Passion for Your Purpose: Go Where it’s Deeper

Hey Friends,

As we wrap up the the theme of passion for your purpose, this week’s blog is all about moving forward and trying again in the wake of failure and disappointment. We’ve all experienced before, but what do we do when we feel nudged by God to give it another go?

I hope you enjoy this post and most of all, I hope it’s as encouraging to you as it has been to me.

x KC


One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking. When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. Luke 5:1-9 (NLT)

Go out where it is deeper and let down your nets…

Have you ever hit a wall in your pursuit of a dream? Have you ever experienced disappointment when going after the things you know you were meant to do, things that you know to do well? I have. In the passage above, we can see that Peter and this group of fishermen definitely did.  Jesus meets Simon Peter and his crew as they were washing their nets after a long and unproductive night fishing. This group of knowledgeable, seasoned fishermen–doing what they knew well to do–had come back empty-handed when Jesus met them on the sea that day. They were probably tired, disappointed and feeling like they’d wasted their time. I’m sure most of us can relate because, let’s be honest, doesn’t life feel just like this sometimes? Especially in moments when, like these fishermen, we do the things we know how to do well–moments when we are operating in our gifts and talents, doing the things we know that we were purposed for–and still somehow after all that fishing, we come back with nothing? I love that this story opens with Jesus coming across them washing their nets because many times I’ve been found washing my nets feeling like giving up, disappointed after trying hard and seemingly having caught nothing.

I also love that the story doesn’t end there.

I’ve been looking at this passage for a while now and there’s just so much there that it’s been hard for me to find a place to start. But in these past few months in my life where I find myself feeling like I’ve been fishing all night to no avail, what sticks out to me is Simon Peter’s response to Jesus’s instructions; he essentially says, I’ve been there. We’ve done it already. I already tried. We already gave it all we had. BUT, If you say so, I will. “If you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.”

Sure a story like this can sound like a good example of the importance of persistence and perseverance, but what happens when even after we persist and persevere, we come up with nothing? I could rattle off a laundry list of things that I have at some point tried and been persistent and hopeful about, only to feel the sting of disappointment. You know, those shoulda happened by now types of things. Those, I’m doing everything I should, but this isn’t working type of things. Those, no matter how hard I try, this still hasn’t happened type of things.

These guys fished all night. They were hustling. They were grinding–they put in the work. I think they had the persistence game in the bag, but persistence didn’t get them the big catch–obedience did. Peter’s “If you say so, I will,” posture of obedience put him in the right place for the haul that God had already prepared for him, but he had to go out and cast his net again. Our obedience puts us in the right position for receiving the promise. The haul is His to position, but the net is ours to cast. 

My Pastor says something that I think about often in moments when I’m feeling defeated. He says, “Sometimes a set-back is just a set-up for a miracle.” Peter didn’t have a “reason” to follow Jesus’s directions about going back out where it was deeper and casting his nets again. Their experience told them there was nothing to be caught that day, but Peter didn’t let his experience dictate his obedience to Jesus’s instruction. If they would have left based on their experience, they would have never received the bounty that they did.

So, in light of this, I look at my own life and I encourage you to look at yours. Think about those areas where God has been calling us to go deeper. Think about where God is telling us to get back in the boat and cast our nets again. Even now, there are things that we need to choose obedience over discouragement and persistent faith over fear where it may cost us a bit more because we’re tired and already washing our nets in disappointment.

Where can we go deeper?

Where can we cast our nets again?

I want to encourage you, friend. Cast again in obedience. Cast again in faith. Cast again in surrender. Cast again even if it costs.

Peter’s obedience to go out where it was deeper and cast again didn’t just benefit or bless him; both boats were filled to the brink of sinking. What’s more, I think it’s fair to assume that the guys in the other boat didn’t even go out and try again as Jesus directed. The passage tells us that those in Peter’s boat had to call out for help from the other boat when they made their big catch, which likely means that they had stayed behind. But isn’t it like God to do a lot with a little? In fact, Peter tells Jesus, “Leave me, I’m too much of a sinner,” because he was so amazed at what Jesus could do. But Jesus goes on to tell him, “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will fish for people.” Friends, God always wants to do more with our lives than what we expect. Peter caught the haul of his life because Jesus allowed him to, but beyond that, Jesus invited him into something even greater. Something that would last longer. God wants to bless us where we’re at and our obedience will be the catalyst for it, but believe that he has even more in store for us than we can imagine. He is inviting us into building his church, into being fishers of men in our workplaces, in our communities, in our schools, in our families, in our homes, but it requires us to go deeper, it requires us to obediently cast our nets again in the things he’s called us to–even when it makes no sense and even if others won’t come along with us.

So I ask again, where is God calling us to go where its deeper? Where is he directing you to cast your net again? Maybe you tried on your own already. Maybe you did everything you knew to do. But go where its deeper, cast again, try again, let out your net again, dream again, pray again, get into the Word again, take a chance on that business again, have faith again, believe again, engage in relationship again, forgive again, create again, get healthy again, do what you’ve been called you to do again, because guys, there’s a haul that he’s set up that’s too big for just you or for me, there are others who’s lives will will be changed by our obedience as well.

Passion for Your Purpose: Where Are Your Roots?

These next few weeks on the blog will be a series about passionately pursuing our purpose. This week I’ll be kicking off the series talking a bit about the importance of being well-rooted in the Word and in relationship with God. I pray this series is a blessing to you as it’s been to me!

x KC


Purpose.

What do you think about when you hear that word? For a long time I thought purpose was a destination of sorts, or a title. It was something ahead of me that I was meant to do. Like…be a teacher, an artist, an engineer, a doctor, a preacher, a parent, an officer. By that definition it was essentially a singular thing; a role to be played. But when we take an in-depth look at the word or the idea of “purpose” it becomes more and more obvious that our purpose or our calling isn’t a title or some singular thing, but in fact it’s a way to live. I believe there is an overarching purpose to be pursued in our lives to love God and love our neighbor with all that it entails on the day-to-day basis: loving well, serving well, stewarding our lives well, being generous, etc. I also believe there are individual purposes that God has called us to specifically, whether long-term or short-term, they were designed specifically for us to do.

Every aspect of our lives is dripping in God-purpose. Psalms 37:23 says, The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way (ESV). The NLT version puts it this way: The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. God orders our steps and cares about every, little detail. If that’s the case, whether I’m temping as a receptionist for the summer or starting my own company, there is purpose to be found and walked out where I am. We can live out our life’s purpose in every season, every situation and any role we find ourselves playing, whether permanent or temporary because our purpose isn’t just a title, its a life-style.

We’re called, gifted and anointed to do certain things specifically, but ultimately our purpose is an all-encompassing calling to live reflective of the heart of God in whatever sphere of life he sets us in, in whatever season we’re in and in the things he’s particularly graced us to do.

Paul, in his letters to the early church, touches a lot on God-defined purpose:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Philippians 3:12

Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.  Romans 12:6-8

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. Hebrews 12: 1

From these verses we can conclude:

  1. We all have God-given purpose—the reasons for which he’s laid hold of us. Philippians 3:12
  2. We all have gifts/talents/strengths that God has given us to be used for his glory. Romans 12:6-8 We have been created and graced for these particular things. Ephesians 2:10 & 2 Corinthians 9:8
  3. We should all  diligently and persistently occupy our God-given, Kingdom-purposed domains (the race that he’s set before us). Hebrews 12:1

Knowing this, we should then occupy our domains with:

  • conviction: a fixed or firm belief 
  • zeal: fervor for a person, cause, or object; enthusiastic diligence; ardor
  • confidence: full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing

which are rooted in having a revelation of who Christ is, in his unchanging truth and knowing that he has called us all to this.

One key to being steady in our pursuit of living a purpose-filled life is to have an understanding of the “why behind the what,” in other words, having an authentic relationship with God. To live our God-purposed lives, we need to be rooted in God.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

There’s a story in the New Testament about some of the happenings in the early church. Acts 5:1-10 tells us that many were being saved and were getting a revelation of the heart of God. Because of that, they were selling their land, property, etc. and pooling together their profit to make sure that everyone was taken care of; they made sure the poor were fed and clothed and that the widows and orphans had what they needed. A husband and wife duo named Ananias and Sapphira, seeing this, were inspired to join in to be a part of this movement. They didn’t really get it, but they wanted to be in In order to do so, they sold their land, but unlike the others, they decided that they would keep a bit of the profit for themselves and deceive the leaders about it. When they presented the money to those in charge and said that it was the entirety (rather than just a portion) of their profit, they were both stricken down.

The problem here isn’t that they only gave in part–Peter specifically says that they were well in their right to give only what they wanted–their problem stemmed from this: they were inspired by the people’s revelation without actually getting the revelation for themselves. They had no roots. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to give the appearance of something on the outside that hadn’t happened on the inside. They would’ve crushed it on Instagram! Ha!

One of the lessons we can learn from Ananias and Sapphiras’s mistakes is the importance of being rooted in revelation, not just inspiration, because revelation will take you much further than inspiration ever could. Many things can kill inspiration, but nothing can kill revelation. Discouragement, disappointment, hurt, set-backs, rejection…all these things can kill inspiration and send us on a different path (think of all those failed new year’s resolutions). But revelation, when we truly are rooted in the truth of God, keeps us getting up after we stumble, it keeps us coming back after we’re disappointed. We live purpose-driven lives when we are rooted in revelation of the heart of God because our hope is anchored in him.

Revelation comes from being planted in the Word. It comes through getting to know who God is for ourselves, authentically. We have open access to him through the Bible, prayer, worship and through our Church communities. When we have a revelation of who God is and of who we are in him, we find that we don’t have to pretend to be anything, looking for opportunities to “play the part”, instead we are able to do so much more than we thought we could, living out our actual purpose in every day of our lives. If we know who he is and who we are in him, no matter where we are in life, no matter the circumstance or the title we hold, we can live a life full of purpose, just like he intends.


“Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavors, even the best, will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”  -Tim Keller

HER:STORIES – Karen Cecilia

Hi Friends!

This last Her:Stories of the month features me with questions by YOU! It was so fun going over these and sharing my heart with you all. Thanks for being a part of this! I hope you enjoy.

x KC


Who are some strong women who have influenced you?

Karen Cecilia: Wow, I honestly have so many. From my family alone: my grandma, her six children—all girls—my mom, my sister. I have some pretty amazing strong women as my very best friends in life. Then I look at the churches that I’ve been a part of over the years filled with such strong women, standing firm in knowing who they are and what they’re called to, outworking the call of God on their lives with so much grace and transparency. I mean, literally, any given Sunday I could easily point out about five women I admire in the room! I actually wrote about it once, how inspired and encouraged I am because of the example set by these women who have gone before me—and those are just people that I know, that doesn’t even include women like Donna Crouch, Priscilla Shirer, Bobbie Houston, Lisa Bevere…the list goes on…Michelle Obama! Ha! Seriously, I love that they are all so different, but each of them have an amazing strength that inspires and influences me in some way.

First of all I want to congratulate you on your wonderful blog. Thank you for sharing with us the gift that God has deposited in you. As your big sister and biggest fan, I’ve seen you grow in many aspects of life, in particular your walk with God. I am witnessing you transition from a shy and reserved person into a bold, brave woman, who is stepping out from behind the curtain where you have worked hard, humbly and served diligently and onto a more visible platform where your voice and your gifts are displayed. Can you share for us how you took the leap to put yourself “out there” and what your experience has been?

KC: First of all, thanks for making me cry. Ha! This question is really loaded for me. I’ve known for a while that I am called to ministry. All my life there’s nothing that I love doing more than serving and building the Church in any way that I can. For me, I know that calling is multi-faceted, but there have been and still are some sides of it that scare the bejeezus out of me. For a long time, I’ve avoided those things, particularly public speaking, writing and leading in places that required me to be visible. But over the years I’ve learned that, honestly, God is so good, and gentle and kind and that there’s so much more at stake than my comfort. I’ve also learned that “yes” is the best thing we can say to God—there’s so much that He can do with a willing heart and he makes us brave. I can’t love something and not give it all I’ve got, so over the past year or so, I’ve decided that I’m in. I’m all in. I’m terrified. Sometimes I feel like I’m over my head when I think about some of the things God has put in my heart, but I’m in. I’m constantly wrestling with feeling like what I have to “put out there” is not really important or needed or making a difference, but it’s honestly not mine to hold back, so I’m going to do what He’d have me do. There’s a scripture that I love so much, Galatians 5:25-26, I particularly love how its put in the Message paraphrase, it goes: “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.” This verse hits the core of my heart every single time because this is the life I’ve chosen, I’ve said yes to God and all that means for my life, so I’m intent on living out the implications of it in every detail of my life—not just in the areas that I feel readily comfortable in.

What are you reading right now?

KC: I just recently started a 6-week Bible reading plan by Angie Smith called Seamless, which truth be told, I’m a bit behind on! Ha! I did the Bible-in-30-Days plan in January and it was super intense (and so good!), so I’m thinking 6 weeks won’t be so hard! I’m also reading “Everybody Always” by my absolute favorite, Bob Goff. I admire him so much, he’s like a mentor to me.

What made you want to start writing a blog and what is your vision for this blog?

KC: I’ve wanted to do some version of this since I’m about 17-18 years old. I remember being up late one night and brainstorming for hours ideas for a Christian teen magazine (back in the day before blogs, ha!). Over the years it evolved into different variations of blog-like writing until it became what it is right now. Writing is something that I really love and encouraging people in any way I can is something that I’m passionate about. My blog has been an outlet for that. I’m not sure where this will go, but for now I’d say my vision for it is just to be a space where I can do that. Whether it be through a blog post about some area of growth and learning, a post reflecting on a Bible scripture or through something like Her:Stories, my hope is that everyone who comes across this blog would leave refreshed and encouraged in some way.

hs kay

If you could encourage your younger self, what would you say?

KC: For starters, I’d say, “Throw away your timeline!” Ha! Seriously though, I’ve learned that God’s plans are truly so much better than ours—they’re so much richer, fuller, more beautiful. I’d tell myself to invest more time investing in growing my gifts and strengths and to not try so hard to be what others expect or hope. I spent a long time trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life because I spent so much time trying to fit the expectations of others. I’d also probably encourage myself to avoid certain crushes, ha—but seriously though.

You’re a strong confident woman. Many women in the Bible, like Esther and the widow that Elisha helped, had to overcome fears to get God’s promises. What fears do you have and how are you overcoming them?

KC: This is a great question. I recently wrote a post called “Just A Girl”, where I talked about some of the fears in my life that I’m overcoming—particularly insecurity. For a long time I was afraid of sharing because I felt like I just didn’t have much to contribute and like what I had to say didn’t really matter. It held me back for a long time, but I’m confident now that those things aren’t true—even when I’m not feeling particularly confident in myself. I think there’s really something to be said about renewing our minds with the Word of God and I’m learning the power that the truth has to set us free. So much of my fear stemmed from insecurity and feelings of inadequacies, which I still deal with, but I’m reminded constantly that: 1-its not about me; as in both Esther and the widow’s cases, overcoming means life for other people! It’s always about others! 2- God is for me, he loves me, he made me, he’s with me and is doing something great in and through my life. That’s the truth and insecurity and fear crumble under the weight of it.

If you could see one thing change in modern culture as it pertains to women, what would it be? 

KC: Ok, so this is a really big deal to me and it’s definitely something that I think about all the time. For most of history, the value of a woman is defined by either her relationships or what she can produce. There have been so many revolutions and movements and yet here we are, in modern culture that says a woman is as valuable as the pleasure her body can bring, the children she can produce, the work that she can do or the relationship that she is in (be it a girlfriend, a wife, someone’s daughter or mom). Turn on the radio and you’ll hear songs telling women to shake this or shake that, there are songs—sang by women, mind you—about how they are nothing without the man they are with. There are songs encouraging promiscuity by women in one breath and in the very next, berating and degrading them for it. We’re encouraged to respect a woman because “that’s someone’s mother/daughter!” Beyond that—there is human trafficking which is NOT limited to women, but women and children are the highest percentage of enslaved people in modern society. If I could change one thing, it would be centered around women understanding and embracing their intrinsic value—knowing that its not about who they’re with or what they can offer physically, but rather that we are made in the image of God who meticulously designed each and every one of us. I’d like to see a revolution centered around women awakening to their God-given identities and I believe its happening. I’m witnessing it with my own eyes and my heart jumps for joy.

What’s your “Dream Job”?

KC: Easy: working in ministry and writing. Also being a mom. 

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

KC: Working in ministry and writing books and hopefully being a mom. Ha! Oh and married! 

What are some major lessons you’ve learned this past year?

KC: This has been a growing year for me. My mantra right now is: Your God-given domain will always extend far beyond your comfort zone because God will always take you further than you think you can go. I’m learning to not back down from the stretch. I’m learning to say “yes” even when its uncomfortable or scary and even when I feel unqualified.

What do you want to be remembered for?

KC: It’s funny, I love asking this question, but being on the other side of it is a bit more difficult than I thought. I feel like I’m still unfolding and growing and uncovering a lot of things about myself that will hopefully be a great part of my legacy—but overall I want to be remembered as being a lover of God and a lover, encourager and champion of people. I want to be remembered as someone who poured into others. I want to be remembered as a good friend. I don’t want to keep anything for myself, in the end, I just want to be someone who gave it everything I have and I’d love to be remembered for actually doing that.


The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng.

HER:STORIES – Shanelle

I actually remember the first time I met you a few years ago.  I was on line for church outside of Irving Plaza. We were meeting there for maybe 6-8 services per Sunday and the line to get in would wrap around the block! You were volunteering Connections at that time and you came to chat to me and my friend online and you remarked on how we both had gapped teeth! Haha. I said we were gap sisters and you smiled and walked away. Now it’s about six years later and you’re still one of the most welcoming, friendly faces people see when they come to our church! I love it and I love YOU!


Karen Cecilia: A lot has happened since we met at Irving Plaza years ago, hey.
Tell me a little about yourself—a little history of the life of Shanelle and can you share a bit about what life is like for you now?

Shanelle: Before I accepted Jesus I felt like my life was like a TV show — specifically like “The Cosby Show.” I thought my life was perfect and problems were easily and quickly resolved. There was no need for a God in my life. And, I honestly had a great childhood.

But as I got older I realized that life wasn’t perfect. And, I realized that I needed savior — although I don’t think I realized what the word “savior” meant. I had never heard about Jesus in the way I know now. I just knew that Jesus was associated with a god. I didn’t know what being saved meant; or who the Holy Spirit was; and on and on.

Now — I know God has a huge plan for my life. So looking back I can see how He guided me to Him. I was saved in college. And my life changed even more when I came to Hillsong years later. I learned about real love.

Now, I’m a girl who loves Jesus, loves life, my friends, this crazy city, and more. I’m really enjoying life. God has been revealing to me little nuggets about who He is. Those nuggets are treasured, valuable, and priceless.

I feel like He’s got so much goodness for me. He blesses me with beautiful dreams, thoughts, and reminders of His love and goodness and Grace. He answers my prayers. I feel loved and honored and valued and wanted. God is Good.

KC: I feel like there’s a hundred and one things I can sit and chat to you about, but I’d love to zero in on something that’s been particularly important to you as of late. Over the past few years, at least since I’ve known you, you’ve started on what could pretty much be described as a health and fitness journey. Can you tell me a bit about what got you started on the path of health-consciousness?

S: Yes! Actually the keyword there is “journey” because from when I can remember up until years after I moved to New York I was always overweight. I even developed diabetes in high school.

Also there’s been a lot of sickness in my family. One of my grandmothers died from a heart attack. She also had diabetes. My other grandmother died from years-long complications of an aneurysm. My mother has diabetes and she also has a kidney failure and other health complications. A lot of people in my family from cousins, aunts, uncles and so forth also suffer from similar diseases.

The most important thing health-wise that happened in my family is when my mom got breast cancer in 2015. Her cancer with the chemo treatment and diabetes took a really big toll on her life — and actually resulted in some serious complications that almost took her life. That was a two-year battle.

It was during that time that I realized I needed to make a change because I didn’t want to be another person in my family that suffered from similar diseases – because I was on my way there.

I first started with working out a little – walking, running up steps in the park, and taking an occasional work-out class, but my food choices didn’t change for years. I LOVE ice cream, cake, cookies, burgers, pizza, chicken, pasta, biscuits.

I would work out and eat the same, but I wouldn’t see a difference in my progress or my health. It wasn’t until about 2017 that I decided I needed to make a huge change in the foods I eat.

I started reading books and learning about how food affects the body! That’s when real change happened for me.

KC: What does living healthy mean for you? What are some things that you’ve centered this lifestyle around? (ie exercise, eating, classes, etc.?)

S: Living healthy for me – first, is making the right food choices. For me, it’s not necessarily saying “no” to certain foods (like: “I’m gunna do no carbs” or “I’m going vegan” or “Keto diet”). Rather, I’ve been learning about how certain foods affect the body, metabolism, and overall health.

For example, eating vegetables that are high in antioxidants, like blueberries, actually fight off free radicals floating in your body. Free radicals are nasty things that actually can feed cancer cells. On the other hand, white bread lacks all nutrients and immediately spikes your blood sugar because of the glucose in the bread. This then creates an increase of insulin. If this continues to happen with other types of highly processed foods, then our bodies can become insulin resistant – which leads to disease like diabetes.

I’m not a doctor, obvi, but these are things that I’ve learned.

Living healthy also means staying active with exercise. How can I challenge myself? I read that at age 30 our bodies start to break down muscle. So we need to train our bodies to build muscle.

Also – staying healthy spiritually (staying in the Word), mentally, and emotionally.

KC: I can speak for myself (and I’m sure many others) when I say that staying committed to getting healthy is NOT EASY! I have put in a consorted effort many times over the years and it’s been a struggle to stay committed. How do you stay on track? (Particularly when you may feel like giving up or giving in?) What are some ways you stay motivated?

S: Well, one reason is vain: I want to fit into really pretty clothes and jeans. Haha.

Also, I read this book called “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg which went over topics such as creating new habits, stopping bad habits, how to identify cravings, and how to create a reward system in your brain to maintain good habits.

Through this I’ve identified some cravings I have for food. I have to sometimes tell myself that my brain is craving ice cream but I’m in control, not my brain – if that makes sense.

Also, creating good, healthy habits comes with a reward. My rewards for working out are vain – haha – I like to post my work outs on Instagram.

I also, like I said, love clothing, so I have goals to fit into jeans. I buy jeans and other pieces in faith. For example, recently I’ve purchased some size 4 and size 6 jeans in faith. I hope to fit into those size 6 by the end of this year and the size 4 jeans by next year.

I also have number goals in terms of my health. I have a A1C goal to reach, a BMI goal, a Body Fat Percentage goal (notice I didn’t say a weight goal!).

KC: That’s awesome! I agree that it’s so important to look at health holistically and not measure it by just our weight—which is sometimes the only numbers we care about!

KC: We live in a very competitive culture where comparison is difficult to avoid. I think the temptation of comparing our progress to the progress of others is one of the biggest detriments to our joy and celebrating our individual achievements. Have you encountered the temptation to compare yourself with others on this journey and if so, how do you combat it?

S: I sometimes compare myself to JLo. I mean… c’mon! Her body is fire.

But seriously — when you think about health, not just the physical aspects of your body, you learn you can only compare yourself to yourself. My body doesn’t react to food the same way JLo’s body reacts to food. We are different, not only physically, but health-wise, culturally, and in lifestyle. So, I learn to think what is best for me. What are real goals that I can reach?

And, honestly I don’t really have a big problem with comparing myself with other ‘real’ people… Like my friends and other girls I see in the city or at the gym. If anything I’m challenged, in a good way, by it. If I see another girl who looks great (especially if I know her and her progress) then it inspires me to do better with my food choices and activity.

Also, I hang with people who inspire me and who are positive. I don’t spend too much time with negative people. Negativity can create a negative mindset where you start comparing yourself to other people in an unhealthy manner.

KC: That’s a really great way to see things and I can definitely appreciate the healthy kind of comparison where it’s more about inspiration than self-deprecation and negativity! Having a squad around you that lifts you up rather than tears you down is healthy in more ways than we can count!

KC: We’ve been friends for a few years and over the course of those years we’ve shared with each other some of our hopes and dreams for the future, including marriage and starting families. I think about the things we’d pass down to our children and the culture that we want to model for them. Setting the tone for the future of our family’s health isn’t just limited to their emotional or spiritual health, but their physical health as well. What are some ways, taking into account the health history in your family, that you hope to effect change in your family now and in future generations?

S: Oh, this is a good question. I have been thinking about this. I have also read many books that discuss ‘western diseases’ (such as diabetes) that are caused by the western-diet (processed foods). These diseases can get a head-start as early as in the womb. If the mother is over-weight, diabetic, has high blood pressure, etc. – then it can have an effect on the baby.

Disclaimer: Again, I am not a doctor. These are things that I’ve read and researched. Do your own research or speak to your doctor to learn more.

So, for me, although I am not married, a mother, or even expecting, I am working on my health now so that my choices are passed on to my future children. 

KC: Let’s talk about self-care for a moment. Life is obviously pretty full and in a city like ours it’s easy to get caught up in the go-go-go of life. What are some ways that you practice self-care?

S:  I have a thing called self-care Saturdays. I usually do it every other Saturday, if not every week. I use that time to do my nails, toes, give myself a facial. I also meal prep and get my week prepared. I take time to spend alone time. I love ‘me time’ and thinking, praying, and journaling.

KC: You’re also a bit of a nutrition-book nerd. What are some of your current favorite reads? Do you have any good recommendations?

S: Oh my gosh! Yes! One of my favorites so far “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan. He discusses the ethical and sustainable nature of food and how it is grown and produced. The book focuses on corn, soy, beef and chicken products. Very interesting! It has honestly changed the way I think about food.

Another recent favorite is “The Case Against Sugar” by Michael Taubes. Taubes investigates the history of sugar, the sugary industry, and how the white stuff affects our bodies and contributes to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Taubes also wrote “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It”. The book looks at western diseases that have developed in modern history due to our consumption of processed foods.

Another great read is “How Not to Die” by Michael Greger. The book goes in-depth about the benefits of a plant-based diet.

Currently, I am reading “Salt Sugar Fat “by Michael Moss. I’m learning about how the food industry has created processed foods with these three ingredients and how their foods contribute to diabetics, obesity and other sickness. The book also discusses the history of the food industry and its products.

KC: Let’s get into some questions I like to ask my Her:Stories gals, shall we?

KC: If money weren’t a factor, what would you spend your days doing?

S: Honestly, I love this city, my church and my life here. I’d probably be here helping to build the church with my free time. At other times I would occasionally travel the world, but not too much — As they say, “there’s no place like home”, right?

KC: Haha, right! I love this city, too!

KC: What do you want to be remembered for?

S: A woman who pointed people to Jesus and who spent her time with Him.

KC: Simple, powerful and to the point. Love it and I love you! You’re definitely already someone known for this.


Shanellio,

Thanks so much for taking time not only to share a bit of your story, but also for sharing some of the things you’ve learned along the way!

x KC

HER:STORIES – DRE

This week’s Her:Stories is one for the books. Before you read on, I’d suggest you grab a couple of tissues because you’ll probably need them! I had the opportunity to interview Dre Thomas, CEO and Founder of Smile On Me. She’s a friend, a world-changer and such an inspiration to me.

Enjoy!

…and seriously, grab those tissues.


Karen Cecilia: Tell me a bit about yourself. Where do you come from? What brought you to New York?

Dre: I’m originally from Los Angeles, California (s/o Inglewood!) I came to New York in 2011 because it’s always been my dream to live here! I fell in love with the idea of New York in high school, because of the movies and tv shows like Sex and The City, I wanted to live like Carrie Bradshaw! Until I moved here and realized how unrealistic that dream was. I came here for a year-long program I was doing with Americorps and after that was up, I decided to stay longer.

KC: You recently began an organization called Smile On Me that aims to empower and encourage young inner city girls. First, what’s the idea behind the name? Would you share how this came about and what your goal is for it?

D: Smile On Me actually started 13 years ago when I was a junior in high school. I remember my mom and I were having a conversation about girls in our community and I wanted to provide underwear and bras for girls. I grew up in low-income neighborhoods my whole life, was raised by a single mom and had 3 other siblings, two of which were girls. I never had my OWN things, everything was hand me downs, even my underwear! So, initially, I wanted to provide “gift baskets” for girls with new underwear and bras, and little something extra like chapstick or their favorite body spray. After a few years past, and I moved to New York, I was motivated to actually start this! I launched last year on my birthday, encouraged friends, family, and co-workers to bring a feminine hygiene product to donate instead of a gift. That day, I collected 500 products! That’s when I knew I had something here. Since then, I’ve donated those products to girls throughout NYC and have facilitated workshops on self-esteem and hygiene. It’s really funny to think that this dream started when I was 16 and now, at 28, I’m actually able to see it come to fruition! The name Smile On Me actually came from a Frank Ocean song called Lens and was later confirmed by a bible verse:

The Lord will smile on you and be kind to you. Numbers 6:25 (GW)

KC: Starting any type of business or organization is really hard work. It involves a lot of determination. I know that first hand. What have you found to be the greatest challenge so far? What motivates you to keep pressing forward in the face of setbacks?

D: God, honestly! I recently closed out a fundraiser and it has truly been the most stressful thing I’ve done in a long while. I was actually becoming bitter when people wouldn’t donate, it was really affecting my whole attitude towards Smile On Me. Like when I saw people on Instagram going out to eat or whatever but said they couldn’t donate to Smile On Me because money was tight, that really made me bitter. I even told myself that I would cut off everyone who didn’t donate. That’s honestly what made it so stressful, I was just becoming such a bitter person and not celebrating the fact that I get to do this. I was losing sight of the vision. So, I believe it was about a month in when God told me to relax, literally (he knows what I respond to, ha) So I prayed and asked God to help me be grateful. And so, he did! Every time I started to feel that bitterness come up, I’d just pray and thank God. I realized that this was a moment of growth for me as a new business owner and I no longer wanted to complain through it. Although the fundraiser was only 60 days, I feel like I’ve grown so much since we launched on April 9. I learned that God was building my character through this. I mean, what kind of CEO would I be if I cut everyone off who didn’t support me head on? Who wants a bitter CEO? Who wants to follow someone who is fickle? So, God came through as always, and it was truly an incredible experience.  There have been so many times since I launched last year where I wanted to quit and give up, but I just couldn’t. Because even if the summit doesn’t happen, even if no one donated, Smile On Me is my heart. I can’t get away from it. And that’s given me so much peace because I don’t feel like I have to rush this. I believe I’ll be celebrating girls for the rest of my life, whether it’s through Smile On Me or not, this is who I am, this is what God has called me to do and it’s such an honor.

KC: What’s been a favorite experience with Smile On Me so far?

D: My favorite part has been hanging out with the girls! We did a photo shoot in March for the campaign and that was so exciting. Not only because the images came up perfectly (s/o to Sylvie Rosokoff) but hearing the girls share their expectations of summit and what they’d like to see, was gold! Also, it’s been really refreshing speaking to other entrepreneurs and hearing them share the same frustrations or struggles. I was joking around with a friend of mine back home in LA who started her own cooking channel on YouTube about how we should start an Entrepreneur Support Group, and I quickly realized that we actually should!

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(Photo by: Sylvie Rosokoff — Instagram: @sylviethecamera)

KC: As a Christian woman and churchgoer, what place, if any, do you feel feminism has in church?

D: God is obviously a feminist! I strongly and wholeheartedly believe that. God is FOR women, he favors women, he blesses women, he makes space for women, he celebrates, elevates, inspires, and impacts women every day! Just like every other word, including Christianity, feminism has so many negative connotations. In fact, I refused to even call myself a feminist for a long while because of how it was portrayed, or what I thought it meant. But just like Christianity, I decided to create my own meaning of feminism.  I think if you were to describe a feminist as someone who celebrated, inspired, made space for women, everyone would be on board. And that’s how I define feminism. And I believe the church is the same, or at least it should be. The church, boardrooms, offices, operate better when women are at the table. I’m glad people are becoming more aware of intersectionality and inclusivity when it comes to discussing women’s rights & equality, and I am hopeful that the church will lead by example.
KC: How, if in any way, does your faith impact the message and meaning behind Smile On Me?

D: The number one thing that women and girls tend to lose or forget is their worth. Growing up I never thought I was worthy of anything good because I believed all the negative things the world told me. I bought into the narrative of being a poor black girl who would never measure up to anything, that became my identity. A major part of my restoration with God was him reminding me who I was and who he called me to be. It took me a long while to believe what he said about me, and even now, I still struggle with believing that truth. I know girls around the world have the same doubts and negative thoughts that I had growing up and I believe God has put me in a position to remind girls that they matter. I’ve found 12 verses in the bible that say Smile On Me (or shine your face on me in other translations) and in each verse the ask is for God to smile on them and bring kindness, strength, restoration, and peace. A smile can bring a lot of healing, and so the message behind Smile On Me is to awaken every girl to her inner greatness. Every time I hear a girl share her story, or I get to empower her to stand up for herself, I feel like God is smiling on me, and it brings me so much joy and peace — there’s no greater feeling!

KC: You have a summit coming up, can you share about that and what you plan to do?

D: This July, we’re hosting our very first summit! It’s something I thought of doing last year after Teen Vogue launched their first summit. The thing with Teen Vogue, however, is that the tickets range between $300-$400, I can’t even afford that! When I was younger, there were so many cool events I wanted to go to but was unable to because of the price. My mom had four kids, so if one of us was going, we all were going! I couldn’t imagine my mom sending us all to an event with ticket prices at $30 let alone $300! So, I decided to host my own summit, where girls could come for free! At summit, we’ll be facilitating workshops based on mental health, self-esteem, and puberty. We’re even going to have a girl lead panel where panelists will share their story of overcoming adversity and learning to be confident in their own skin. My dream is to host this summit every year, growing in size and even expanding to different cities and states!  We’re looking to host 50 middle-school age girls throughout the 5 boroughs and, of course, each girl will leave with a bag filled with feminine hygiene products, and an extra special little something!

KC: For someone looking to partner with you and/or get involved, how could they do that?

 D: We’re always looking for partnerships, especially with organizations who work with young girls. We’ve been lucky enough to attain partnerships with a few organizations where we facilitate workshops and provide product and we’d love to reach more girls. If an organization wants to partner with Smile On Me, they can email boom@smileonme.org

KC: What’s been your greatest source of inspiration?

 D: My niece. I honestly do all this for her so that when she grows up she’ll have a strong community to be part of. Last fall she helped me pack bags to give to girls and she was so excited to count all the products. She even made a list of what she thought we should add to the bags and also suggested that I get prettier bags next time. I remember one time she asked me why I was doing all this and as I was explaining it to her, I could see her eyes light up and that gave me goosebumps.

KC: Ha! I literally wrote this question with your niece in mind! I remember you saying once that she’s your best friend and I totally understand because my nieces and nephews are my most favorite people on the planet!

KC: If you could meet and have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be and why?
D: This is always a hard question for me to answer because it seems to change throughout the different seasons of my life.  However, at the moment, I’d say Harriet Tubman. Last year I did an in-depth study of her life and found out she was so much more than what the history books portrayed her to be. She was so brave, and bold, and selfless, our American Moses! She gained her own freedom and went back for others. She made space for others and that’s what I’m trying to do, that’s what I want my life to be about, simply making space for others. She challenged stereotypes of race, gender, and class and helped free 70 slaves, by herself!  I remember reading a story about how when she was invited to an event in her honor that she was still so poor that she had to sell a cow just to buy a train ticket! I think that’s so reflective of how much she gave, she gave everything to save a few and that’s so incredibly inspiring. I truly hope they put her face on that $20 bill!

KC: What do you want to be remembered for?

D: That I snort when I laugh! You know at funerals when they typically have a giant picture of the person on the easel? Well, I want one of me with my mouth wide open laughing, like seriously. Yea, that’s what I want to be remembered for, that I laugh hard and I laugh loud.

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For more about Smile on Me you can visit: SmileOnMe.org or follow them on Instagram: @smileonmehq


Dre–

It was an absolute pleasure (and sob-fest) interviewing you! Thanks for taking time out to share your heart with us. I know I speak for more than just myself when I say I feel more inspired and fired up to do my part in empowering the women of our city. Your work is important and its already changing lives.  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for pressing forward in it, our girls need it!
x
KC

HER:STORIES – Danuvis

Hi Friends!

June is HER:STORIES Month on the blog and I had the pleasure of sitting down with my very dear friend Danuvis last week and chatting a bit about her story and her life. I’m so excited to be able to share this with you!


Karen Cecilia: So, I’m really excited to do this interview and just chat to you for a bit about life and about what’s up ahead for you.

Danuvis: It’s funny that you want to talk to me about that because I literally was talking, on my way to church, to myself and to God, and just feeling a little lost. Like, I don’t have my next couple of years fully planned out. I haven’t really thought it through. I feel like life just hit me and it kind of left me trying to figure things out all over again as well as finding me all over again. So that’s kind of where I’m at. I don’t have some great things to say, haha.

KC: No, this is great! This is perfect and I feel like this is so important to discuss because we all get to that place where it’s like, God, what the heck? And we don’t know what he’s doing or we feel like he’s not doing anything and we’re like what is all of this for?

D: Yeah, and it’s scary because for a while I knew what my life was going to be like. I knew what I wanted to be, where I was going to go, even where I wanted to be at by now and now I’m just like, wait…what?

KC: Yeah, let’s talk about that! I know it’s a frustrating place to be in…

D: Yeah it is. It’s frustrating because I don’t want to be in this place and it’s uncomfortable.

KC: Ok, so let’s go down that road…what got you where you are right now? Not necessarily the events, but what is behind it? How did you come about to this place of frustration?

D: This was borne out of disappointment, for sure and I now stand in an unknown place and I’m just trying to figure things out. Starting with me wanting to be a registered nurse and that didn’t work out for me—

KC: I didn’t know that.

D: –I had to change my major and I couldn’t pursue becoming an RN anymore and that was highly disappointing. Just me and my faith with God. There were certain things that I believed, certain promises that I believed would have come to pass by now and not only haven’t they, but it just seems like it won’t happen now or perhaps plans have changed and I’m just trying to figure out what it is.

KC: Would you mind sharing some of the things that maybe at this point aren’t where you want them to be?

D: Well, for one: I didn’t want to be single at this point. Still a single parent to an 11-year-old daughter. I’ve practically raised her most of her life alone or single. So that’s frustrating. Career-wise, the change. Um…still single, haha.

KC: How do you navigate those disappointments? How do you deal with them?

D: Day by day. Choosing to think positive day by day. Encouraging myself and speaking to myself until I reach a point that I actually believe that everything is going to work out and there’s still a plan and I’m still in it.

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KC: Yeah, for sure. That’s great.

KC: I want to chat to you about parenting to an 11-year-old girl—

D: –Eleven going on thirty.

KC: Haha! An 11-year-old girl who is so smart; she’s amazing. A girl, specifically, in this culture and this society where girls are being misinformed about where their identity is found. How do you instill values in her that help her to navigate this culture in a healthy way?

D: Just telling her how beautiful she is and how amazing she is. Forever congratulating her every chance that I get whenever she accomplishes something. I just want her to get used to knowing that and hearing that from me first. So that she hears it so much and for so long, that it’s not something that she feels she needs from someone else. Whatever happens, happens, but it’s all with the hope to be that for her so that she won’t ever feel like she needs that from anyone else.

KC: I’m not going to cry. (definitely crying)

D: And it works so far! The other day she created a project with the theme “Who Inspires You?” She chose three people: Meghan Markle, me, and herself. And I was just like, you chose yourself! She put it on this board and she put pictures of her three choices. On the side of the picture [of herself] she wrote why she chose herself. I’ll read it to you. This confirmed to me, that whatever I’m doing—it ain’t much—but its helping her. She wrote, “I am athletic, I am beautiful, I am funny, I am a social butterfly—“

KC: Yeah she is!

D: “–there’s more about me, but this is just a little bit.” So, she knows that about herself which is…I’m very lucky.

KC: I don’t think that’s luck! That’s parenting. That’s good parenting! Not everyone has that kind of confidence instilled in them as they’re growing up. Parents don’t always understand how important it is to speak into their kid’s lives as individuals so they don’t have to struggle as hard to find out who they are. I think it’s amazing that you do that. You’re awesome.

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KC: So let’s talk about some fun things and then we’ll circle back to talk about some more serious things later. You’re a creative person, what are some creative outlets for you?

D: I haven’t really been creating anything lately, but I would say the most recent thing that’s been on my mind to create has been the shoe idea that I talked to you about [a while ago]. I’m a woman who loves heels, if I could wear them every day, all day, I would, but it’s difficult to do because they hurt! So I’ve been thinking of creating comfortable six inch heels for women who want to wear them more often than they actually can.

KC: I know you’ve talked to me about this before, but what’s your signature, what mark do you want to leave on this industry if this is something you wish to pursue? You spoke to me about the potential for a product like that—particularly in the fashion industry—runway models (you see those videos of the runway fails with the models and the shaky ankles), can you expand a bit on that?

D: For women to be able to wear these shoes and walk comfortably down the street, down the runway, even dance in them. I think I may have said something about even playing basketball in them! Haha.

KC: That sounds like something women would be ready for!

KC: Another fun question: if money was not a factor, what would you spend your days doing?

D: That’s a great question…hmm…I greatly enjoy making someone else’s life better in whatever way I can, if  they need help in something or just guidance and direction. I enjoy helping peoples’ lives be better. I know so many people, especially where I come from, who don’t really have any positive role models or guidance or anyone to help them to be better, to do better, to become better. There’s a huge lack in that. For me, within my own circle, within my own friends, within my own reach, I always try to enlighten people. When I see a need, when I see that they’re missing something, when I see that they’re not getting it, when I see they just need someone to teach them otherwise…

KC: It’s funny, I was just talking to my parents two weeks ago, I don’t even know how we got to that conversation, but I was telling them about you. I was saying I never met anyone like you before with such a heart for people—It’s not that I think it’s bizarre, per se—actually I think it’s the heart of Jesus. I really do. You look at people with so much compassion and you act on it right away. Do you remember that time we were in a restaurant eating and across the street was a woman with a guy and she looked sick? You got up and went over with a bunch of napkins to see if she was ok—like we’re sitting in a restaurant having Mexican food and this woman is in a corner across the street probably throwing up because she was so drunk and you’re going over to make sure she’s ok and getting them in a cab safely! There were three of us sitting at the table, and you saw it and you went.

D: Ha, yes, I’m so strongly motivated in that.

KC: Yes! And I know the look that you get when you notice something, and I’m like there she goes, she’s about to do something. You do it all the time! I think its inspiring and convicting for all the regular people, like me, who see things, but don’t do as much as we could. So, thank you for being that example to me and I’m sure to other people in your life.

KC: Ok, I’m going to leave you alone soon, but not yet. Do you want to talk about dating? I have a couple of dating-related questions and you can answer them together. What is dating like as a single parent: what are your criteria, and how do you approach the idea of dating as a single parent? And does your faith effect the way you date and how so?

D: Everything about it! I would say that being a single mom totally changed my outlook on dating. I’m definitely more intentional about the individual that I choose to date versus “oh let me just give this guy a try”. I’m not as flexible about it anymore and I’m very specific about the individual, which is completely different from how I was before when I thought I had my whole life in front of me and I could just play around as much as I wanted. Also, the kind of role model or what that person would bring for my child—their personality, their character.

KC: How does faith play a role in that for you?

D: I would say faith is more the reason why I’m single than anything else, haha!

KC: How so? Tell me everything.

D: Because since having faith, I’ve learned or strongly felt like it can’t be just anyone. And because I feel like it can’t be just anyone, I automatically do not go out of my way to try to date just anyone. I think they work together: me being a single mom and me having faith, it narrows it down to a straight path in dating. So I’m [super] single because of both of those things.

KC: That is so real and I’m not even a parent, but I know what you mean about the faith thing for sure.

D: It’s a struggle.

KC: What advice would you give to a woman who is single and bringing up a young kid right now? Maybe advice to someone like yourself five years ago—someone who’s young with so many responsibilities.

D: Be strong. Believe in yourself. Keep going. Yeah…honestly there are so many struggles that you face being a single mom and not wanting to be there. I think the words that would matter in every up and down would be to be reminded to be strong; to believe in yourself through the doubts about how you are doing as a parent and the questions of how will you get things done. And just keep going. Don’t let anything hold you back, stop you or make you quit. Keep going because I just believe that everything will be alright.

KC: Yep, the Bible says it.

KC: Alright, last question, we can end here. I have a million questions, but this will be the last: what do you want to be remembered for? Years from now when your kid talks to her kids about you, when the history books are written, what do you want to be remembered for in the lives of people around you?

D: My heart. My love for people. Too many people walking around not caring about their neighbor. I want people and my daughter to know that I genuinely care. That in spite of everything that life has thrown at me and lack of resources most of my life, I still didn’t allow it to hold me back. I believe that I’ve overcome a lot of things.

KC: Would you like to share a few?

D: I was raised in a home with four other sisters and a single mom. No dad because he was gone when I was very young. The resources were limited, my mom, being a woman from a different country, she didn’t know how to help us in America and didn’t understand all the struggles that an American teenager experiences. So, for me not having the proper guidance or having anyone else that was a role model to me or cared enough about the things in my life. All the struggles I’ve been through I had to figure out on my own. I was the first to graduate from high school and the first to go to college and get two degrees (an Associates and a Bachelor’s). Now after me, my younger sister pursued her dreams and she’s in college and she’s the second person to go to college. My nephew goes to church and lives a much more positive life than what we were used to. My other nephew has dreams and goals and actually pursues them. I feel like I’ve overcome so many things in spite of the obstacles that it has opened up doors for those who are coming up after me. I’ve gone through things that make it so others didn’t have to.

KC: Yeah, I definitely feel that will be part of your legacy. You being the person on the front line, making a way for the people behind you and I think you do that in a lot of ways.


I just want to say THANK YOU, Danuvis. You are a one-of-a-kind friend and I thank God for you. I know that your story will bless many, just as it’s blessed me. Thanks for opening up and sharing it with us. LOVE YOU!

x KC

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.

You’re Welcome #roomatthetable

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Matthew 9:9-11 ESV


Every year for as long as I can remember, my family threw a party on Christmas day at our home. The tradition started a year before I was even born and we did it every year without fail for 26 years. I grew up part of a very tight-knit church community where we were more family than friends and everyone knew that the Wallace household would be open to all on December 25th. People brought their family, friends, neighbors–everyone was welcome.

Growing up, I remember the weeks of preparation that went into making this party happen. My dad would buy toys for all the children of our family and friends who came every year and he always bought extra gifts just in case we had unexpected visitors show up with children. My mom would spend hours cooking a ton of food the day before the party–enough to feed the at least 100 people who were sure to show up and any guests they might be bringing with them. We never sent out invitations. We never planned for seating arrangements. We knew there would be people every room. Everyone just came because they knew our doors would be open and they would be welcome.

Ending our 26 year tradition was definitely bittersweet, but we decided as a family that we would do it. The kids had all grown up, people had moved away and we were all part of a new church community. Instead, we decided we’d have a family brunch and spend the day together watching movies and playing games.

Hospitality is BIG in my family and we also knew that there would inevitably be unexpected guests showing up every year anyway and we were determined to always be ready to receive them.

One year in particular, one of my childhood besties told me that she wanted to stop by to spend a little time with the family. She asked me if her co-worker, Emily, who was new to New York and didn’t have any family or friends to spend the holiday with, could come along. She warned me that she didn’t know her very well, but that she didn’t want her to spend the holiday alone. When I gave my mom the heads up about Emily, she was determined to make it the most welcoming experience possible for her.

When they arrived, we greeted them enthusiastically with hugs and words of welcome–which in retrospect was probably a bit overwhelming for poor Emily, ha!–my mom also told Emily that she was family, that she was welcome and that our home was her home. It felt good to be able to show love to her in this way. What we intended just as a warm reception ended up being a whole lot more. You see, Emily didn’t come from an affectionate or close-knit family. At some point during the evening, she’d pulled my friend aside almost in tears saying how she’d never experienced anything like this–a family that loved each other and that actually made her feel like she was a part of it.

What Emily experienced that day obviously effected her in that moment, but it also marked me for life. I don’t tell this story as a pat on the back to my family, not at all. I tell it as a reminder and as encouragement to myself about the power of a welcoming posture. I tell it to remind both you and me that generosity of love, of welcome and of grace is what changes our life and its what can change the lives around us. We never know the weight of what someone else is carrying until we open up and offer our arms and hands.

Jesus himself is the very model of this generosity and welcome. The passage above paints us an image of a reclining Jesus. I can picture him casually kicked back at the table, surrounded by his disciples and people he’s maybe never even met, some with not so great reputations. Right? There he is, among people who were used to making others feel uncomfortable just by being around them, and he’s totally at ease, unfazed by their history, unfazed by the way society perceives them—so much so that the Bible says that tax collectors and sinners came and felt welcome to recline with him as well. How welcoming his posture must have been that people, seeing him there, felt free to come and join him at the table…that people who maybe felt they didn’t fit in anywhere else, felt right at home with him.

I love that to this very day, we can always find Jesus reclining at the table, welcoming people, cozying up to the likes of you and me: his disciples and the tax collectors and the misfits all finding their place at the table. And I love that WE get to be a part of setting that table; WE get to be a part of making room for others to join in at the table of Jesus’s grace and freedom when we open our lives, our hearts and even our homes to the people in our world.

You know, in a city like ours it’s so easy to get lost in the fast pace, in the dog eat dog culture. It’s easy to feel lonely and isolated. As we go about our everyday lives this week, let’s be thinking about how we can be generous–with our lives, our time, our finances, our friendship, our kindness–because when we give generously of our lives, we set the table for others to come RECLINE, to take a load off and find rest, community and freedom with Jesus.


“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:48‬ ‭MSG‬‬