keep the distance as far away as possible. We are terrified of prisons and inmates.

People who do or did bad things. I see it everywhere, people posting about a newly released sex offender living in their neighborhood. They put up warnings with their face and information plastered on it.

We will never allow them to move on. We label them with permanent marker. Actually no, even that has the ability to fade if you wash it hard enough. We tattoo them. So they may never forget what horrible creatures they are. We don’t seem to want to treat them as people, so we may as well refer to them as creatures.

“No, that’s too harsh…”

“Is it? But it wasn’t too harsh to warn everyone to stay away and watch their backs if they spot them?”

When will we realize that inmates are people? The same as you and me. They have made mistakes, yes. Have you?

“Well ya, but I haven’t killed anyone or anything.”

That’s not what I asked. Have you made mistakes?

YES.

There you have it. Not much different if you ask me.

We are all the same, all fundamentally flawed. 

We are searching for love, forgiveness, redemption, acceptance. 

We all need GRACE.

But all of a sudden when someone gets put behind a lot of metal bars and thick walls covered in barbed wire, we say, “Sorry. Grace doesn’t reach that far.” Really? Huh. Cause the God I know loves all of his children with a fierce love that cannot be overcome. Especially not by some measly wire.

But guess what? God wants you to see his children like that too.

Let's dare to go beyond the seemingly daunting physical exterior that they are contained behind. Let's leave our judgment at the metal detector. 

That's where God's kingdom truly comes alive: past the barriers of separation and labels; where all of his children are gathered with no sense of distance.

If you do dare to try this, you will begin to experience his love and his presence in a way you never knew existed. In a way so unadulterated you will finally understand the gospel in a fully immersive way.

The way it was supposed to be encountered. Not as simply words on a page. But instead beyond the margins. All of them. Beyond.

That is where He rests.

How?

We could talk about this all day and point out why things need to change, but if we don’t actually begin to take small steps to make it better, it means nothing.  So here are some fundamental steps we can start taking now:

Volunteer! Many prisons look for volunteers to help with, or start, classes.

Write! There are non-profits that will set you up with a pen-pal behind bars. Be the hope someone receives in the form of a letter.

Stop! Stop the stigma. When people describe inmates as "other," speak up.

Let us allow love to lead the way.

 

Calli is an actress and writer located in Minneapolis. She is passionate about the art of storytelling because she believes it is our job to give voices to those who are not heard. Stories have the ability to change the way we see and interact with the world, and she could not imagine being a part of a more impactful medium. When she isn't auditioning, directing, or giving speeches for the Minneapolis Business College, she can be found lost among the racks of banana republic or blissfully wandering the organic produce section at Target. 
To stay up to date with Calli's adventures, visit http://thevoyagerjournal.wix.com/the-voyage

Rachell Campbell: choosing the appropriate mask

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” - Oscar Wilde

We are obsessed with what is “real.”

“Let’s be real” “Let’s get real” “We’re real friends” “Made with real butter” “It’s the real me”

The search for something “real” amongst the ads, Tinder, and conversations of 140 characters feels impossible. Desperate, young hipsters leap into the arms of typewriters and Polaroid cameras as an attempt to connect with a perceived “simpler time” when the world made sense. We wear Ninja Turtle t-shirts and buy outlandishly expensive record players from Urban Outfitters because we are desperate for bygone days, but in our obsession of being real we have lost our ability to be appropriate. The concept of “real” vanishes the moment we reach for it. By the time we have come to understand our “real” selves, we have become someone else through the process. It is not about being “real” with everyone you come in contact with, it is about putting forward the best version of yourself at the right moment. 

Being an “organic self” 100% of the time is as appropriate as taking non-organic food away from a starving person because it’s “bad for them.” Our dire need to be “real” at every moment can lead to poor life choices, such as not wearing shoes to a job interview or wearing ski caps when it’s 90 degrees outside. We need to embrace the different parts of ourselves so that we can equip ourselves for needs of our present circumstances. There is a time and a place for everything: bare feet belong in a living room not a boardroom.

I revere the truth. The ability to live truthfully in the full knowledge of oneself is a great gift—but it never happens. The modern perception of a “real” self is as true as a poster-print of a famous painting. It looks like the same thing, but some of the soul is missing—because a true self takes true vulnerability, not a record collection. We cannot possibility be vulnerable with everyone, we would not survive, so we must protect ourselves by being our best self at the proper moment. It’s like that silly old phrase, “where ever you go, there you are.”  You can be a real you in every mask you wear. I am myself whether I am being “Confident Business Rachell,” “Freaked Out Writer Rachell,” “Brilliant Professor Rachell,” “Or Spell-Check Abusing Bumbling Idiot Rachell.” Each foot I put forward is mine. Each personality is a part of me. I choose the best me for the current circumstance. Be your best friend self with your best friend, not your boss.

I do not have everything together. My “most organic self” looks like a fizzy-haired maniac constantly on the brink of a break down or a break through. I talk too much. I am far too loud. Most of the time I think I’m an idiot, but when I head to a networking event or go to teach a class, another part of myself takes over--the charming part, the more confidant part, the part that remembered put on deodorant this morning. None of them is my “most organic” self, but they are all within me waiting to surface given the opportunity. I would not get to continue to do the work that I love as a professor and a playwright if I showed up as my “most organic self” to class or the theatre. It is not a lie. It is wisdom.

We must learn to embrace our different masks as a part of our one, true, and appropriate self. 

Rachell Campbell has been a theatre professional in the Los Angeles area for nearly a decade. As a playwright, she tells the stories of women and brings to life historical heroes like Rosie the Riveter and Suffragettes. Her works have been published in the First Line Literary Magazine and produced by academic theatres such as UC Riverside, Life Pacific College, and Azusa Pacific University. She writes an annual children’s musical for the Azusa Renaissance Theatre and has developed theatre curriculums for a variety of educational programs. Rachell has participated in the literary office at South Coast Repertory for the last four years. There she was trained in the methods of dramaturgy and provided with opportunities to work as the production assistant to Theresa Rebeck, Zoe Kazan, Culture Clash, Rick Cleveland, Lauren Gunderson, etc. Rachell has observed playwrights transform their plays from good to extraordinary and brings this knowledge into her classrooms at Azusa Pacific University. Rachell is dedicated to creating art that exist for more than merely entertainment. 

To stay up to date with Rachell's adventures, visit www.apenofherown.wordpress.com .

Tim Beeckman Davis: Trick or Truth

I love Halloween. Let me rephrase.

I am obsessed with Halloween.

For the entire month of October my heart beats just a bit faster and I have an extra dose of adrenaline rapidly pulsing through out my body. Four full weeks of orange lights, fake spider webs, corn mazes, pumpkin shaped Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, plus watching “Hocus Pocus” and “Halloweentown” as many times as physically possible. And finally, after the anticipation is no longer containable, the entire Holiday season culminates into one celebratory night. A night where I can abandon myself to the wayside for a few hours and be someone completely different; someone that I would never get to be in the real world. Yet, this is what fascinates me. Why do we have so much fun being someone else? But perhaps there is no harm, it's only once a year after all.

But it's not for me, not necessarily. I'm also an actor. I put on a costume and pretend to be someone else all the time. In fact, I do it professionally. I have a college degree in it. For four years I studied how to become another person and be that person so well that I could be paid for it. And I love it! It's my passion; my vocation.

Why?

Now, don't get me wrong. Acting is an incredible profession. One that holds a mirror to society so that they may critique what they see and be impacted by it. But this art form also holds a mirror to the practitioner. An actor is in their most vulnerable state while they are performing and there is no telling what an actor may see in that mirror, or how they will respond. Sometimes, an actor may realize some goodness in them that they've never seen before, or recognize a beneficial piece of information that positively impacts themselves and their relationships with others; perhaps even with God. But other times, an actor will stumble upon something about themselves they don't like. Something that scares them, or disgusts them, or they'll see their reflection and not recognize themselves.

So what do we do? What do I do--whether in the art form or outside of it? What do I do when I look in the mirror and don't like what I see?

I dress up. I put on a mask and then put on a show. How could I not?! I've had so much practice! Not only have I passionately done so every October since birth, but now I do it for a living. Of course, my natural reaction is to, simply, be somebody else.

And this person/mask changes as my life changes. Take a look at my resume:

The Perfect Christian A kid with a perfect family. A kid who didn't care about being bullied. A sexually experienced young adult. A sexually innocent young adult. A straight-A student. A person who is confident. A person who believes in themselves. A person who accepts their faults. A person who never struggles with shame or guilt. An optimist. A pessimist. And everything inbetween.

Eventually I found myself with enough masks to fill every haunted house in the nation. But while I gasped for air behind my heavy disguises, I was reminded of a song:

“Wonderful, beautiful, is what you see when you look at me. You're turning the tattered fabric of my life into a perfect tapestry. I want to be me.

"You see the real me. Hiding in my skin. Broken from within. Unveil me, completely. I'm loosening my grasp, there's no need to mask my frailty. Because you see the real me.” -The Real Me, Natalie Grant.

We are beautifully and wonderfully made! We are designed by the creator as artistic masterpieces! And I try to remind myself of this daily, as I make my way through insecurities, doubt, fear, and desperation. Those are very real things; things that make me dig back through my trash can to find a mask to wear. I am tempted to put it on when I meet new people, audition for a show, feel convicted at church, try on a piece of clothing that doesn't fit, or really any time I pretend to be doing better than I actually am. And though I may feel comfort for a moment or two, I soon realize that I don't recognize the person in the mirror. And with the help of God, and an unbelievable set of friends who love every inch of imperfect on my body, I find the courage to remove the mask and toss it back in the trash.

So, by all means, dress up Batman this Halloween. Then, be 100%, completely, wonderfully, beautifully YOU for the other 364 days.

Tim Beeckman Davis is an actor/writer/director who just recently moved from Los Angeles to The Twin Cities in Minnesota. He has an avid passion for creating in the image of the Creator and is pursuing a career in Musical Theatre. After falling in love with writing during his time at Azusa Pacific University, where his first One Act was produced, Tim is proud to be finishing up his first full length play! His mission is to spread Joy and Love to the world. Isaiah 6:8

To stay up to date with Tim's adventures, visit http://thevoyagerjournal.wix.com/the-voyager

Lanissa reale: What Does Freedom Look Like?

In May of 2013 I was able to travel to Israel with 30 other college students from my University for a few summer weeks. Talk about an adventure! As we set off to the Atlanta airport, the bus was full of 30 strangers that would soon become comfortable with each other through 14 hour flights, tight foreign cab cars and leaving the sweet comforts of home. After nearly 20 hours of traveling, we had finally reached our destination and were ready to explore this new land together. 30 students from different walks of life, each with different life stories and each with extremely different personalities.

Our first day in this new country was the adventure of visiting a local’s farm where we were all led to dress up like a traditional, or normal, Israelis and precede to ride donkeys and make some pita from scratch. For about 2 hours 30 students with completely different personalities all looked and acted the same, for the sake of participating in a particular culture.

Have you ever felt the need to put your true personality aside for the sake of fitting into culture? Ever feel like everyone around you is starting to dress and act the same way simply because of a culture trend?

In a world of trends and strong cultural influences it can be extremely easy to lose our uniqueness or boldness and just fit in. And maybe you’re just like me. Unique and proud of who I am, but stick me around people who have really strong outgoing personalities for a while and I will soon look just like them. I tend to hide behind the mask of fitting in. Put on a movie with characters who have cool accents and unique personalities and I will most likely spend the rest of that day acting just like those characters.

I know who I am, deep inside, don’t I? Yet more often than not, I find myself fitting into the mold someone else has created rather than the unique mold God created just for me. So maybe, even though we are different in many ways, we are the same in which mask we choose to hide behind. Young girls with good intentions to be confident in who we are, but sometimes struggling to put on the mask of fitting in instead of standing out.

But sweet friend the truth is that we, yes--you and I, were made to be comfortable in our own skin. So comfortable that we are not only okay with who we are, good bad and ugly, but are so confident in who God created US to be that no culture can change us. There are many different masks that we can hide behind, but ones that encourage us to deny the very person that God created us to be are some of the worst.

Maybe you’ve worn this same mask before, and have struggled with fitting in to the culture around you even though deep inside you know that you have something special inside. I have good news for you.

I've always been a gal who wants to make a difference; a dent in the world around me. And the truth is that the only way we can make an effective difference is buying into the girl who God has created us to be. The Lord's grace is so unending. Even though we tend to hide the uniqueness He gave us He is always right around the corner to remind us of who we really are. 

You’re not alone. You don’t have to stay behind that mask any longer.

We are not what the world says we are, and we aren’t the molds that others have created for us. We are each unique. Beautiful, messy and yet completely covered in grace. You are you, and that’s exactly who you should be.

That May, 30 unique students may have all dressed up identically like local Israelis but at the end of the day we were still us. What does it look like when girls can live in a culture of strong influences and yet stay true to who God created them to be?

It looks like freedom.

Lanissa Reale is a 20something (#feelin22), newly engaged, recent College Graduate! That’s right... all that in a matter of months! Thus, she knows the struggles and uniqueness that come within this “young woman” stage of life! After many years of trying to fit into the crowd around her, she soon found that the woman she had always dreamed of becoming wasn’t found in the world around her but in the Lord alone. Lanissa is the founder of the Becoming Ministries Blog where she is dedicated to empowering women to get comfortable in their own skin and buy into the process that God has in store for them. The woman we dream of becoming is a process, yet a powerful one when we have other’s in our corner throughout it! Let’s become the women we were created to be, together!

Connect with Lanissa here:

Lanissareale.wordpress.com or http://facebook.lanissareale