Kathleen Cooke: Your childhood and teen years were tumultuous, but God had His eyes of love and care on you. What would you tell a young person today who is living in a challenging or chaotic situation?
Gianna Simone: God has recently been teaching me that He is my provider, protector, and source of ultimate love. That He is enough, and in Him, I am never alone. People will love us but also let us down, which really hurts. Yet, He will NEVER let us down, disappoint us or abandon us. He keeps His promises – always has and always will. We will never be more loved than we are right now. He is truly for us and loves us more profoundly than we know or could understand.
Kathleen: Your life was one of constant uncertainty, and the media and entertainment industry is always rocky and challenging. Many might have given up, but you pushed forward. How do you decipher the ambitions you want from the perfect place God wants you to be in?
Gianna: Such a great question! Many years ago, I had an epiphany about this concept. I know God loves me and wants the best for me; therefore, I want what God wants for me. So, I asked God to help me see and desire the very best for my life and make my desires His desires, and vice versa. I want my will to be aligned with His will. If I feel a strong urge toward something that appears to be a good thing, I know to pursue it and act on it. It always seems to work out.
Oh… I still make mistakes. I am still human. There have been times when I have misread a situation and have had to re-assess and re-route and learn something from God that I didn’t see before. It’s all part of learning, growing, healing, and drawing closer to Jesus. I have seen and experienced lots of things in my life that I know I don’t want, which has shown me more of what I do want in my life—empowering me to move in a positive direction with confidence.
Kathleen: Fear is the word, isn’t it? How do you deal with the constant fear?
Gianna: Jesus tells us in Matthew 21:22, “Whatever you ask for in prayer BELIEVE you have received it and it WILL be given to you” Belief is so powerful, and fear can hold us back from accomplishing our mission(s). “Perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18) Every single time I have chosen faith/love/belief over fear, it has changed my life for the better. Whether it is speaking at the United Nations (my first ever public speaking event) or jumping out of an airplane (when it was the first time for me ever to have flown in one) or standing on a cliff and bungee jumping off it (my most recent challenge), I love breaking through and overcoming fear. It builds character and strength. The mind is so powerful, and so much of what we want is right on the other side of fear.
Kathleen: Often, we never know how God uses others to influence our lives. Can you tell us about an instance when someone influenced your life and how God used that person to change the direction of your life?
Gianna: When I was in foster care, I had tried taking my life and ended up in a hospital for young girls who had tried taking their own lives, too. I shared a room with another girl around the same age as me – about 15 years old. One night before bed, we were up talking, and I told her about Jesus. I had been attending church, and the messages were starting to make a lot of sense to me, but I hadn’t asked Jesus to come into my heart yet. The next morning, we were in a group setting, all sitting in a circle sharing our feelings and thoughts. She began sharing and started telling the counselor that she had given her life to Jesus the night before, and she no longer felt sad or suicidal any longer. I was in a bit of a shock that my thoughts had influenced her. God used my mustard seed sprouts for her belief.
It delighted me knowing that it had positively made a change in her life, but more profoundly, it impacted my own belief in God and His redemptive power. I soon got out of the hospital, kept attending church, and eventually asked Jesus to come into my heart and be my Lord and Savior. Very soon after I was saved, God blessed me with my modeling and acting career, which have all led me closer to Him and profoundly changed my life. I can attest that once you give your life over to the Lord, He sets you on the most incredibly fulfilling trajectory and mission in life.
Gianna Simone is an actress, model, and producer. Her film credits include, Star Trek: Into the Darkness, Mother’s Day, I Can Only Imagine, Unbroken: Path to Redemption, and God Bless the Broken Road. She has appeared in several national TV shows and on the covers of numerous national publications. She presently hosts Love, Gianna, which focuses on plant nutrition with top doctors and athletes. She serves as a board member for The Plantrician Project and identifies as a Christian vegan.
Originally born and raised in Boston, she was abused and placed in foster care at 13 years of age. Her story is focused on overcoming obstacles in life. She founded The Gianna Simone Foundation, which focuses on bringing hope and positive change to individuals who have been neglected and abused. She worked directly with Kigali University providing scholarships to survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She was honored to present her work, on behalf of her foundation, at the United Nations. She works tirelessly with numerous organizations that assist foster care youth, sex trafficked victims, and animal rescue agencies.
Visit Gianna’s website here.
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Ruth O’Reilly-Smith – Writer, Radio Host
Ruth O’Reilly-Smith was born in South Africa. She was bitten by the radio bug in 1995 while studying to be a teacher at the University of Pretoria. She began her career working as a presenter on various music variety and talk-based shows and heading up the news desk at a Christian community radio station. Moving to the UK in 1999, Ruth continued in radio, working in the newsroom and as a host of music and talk-based programs for two separate global Christian media charities. She currently hosts a daytime radio show on UCB2, which is part of United Christian Broadcasters. Ruth’s Christian faith is central to all she does, and she is passionate about communicating God’s love through His Word. She has written for the Our Daily Bread Ministries publication for several years and is blessed with the opportunities to preach at churches, ministries and women’s retreats. Her book, God Speaks: 40 Letters From The Father’s Heart, lands in book stores in October 2021.
Ruth and her husband, Paul, have twins – a boy and a girl. They are part of a local church in Staffordshire, England, where she loves long walks in the countryside, great conversation over steaming hot cocoa, and has recently discovered the joy of baking soda bread.
Kathleen: Sometimes we forget how seemingly unimportant small choices or habitual patterns can often become a seed that grows into unwanted fields of weeds in our lives. Has God taught you a lesson on paying attention to the small choices?
Ruth O’Reilly – Smith: I’ve been reading the book of Proverbs and felt a renewed desire to seek wisdom in all my interactions intentionally, and then I had a vivid dream. My 14-year-old daughter started smoking, and for some reason, I didn’t say anything at first but felt compelled to stop her when she got up to go outside and smoke again. It was a horrible dream, but it prompted me to pray earnestly for her, and it made me realize how important it is always to be ready to speak the truth in love, perhaps especially when it comes to my role as mum to twin teens.
Kathleen: When we pay attention to God’s nudging in our soul, it changes how we prioritize our actions. Our mind is alerted, which allows us to change our heart so that we can choose differently. It is a recipe for successful living. What new thoughts changed your heart and, in turn, your priorities and actions?
Ruth: My love for God’s Word started as hard work when I wrote for Our Daily Bread Ministries. The discipline of crafting devotionals based on the Bible soon turned into a longing to read it even when I didn’t have to. I now wake up early just so I can connect with my Maker through His Word. I also enjoy closing my eyes and being still, and when I have a notebook and pen in hand, I write down what I hear Him speaking to my soul. I’ve been challenged to seek God first, above all things, and when I do, He never fails to order my steps. (more…)
Kay is the Chief Knowledge and Research officer at the DXM Institute for Changemaking Innovation. Hailed as the “The Questions Lady,” Kay is a national leader in research for faith-based and mission-driven organizations. For more than 30 years, she has provided customer research, market analytics, planning, collaboration management, and organizational development to both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, including Cru, Chick-Fil-A, and Thrivent. In her knowledge-leadership role for DXM™ Institute, Kay drives the development of the Institute’s platform. She is a frequent speaker on the topics of listening and relationship-building strategies for leaders, understanding what customers value, and how generational change impacts organizations. Kay believes that great leaders don’t have better answers; they ask better questions. Her greatest joy is helping leaders understand what the world most needs their organizations to do.
Kathleen Cooke: Today’s culture is about wanting clarity, so your job as a researcher is vital. The facts tell the truth but not always the whole story. We are bombarded with identity dysphoria today. What has God been teaching you through your work and perspective on why knowing who we are in Him is how we can know the facts and the whole story?
Kay Edwards: That He has called me perfect, not because of anything I have done, but because of what He has done. His finished work is my identity. Too often, women are taught to work hard to be good so that they can be loved. I have lived too much of my life terrified of not getting it right, terrified that God would be disappointed in me.
When I was growing, up my parents taught me that no matter how hard I tried, I could never please God and that He was always angry with me for not being good enough. If I had set out to create a belief system to drive someone intentionally away from God, that would have been it, and I am saddened that that was the best my parents had to offer. How terrified they must have been, too.
I am just now learning how settled God’s love is, how the moment I accepted Jesus, God’s love settled around me like clear Jesus skin that God sees me through. I don’t have to earn His love. I am inside of His love forever. I am inside of Him.
Kathleen: As you began to grasp your identity in Him and knowing that you have been made perfect through nothing you can do but through Christ’s redemptive love, what steps did you take to grow that trust within yourself?
Heidi Rasmussen is the co-founder and COO of Freshbenies – a fresh approach to benefits. She is a communicator, strategic planner, customer service advocate, builder, mentor, defender and coffee addict. Mostly, she says she’s a “gettin’ stuff done and make it happen” gal. She worked for over 27 years in the retail industry having started at JCPenney where she worked her way up the ladder to the Divisional VP at Corporate and led the largest brand launch in JCPenney history.
Seeing the need to make company benefits used wisely, she launched Freshbenies to give employers and employees practical tools to control their dime, time and peace of mind. Freshbenies has been named to the INC. 5000 list as one of the fastest growing companies in America for the past four years and the top 100 companies for two years in a row in Dallas, Texas, as well as receiving two Health Value Awards for their innovation and for providing value-based healthcare. She is a passionate believer that people matter and is an advocate for making life simplified so that they can succeed in all God’s called them to be and do. She serves on the board for, 4WordWomen, where she mentors and encourages women in the corporate business space to live out their faith to the fullest.
Kathleen Cooke – Heidi, I love that you call yourself a communicator. We live in a polarized culture today in which just chatting with someone can be challenging. What has God taught you about how to communicate effectively?
Heidi Rasmussen – So far, 2021 has been another crazy year! With all the racial injustice and political discord, the Lord is showing me how to live out His command to “love one another as I have loved you.” The Holy Spirit is working in me to change my thinking which is changing my actions. Specifically, when I’m speaking about someone on the “other side of the aisle,” I no longer use certain words or phrases (like “What an idiot!”) in casual conversation. He reminds me that He loves that person just as much as He loves me, no matter what their background and, He wants to love that person through me. It’s the main reason I’m on this earth – to love Him, love His people and bring glory to Him.
Kathleen – I have found that having great conversation starts with a relationship foundation. Talk to us about why relationship is at the heart of candid conversations and how it affects good leadership.
Heidi – To build strong relationships, I’ve had to learn to have candid conversations. At the core, candid conversations are about love. If we love someone, we’ll have a hard, truthful conversation because it’s a lot easier to avoid those kinds of talks! When I was a young manager, I was very capable and would just come behind those who weren’t doing their job and fix everything. As I grew in my career, I didn’t have the time to do that, so I had to get good at setting clear expectations and having tough conversations when expectations weren’t met. It is harder and takes more courage to tell someone they aren’t meeting expectations and need to improve their performance. As soon as I realized this and started to master the principles around conflict, I experienced more peace in my life.
Kathleen – Business decisions are often places of uncertainty and risk. What has God taught you about how to trust Him and about taking a posture of obedience in challenging situations?
Heidi – You know that saying, “God will never give you more than you can handle?” It’s nowhere in the Bible and it’s not true. How am I, in my own strength, supposed to love another person as Jesus loves me? That is impossible. In Matthew 19, Jesus says, “…with God all things are possible.” I spent many years working hard for God and asking, What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)? Then, I learned the necessity of working with God and asking, What Will Jesus Do” through me? He’s in me and His Spirit is working through me all day every day. I just need to be available and let Him use me to do His work. I ask Him to help and guide me every step of the way. That includes when I don’t feel Him nearby. I often pray, “Lord, please help me to feel Your presence.” When I’m in a bad mood, I pray, “Lord, please lift me from this funk.” And, when I’m mad at Him, I pray, “Lord, please change me.” I can ask Him anything and be confident that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13).
Kathleen – How do you view influence in a culture where many strive endlessly today to be influencers?
Heidi – At the risk of sounding like a broken record (if you remember what one of those is), I’ve learned that influence is about loving people and letting Christ work through me. People are influenced positively by other people they love or like on some level. I’ve learned that if I want to influence the world, I have to be salt and light to others and loving (and lovable) in all circumstances. To do that, I have to ask Christ to do it through me and be available to let him shine through me to others.
Find out more about Freshbenies here or connect with Heidi on LinkedIn here.
Australian, Darlene Zschech, is a globally acclaimed composer, worship leader, pastor, author and speaker and is well known for her ministry work at Sydney’s Hillsong Church. However, she claims her biggest success is serving God and His people whom she loves with all her heart. Alongside her husband Mark, and with their daughters, son-in-laws and grandchildren, they lead Hope Unlimited Church (HopeUC) with locations in Australia, India and the U.S. Darlene is perhaps most well known for her worship song, Shout to the Lord, but she has composed numerous other worship songs including Kiss of Heaven, Change Your World, You Are Love, In Jesus Name and the album, Revealing Jesus, which she recorded with Grammy Award winner, Israel Houghton. In 2016 Darlene recorded a live HopeUC worship album, Here I Am, Send Me, where she collaborated with other top worship leaders. In 2018 she released, The Table, and in 2019, she recorded, I Speak Jesus, with Integrity Music writer, Dustin Smith.
Her passion is to train and encourage others in worship and in the Word of God and has penned six books which have been translated into 20 different languages, including The Art of Mentoring, Revealing Jesus (devotional), Worship Changes Everything, and The Golden Thread, as well as an online worship course, Your Ministry Mentor, designed to equip global worship leaders.
She and Mark have a passion to restore Hope globally but especially to Rwandans. Their ministry provided strategic hope and healing following the 1994 horrific genocide and has continued to expand into parts of Africa, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and India. Darlene says, “First and foremost I am a woman who simply and wholeheartedly loves Jesus Christ, and serves Him through loving my family, serving the Church, and speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
Kathleen Cooke: We are all working through recovering from the global pandemic on many levels, but what is the single biggest thing that has God taught you during the challenges that COVID has brought?
Darlene Zschech: The big thing for me over the last 3 years is how God has shown me the importance of The Table. It’s the importance of the gather… that as we break bread together and see and hear each other that we make the time to celebrate Christ together in a way that is personal and intentional. And… that discipleship and authentic community will be what flows from lives that have the table at the Centre.
Kathleen: You have had great successes but lots of challenges too. When those out-of-the-blue challenges came your way, what did God teach you?
Darlene: FORGIVENESS… this has been a big one for me. When I was going through treatment for cancer, I had lots of time to listen to God speak in a new and often challenging way. I had to dig deep on my theology about healing and about God’s plans and purposes. One day, He spoke to me and asked me to trust Him with my heart in a new way. To do this, He asked me to forgive those I had held deep unforgiveness toward… which REALLY shocked me. I thought I was a very forgiving person. So… slowly but surely, the Holy Spirit gently led me through person by person what I needed to set free in my heart. This was a life changing few months for me. Not only do I believe He helped with the healing in my body, but He has literally brought me so much more freedom that I didn’t even know I needed. (more…)
Kathleen Cooke: You’ve been blessed with an amazing talent and great success as a musical artist, but the business is challenging. What has God taught you about lamenting and praying differently which transforms our thinking when things don’t turn out the way we want?
Linda (Peaches) Tavani: I have experienced being at the top of success and trust me, it’s unfortunately very temporary. I know now from experience how important it is to prayerfully consider seeking God first. Pray about the vision you’re being called to and prayerfully ask for the right people in your field of interest to help you along the way. Nothing is worse than the consequences of not doing this. When in doubt, walk it out. Pray. The risks are too great and the time you waste cannot be replaced. There will always be lessons to learn. Remember our loving Father of forgiveness and grace pulls us through our mistakes no matter what we have chosen to do. My advice is to always consult God first. He’ll walk you through. If He says no, let it go!