Book: 7 women 

 We all want to know the secret of greatness, reading 7 Women by Eric Metaxas made it clear the cost of living a life that changes society doesn’t come at an easy price.  We see people on social media with glamorous lives who seem to blend the lines of being influential and fame. We interpret the only way to make a difference in culture is to be famous. In pursuing fame we become deaf to God’s instructions and the endeavor becomes more about self than about others. Chances are, what He wants us to do, is not glamorous at all.

Reading the stories of these seven women made it clear, each of them served others sacrificially. I was fully expecting to read this book to feel inadequate but instead realized I have the ability to serve people where I am at in my life just like these women did. These women never had fame on their minds and never cared about who was following them but focused on being obedient to Christ. Each day they took one step closer towards what they knew God would want them to do.  It’s clear how easy but yet how very hard it is to do just that. Jonah of Arc allowed herself to look crazy to those who did not believe it was God who was speaking to her, Mother Theresa paid attention to society’s outcastes, Corrie ten Boom opened her home to strangers in need and continued to do so during the Holocaust even when her life was at risk. Hannah More used her gifting as an artist to influence culture to reveal how evil the slave trade was.

Reading about these 7 women show me the power of being faithful, faithful to God, to family, to work, and how that alone makes the difference in the lives of those around you. It’s faithfulness and obedience to God that creates a new culture, over flowing to others.

Book: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

During my early graphic design days at church, there was nothing more that I wanted than to be the church’s video editor. I remember being in a meeting with my senior pastors and was asked if I would one day like to be the video department head. I was 24 years old then, and so much of my future was unknown. I knew I wanted a family and I would want to be a stay a home mom, so my answer was, “One day, I want to be married with kids.” They all looked at me and said,”Yes, but would you like to be the video department head in the future?” I smiled, and said, “Yes”. The thought of having my own family, was about to make me draw back from what I knew was my calling. I am very glad that no one listened to my answer in that meeting and still decided to developed me as a leader.

There is a similar story in Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. She is the CFO of Facebook and is passionate about encouraging women to never stop leaning in towards new opportunities at their job. As I read, I was horrified at the different studies of women drawing back or giving up. Also, at the different challenges women have to overcome in order to be taken as a leader. I am fortunate that at my work place, the men believe in the women, and I know that’s because of my senior pastor who broke the mold and is an amazing woman preacher and pastor. I started to see I was my bully, telling myself I can’t or I’m scared or I’m just a girl.

“We internalize messages that say it’s wrong for us to be outspoken, aggressive, and as powerful as – or even more powerful than -men…We hold ourselves back not just out of fear or seeming too aggressive but also by underestimating our abilities.”

“At Facebook, I teach managers to encourage women to talk about their plans to have children and help them continue to reach for opportunities.” 

And this was true for me at meetings:

“If you take the chair on the side of the room, he will take the seat at the table because he knows he’s awesome. So please remember that you deserve a seat at the same table..and that you are awesome too.” 

The book is full of encouraging words and shared experiences from other leading women professionals, to believe in yourself, that you are more than capable, to have a thriving career. To develop a true partnership with your husband, and being co-parents to take care of the daily house hold items and to never stop leaning in towards promotions and leadership positions. I realize I am apart of a new generation of women who work, and its awesome to read I can have a career that I am passionate about and have a family.

“The goal is to work toward a world where those social norms no longer exist. If more children see fathers at school pickups and mothers who are busy at jobs, both girls and boys will envision more options for themselves. Expectations will to be set by gender but by personal passion, talents, and interests.”

Whether I decide to be a stay a home mom or keep working at a job. I am encouraged to keep taking a leadership role in my life. Either way I will be leading my kids or leading others.

Okay, Mom I’ll read it

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Mom’s have a gift to notice things about their children’s lives that others don’t bother to see. No matter how old you get, mom will always be there trying to teach you something so you don’t have to struggle. When I saw my mom leave this book on my night stand, I rolled my eyes but soon realized I better read it, the cliché is true mothers know best.

When I was a teenager I stumbled upon a book in my parent’s library by Elizabeth George, Woman After God’s Heart. I read it out of curiosity but enjoyed the practical advice it shared. I had the same experience reading Life Management for Busy Women. I was reminded of the foundation habits I’ve abounded because of the excuses of busyness.

The book gave me new insight about being a mom, a wife, and having in-laws. Even though I’m still unmarried and have no kids, I like to prepare on what to do. If you’re looking for a cheerleader to lose weight, save money, make your family happy, mental health and ministry, this book will lead you in that direction. Now the hard part.. to do it.

“…the issue really isn’t the lack of time. No, the issue is the management of our self.”

The Freedom to Blog

The past few months I’ve noticed the little details of my life. I can’t help but see how privileged I am..dinner with my family, laughing with Gus, working at The Rock, blogging in my blue room… I go to bed in peace and wake up in peace. Yet, I ask my self questions about life. Questions I ask not in disappointment or boredom but more of responsibility.

This morning I heard a report of a young Pakistan girl who has blogged about life for the BBC. The Taliban closed down her school, not allowing girls to study. At age 11, she started speaking publicly about the need for girls’ education. She was even rewarded the Pakistan’s first peace prize.
Her school was reopened, but on Tuesday the rebels found her and shot her. They saw this now 14 year old girl as a threat. They said she was preaching western ideas. Now she is in the hospital fighting for her life.

When hearing about Malala, I was reminded of what I read from Story by Robert Mckee about writing characters. He summed up humanity beautifully:

“…despite all the clear differences among people. the truth is we are all far more a like than we are different. We are all human. We all share the same crucial human experiences. Each of us is suffering and enjoying, dreaming and hoping for getting through our day with something of value. As a writer, you can be certain that everyone coming down the street towards you, each in his own way, is having the same fundamental human thoughts and feelings that you are…” Humanity isn’t a western idea but a human one.

Its strange to think of girls who are living in my generation with little or no freedom. She was shot for sharing her thoughts and now its clear how powerful one voice is. She is being heard all over the world. The Taliban’s goal was to destroy her message but instead spread the fire to others, her peers and now to us- who have taken their freedom for granted.

And now the question is, what will we do with our freedom?

Blog: Monica Opener

Growing up I always felt different from my friends. When the show Felicity first aired I was a freshman in high school. Hearing her thoughts and watching her journey through college I knew it was her life that I wanted. She was meeting new people, making new friends and discovering a new city. Her admiration for Ben and friendship with Noel made me dream of a time when I too would be a grown up. She was a girl who had deep thoughts, was honest to the world she lived in and desired to grow as a person.

I often look at my own life as a TV show. I the protagonist desire to reach a goal but am faced with conflict, it is up to me to make the right decisions to achieve a happy ending. What I’ve learned over the past few months is that the ending is just the beginning. A good story takes the main character on a journey they never thought of, a story that is full of surprises and twist, we relate to this because its how life works. We think we know where its going but in a few months we ask our self, how did we get here?

February I left my job to discover something new. I set out on my journey with the blessings of those in my world and set off to find the answer to my question: “Where do I belong?”

Felicity followed a boy to New York and found herself instead. I left my job to answer a question and now I have to trust God more than ever before with that answer. I admit I have no idea where He is taking me. I just know the next season of my life is going to be full of surprise and I’m glad I have such good friends to share it with.

This week, I start a new chapter. Its going to be strange to go back to work but I’m excited for the new challenges ahead.

Felicity Season 1 Opener:

 

She is Fearless Breast Cancer Photoshoot

We all have battles that we face in our life. Most of the time we fight them privately. What if that battle was seen by everyone you came across? For the case of these women who faced breast cancer, their reflection became a battle of life and death.

The idea to do a free photoshoot came when I was editing Pam’s testimony. I thought how amazing it would be to host a few women who had or are going through cancer with a shoot. Even though the battle of breast cancer is more than appearance, looks plays a big role in how we feel. I wanted to be able to remind them of how beautiful they are.

I presented the idea to my hair dresser, Roni and good friend make up artist, Veronica they both accepted the project with such excitement. I also invited the youth pastor from my church and one of my best friends to help me host the girls. Everything was coming together, even my lovely senior pastor opened up her home to us for the shoot.

When the women first began to show up, I wasn’t sure what to say. As they opened up and share their journey with breast cancer, the serious tone in the room began to transform into laughter as experiences were being shared. As each woman got her hair and make up done, you could see the their moods changing. When Lisa saw herself with her make-up, she said, “Hello stranger.”

When we walked around the mansion each girl was taken by the beauty of the house, forgetting the house was just the background. It was so much fun to seeing the girls pretending to be models. I kept telling them them they were doing great.

Pam:

Pam told me one of her friends wasn’t feeling good to do photos but she would come to the party. I told Pam that maybe she would like to take a group photo. When Pam told her the idea, she loved it. It was great to see the women supporting each other, giving one another tips. It made the words “breast cancer” less scary.

Paula:

I wish I could see the expression of the women’s faces when they see their photos. I know that their friends and family are not going to see the fancy camera work, the great make up, or the hair but they will see the true beauty of their fearless brave mother, daughter, friend and lover.

Sandy:

Lisa:

Its hard to pick out what made that afternoon special, for me but being in a room with women who went through a life and death situation encouraged me that God helps us through the valley by blessing us with each other.

Behind The Scenes

Thank you to everyone who was involved:

Briana Marie Jimenez – Host / Michelle Villanueva – Host / Monica Briano – Photographer / Veronica Duran Esparza – Hair / Veronica A. Hernandez – Make-Up

Audio: Power of Photography


When I first started to do these creative photoshoots, I would ask young girls who I had seen at church or some of my friend’s daughters to be my models so I could practice portrait photography, children photography, and fashion.
I heard back from the parents of these young girls and the impact the photos had on them. It was like these girls were seeing themselves as beautiful for the first time. Through out their life, they’ve seen printed media and movies stars as gorgeous. But never given the opportunity to really see how gorgeous they are. When I had parents come tell me that, I was encourage that my photography had a life of it’s own. A bigger impact then I knew.
Here I was concerned about getting practice but they were having an experience that made them feel beautiful. They were finally able to see the end results of their smile or their best side. And with that in mind I knew in the future, I wanted to use that power that photography has for the good.
When I was editing Pam Espinosa’s testimony about her battle with Breast Cancer, I was moved when she talked about her appearance impacting how she was feeling inside. She rarely talked about the physical pain she was going through because of the surgery. It was as if the emotional pain of seeing herself in the mirror when she wasn’t at her best was having an impact on her life. It wasn’t until she overcame that, that healing began to happen in her life.
When I heard her story, I imagined..(I like to call them a, “God day dream”), I imagined doing a free photo shoot with make-up, and hair done for women who had been through cancer or who are going through cancer and looking at the reaction on their face, having their true beauty shine for that afternoon. To just forget about whatever they are going through, to come and to enjoy being pretty again.
And so with one text to another text, I began to gather the creative troops; my friend Roni who does my hair and another friend Vero who does make-up and hair. And I asked them if they would be interested in donating their time to come along side me and be apart of this project with the girls. I had asked Pam if she could invite some of her friends and some of the girls she knew who were going through a difficult time or had been in the past.
I imagined it in this garden. But the garden is owned by someone who is very important in the community and in my life. I had been fortunate enough to been at her house a few times. She even offered to let me use the garden whenever I needed to. That was all cool in theory but really asking her I was a bit scared. I figured why not ask, its okay if there is a “no”, there is always another location. And to my surprise and yet not surprise, she said yes I would be able to use her garden for the afternoon.
This Thursday, I am hosting what I am calling, “She is Fearless Photoshoot.” Having an afternoon to take part in these women’s lives, to give them back what is really there: their beauty, their strength, and their courage. I am so excited to be able to host them. To give them an afternoon of just forgetting about all the drama in their life but just to enjoy the shoot. I am excited to see the results.
This weekend look out for a post of the girls, the behind the scenes and their photoshoot. I am going to rent a very expensive lens because they deserve it, everyone deserves a 85mm lens for their face.

Video: A Journey Battling Breast Cancer

One of the last projects I worked on at The Rock was Pam’s story about her battle with Breast Cancer. There would be times when I would watch my cut to review it and be taken by her faith and courage. I was excited when I was told it would be played at the weekend services. That meant 13,000 people would also be encouraged by Pam’s bravery.

(7 Minutes)

Thank you Pam for opening up your journey, I know it will help and encourage so many others.