In October 2008, I met Jenna Monforte who lives outside of Atlanta, GA. Jenna and I hit it off like none other and quickly realized that our hearts were totally in tune with one another on so many levels. In January 2009, she asked if I would like to come down to help with a teen girls event she was putting together called InsideOut. I led a small group and also spoke at one of the main sessions at the event. I will never forget that first InsideOut weekend. There was this thing in me that just came so alive around that event, something that went crazy in my spirit! The weekend was truly amazing and Jenna and I started dreaming of what it might look like if we “packaged” the event and took it to other communities and other churches. We knew that God had given us a fire and a passion for reaching young women and speaking truth into their lives. I started praying like crazy that He would put other women in our lives who not only shared the vision, but were willing to invest their lives into it.
Simultaneously, God had really been breaking my heart for what was happening outside my little world. I particularly was broken over the issue of human trafficking. There were few things that broke my heart more than the thought of children and girls and women being traded and used as sex slaves. He also started to develop in me a real passion for the nations and a desire to be involved in missions and reaching those who were not being reached around the world. I spent a month in Uganda, Africa in November 2009 and my experience there only intensified that stirring.
We had over 80 girls attend the first Franklin InsideOut in January 2010, and the girls really seemed to love and get a lot out of the weekend. We did another InsideOut in February 2010 in Georgia, but with the busy-ness of our own respective ministries, Jenna and I were not really able to explore the possibilities of doing more with InsideOut. However, I think there’s still always been something in mine and Jenna’s hearts that have never stopped dreaming about that possibility.
In early summer 2010, I met a girl named Ashley Morales while doing some volunteer flood relief in East Nashville. Ashley worked with teenagers through YoungLife, and she told me she had been dreaming about putting together a teen girls weekend event that she could take to Hispanic communities. Her heart behind the vision was everything that we had envisioned for InsideOut, and we had the same heart-to-heart connection that I had with Jenna when I first met her. We exchanged info, talked about getting together, but never actually did.
Also, in the summer of 2010, I was invited by my friend Melanie to a girls event in Franklin called Girl Talk. I was amazed to find that Girl Talk was almost a spitting image of what we did with InsideOut. It also re-ignited that passion in me for InsideOut and all that we had dreamed for it.
The emcee for Girl Talk was Hetti-Marie Barroll. She was incredible, and I thought of how awesome it would be for her to be part of InsideOut that year, but honestly thought there was probably no way that I could get her. A week or so later, I was at my office job and got a text from some of my junior high girls. They said, “Do you remember Hetti-Marie from Believe? She is here at Harpeth with her kids for the summer movie day and she said she would come and do something for us any time we wanted it!” I could hardly believe it. It was like God was saying, “You want her? You got her!” So of course I told them to get her info, and when I got to the church office later that day, there was a note written on a napkin from Hetti-Marie with her phone number and e-mail, saying that she would be willing to come “talk to the girls” anytime.
In early fall, I spoke at an event at Franklin Christian Academy where they split up the guys and the girls. I soon found out that the other speaker coming was Monique Zackery, the founder of the Girl Talk event I had gone to in the spring! I got to meet Monique and we talked about getting together, but weren’t ever really able to connect.
In October 2010, I was at the Catalyst conference in Atlanta, and during a prayer after one specific session, I unexpectedly started feeling that can’t-breathe-heart-pounding-out-of-your-chest kind of feeling and I truly believe that God said to me “it’s time.” I didn’t know what it meant, but I sensed that He was saying it was time to MOVE on the things He had been stirring in my heart for the past couple of years. I knew that my life was about to take a massive turn.
I spent a few weeks praying and fasting and continued to be confirmed that God was calling me into a new season. I researched organizations that were working with sex trafficking victims and also started talking with Shawn and Linda Tyler, who have been leading a mission team in East Africa for almost 30 years. After much prayer and thought (and realizing that at some point, I was going to need to make a decision and move forward), in November 2010, I made the decision to move forward in working with the team in Mbale, Uganda.
There was definitely a part of me that started immediately mourning what I was going to be sacrificing by going. I realized that my dreams for InsideOut were going to have to be laid on the altar before God. I knew that I would be able to minister to the young girls in Uganda, but it wasn’t going to look the same. This was an extremely hard thing for me to lay down, but I knew I was going to have to.
Meanwhile, 2011 was approaching and plans were underway for what I believed was going to be my last InsideOut in Franklin. Hettie-Marie and I met for lunch on Oct. 19, and during the middle of our lunch, the door to the restaurant opened, and Monique Zackery walks in! She saw us, came over, and said “HEY, how do you guys know each other?!” Little did I know that Monique and Hetti-Marie were good friends!
Re-connecting with Monique that day reminded us about getting together, so on November 12, Monique and I met for lunch. We talked for almost three full hours and it was incredible to talk with someone who shares the same vision, same passion, and same heart. All of a sudden, I started realizing, “Wait, women like Ashley, Hetti-Marie, and Monique are who I have been PRAYING for two years to meet!” Monique shared her heart with me not only for teen girls but also her heart for the issue of human trafficking. I told her that I had also forever had a brokenness in my heart for that very issue. We also started planning on her (and her husband) speaking at InsideOut.
InsideOut Franklin quickly arrived and I was so excited about having Monique and Hetti-Marie involved in the event. We had about 60 girls come, and it was an amazing weekend. And after hearing some of the things the girls had to say hours (and days) after the event ended, it was obvious that GOD HAD MOVED and hearts had been changed. There were innumerable moments throughout the weekend where I felt that “jump in my spirit”, where I just felt like I was right in the middle of the zone of what I was created to do. I felt like I was experiencing God’s pleasure, and there’s nothing – NOTHING – like that.
In February, I spoke at a women’s event at the church, and even that morning with a demographic I didn’t typically speak to, I got that same “jump in my spirit”. After the event that morning, three women came up to me and said, “We have no idea why we’re coming to tell you this, but God has been laying so heavily on our hearts the idea of putting together a weekend event for women.” One of them said, “We know you’re leaving so there’s really no way for you to be involved in this, but for some reason, God was just telling me while you were speaking that we should come tell you.”
That was the final straw for me. There had been innumerable things happening over the previous weeks, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. God was quite obviously trying to get my attention, so I just had to call a “time out” on everything. Why would these doors start opening for me NOW? Was this Satan trying to pull me away from what God was calling me to? Was God just waiting for me to fully surrender those things to Him so He could work and bless them? I was thrown for a total loop and had no idea what to do. I talked to a few very wise people in my life and they all agreed that the way things had been unfolding over the past few weeks were quite notable and encouraged me to explore them and be open to God steering me in a direction that I maybe hadn’t expected.
I immediately contacted Monique to see if she could get together. So on February 11, we met and I told her everything that had been going on. I asked if she had ever dreamed about Girl Talk being more than what it is right now. And I had no idea what was coming next.
Monique said she had actually been praying for months about what was next for this ministry. She told me about overseas teams in Ghana, Sudan, and the Ukraine who have been asking her to bring Girl Talk to them. She said she dreamed of taking Girl Talk to other communities in the states and using it to minister to girls who had been pulled out of sex trafficking.
Monique told me that a few weeks ago, a friend of theirs from New York had contacted her and told her about this girl that she needed to meet named Ashley Morales. And my jaw dropped. I said, “Ashley Morales that lives in Nashville?” I just couldn’t believe it. I told her that I had randomly met Ashley that previous summer working flood relief! It was getting pretty impossible to believe that all of our connections with one another were coincidental. Monique said that after meeting with her, she started thinking about how much better it would be for them to link arms and do this girls ministry together as opposed to building two separate ministries!
She had already been meeting with some consultants about the possibility of having a non-profit umbrella that would encompass Girl Talk, potentially Ashley’s Hispanic ministry, and then other things as well – including missions (taking Girl Talk overseas) and even the possibility of opening a home in the states for young women being brought out of sex trafficking.
Monique also mentioned that a publishing company in the potential that might have the potential for being a “backer” for this. She said that she had thought about putting together teen girls curriculum, including a Bible study that the girls could do with leaders from their church after the event. Once again, I could hardly believe my ears. I told Monique that three years ago, I started writing a Bible study for teen girls. It was just one thing after another.
I told Monique that I had come to this point where I felt like God was asking me to lay down those things that I had dreamed about. There is a “yes” in my heart for teen girls, a “yes” in my heart for teaching, a “yes” in my heart for music and worship, a “yes” in my heart for missions, and a “yes” in my heart for those who are victims of sex trafficking. She said she didn’t believe that God gives anyone multiple passions and gifts just to make them choose one. There is no reason that God can’t take every one of those things and weave them together in something that will allow me to say “yes” to every last one. He is orderly. He is creative.
The calling in my heart that I received in October to “go” was real. But looking back, what I clearly believed I’d heard God say at that moment was: “It’s time to move on the things that I’ve been stirring in your heart for years.” I automatically assumed that meant I was moving overseas. But is it possible that maybe I just wasn’t clearly seeing exactly what that calling was going to look like? Proverbs says that men will plan their lives, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. I feel like the call to “go” and to “move” were very real, but I believe that God is steering me in a direction that I completely did not expect and was certainly not seeking out.
I don’t know for sure what to do with all of this. But I know this: when God seems to be moving and orchestrating and stirring passions and weaving people into each other’s lives, it’s hard to imagine walking away from that! Not when you KNOW that it is those very things that make your spirit come alive. That is something that cannot be ignored and cannot be cast aside.
For a few weeks now, I have been continuing to pray and ponder, asking God to throw a boulder down on this thing if this is not His BEST for me. But there have just been continual confirmations in my spirit that I must pursue the things that God seems to be weaving together in front of me. I have no idea what this looks like a year or even 6 months from now, but it seems almost foolish for me to see God moving so evidently and not follow. So that is where I find myself. And who knows…it may be that two years from now, I will find myself living in Uganda doing the very thing I had originally thought. At the end of the day, I just want to be living and serving in the place where I can be MOST effective for the Kingdom in using what He has given me to its fullest extent. And so the journey continues…