Recently at a Museum of The Bible event in Washington, D.C., I was invited to participate in a painting class. When I first saw the class being offered on the schedule, I was a bit hesitant, if not intimidated. I hadn’t painted anything since the 3rd grade. I consider myself a fairly creative person, having worked as an actress in Hollywood and producing media projects for many years with Cooke Media Group; but the thought of being exposed as an inept artistic painter (perhaps equal to being a musically tone-deaf individual) was petrifying. Nevertheless, I forced myself to go knowing, without question, that I’d embarrass myself.
Insecurity and fear keep people from achieving greatness more than anything else.
Fear robs us of God’s joy in allowing Himself to be exposed in new ways through our unique lives. When we step into the fear, we step away from areas that we’ve built around us as safety nets. By staying in those safe places, we rob ourselves of the freedom and purpose that God wants to bring into our lives. New environments and situations that we must depend on Him for to accomplish. (more…)
Kelsey Cooke grew up acting professionally in Hollywood, signing with her first agent at the age of 7. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Arts from Vanguard University and pursued a Broadway, TV, and Film career in New York upon graduating. Her work eventually brought her back to Hollywood, where she co-founded thisishardtoread productions and is an award-winning producer, writer, and actor in the award-winning feature comedy/mockumentary film RE-OPENING. Favorite career highlights include: LIFE PARTNERS (Tribeca & Sundance Film Festival), BLACK NOVEMBER (Vivica Fox), PAN AM (ABC), ROYAL PAINS (USA), BAD TEACHER (CBS), and THE VERONICA MARS MOVIE.
Kathleen Cooke: OK full disclosure – you are my oldest daughter and the new Influence Women Nashville Chapter Director. I could tell lots about you…but I’ll let you tell us a bit about yourself.
Kelsey Cooke: I am co-founder of thisishardtoread productions with my husband, Chris. We create comedies with heart. I’m a producer, writer, director, and actor – not necessarily all at the same time, hah! I began in the industry as an actor at 7 years old in Hollywood and came up through the industry working not only in LA but after college in New York, working on stage and Broadway musicals before moving back to LA in 2013 as an actress and producer.
Kathleen: How and why have you gotten involved with Influence Women as the new Nashville Chapter Coordinator?
Kelsey: I recently moved to the greater Nashville area for the main purpose of collaborating with like-minded industry professionals. I was tired of waiting for some “big break” that would never come, and after producing my own feature film during the pandemic, I realized the Hollywood industry is so much bigger than the box we put it in. Nashville was the place where I felt called to create a movement with people who feel the same way. I know the multiple challenges of a career in the media and entertainment and the importance of collaboration with the right people and having a community of people who support each other not only in their work but in their faith.
Kathleen: When is the Influence Women Nashville launch, and what’s happening?
Kelsey: We are going to start gathering women on November 9th who are excited to get involved with our mission – to bring women in the industry together who want to encourage, uplift, and empower each other and align their media career with their faith and values. Let’s get to know each other and think of others who would also like to have a local community of creators. Please reach out if you would like to be a part of this initial group.
If you want to connect with Kelsey and Influence Women Nashville, reach out to her at: email@example.com.
Meet Kelsey Guerra, the new coordinator for Influence Lab Women Nashville!
Bio: Kelsey grew up acting professionally in Hollywood, signing with her first agent at the age of seven. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts from Vanguard University and pursued a Broadway, TV, and Film career in New York upon graduating. Her work eventually brought her back to Hollywood, where she co-founded thisishardtoread Productions and is an award-winning producer, writer, and actor on the award-winning feature comedy/mockumentary film, RE-OPENING. Favorite career highlights include LIFE PARTNERS (Tribeca & Sundance Film Festival), BLACK NOVEMBER, THE VERONICA MARS MOVIE (Vivica Fox), PAN AM (ABC), ROYAL PAINS (USA), and BAD TEACHER (CBS).
Kathleen Cooke: Tell us about you! What’s your story, and what do you do in the media and entertainment industry?
Kelsey Guerra: I am co-founder of thisishardtoread Productions with my husband, and we create comedies with heart. I’m a producer, writer, director, and actor – not necessarily all at the same time!
Kathleen: How and why have you gotten involved with Influence Lab Women as the new Nashville Chapter Coordinator?
Kelsey: I recently moved to the greater Nashville area from L.A./Hollywood for the main purpose of collaborating with like-minded industry professionals. I was tired of waiting for some “big break” that would never come, and after producing my own feature film during the pandemic, I realized that Hollywood and the industry is so much bigger than the box we put it in, and Nashville was the place where I felt called to create a movement with people who felt the same way.
Kathleen: When is the Influence Lab Women Nashville launch, and what’s happening?
Kelsey: We are going to start with a small gathering of women at the end of October who are excited to get involved with our mission – to bring women in the industry together who want to encourage, uplift, and empower each other. Let’s get to know each other and bring together others who would like to have a local community of creators and industry professionals.
Reach out to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be a part of the group. Once we have a core group of women, we can expand our reach to others who would also like to join us for a larger launch in January 2023.
It is easy to become a victim of empty promises and lies in the media and entertainment industry. It’s often not a question of “if” you’ll be cheated or taken advantage of; it’s “when.” Anger is an easy button to push, but when the root of bitterness is bitten, it can cause irrefutable damage.
Stories can help us forgive, keep our integrity and move on.
I frequently look at classic fairy tales to find lessons hidden in them. Like parables that Jesus told, many fairy tales have lessons and wisdom to learn from as we examine them more closely. They can teach us about choices and circumstances that occur in our lives, many of which can happen beyond our control.
The story of Rapunzel is one. It was made famous by the Brothers Grimm in their fairytale book for children, but it’s believed that its roots lay in the third-century Italian story of Saint Barbara, whose father thought her so beautiful that he locked her away. The story through the centuries has had many versions with many different storylines. Most recently, Disney retold the story in their animated version entitled, Tangled.
One of the lessons most popularized from the story is that you can’t keep children from the world’s evils. But I think many have missed other hidden lessons. It’s a story of choosing to take risks and make life-changing choices. It’s a story of being set free from bondage caused by sinful acts done to us, whether intentionally or not. Most importantly, it’s a story of climbing up and down the ladder of forgiveness and love and our ability to maintain our integrity and move on despite what’s happened in our lives.
We often see unforgivable acts that cause pain and suffering as singular actions – “the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” However, if you examine unpardonable offenses, one finds that they are usually caused by more profound issues of repeated and layered actions. One of the many versions of Rapunzel’s story tells of her mother, who refuses to eat and yearns only for a root growing in the witch’s garden during her pregnancy. Out of love and concern for his wife’s health, Rapunzel’s father repeatedly steals the witch’s magical root, gets caught and must surrender their child to the witch who locks her in a tower. The love of the prince is Rapunzel’s only escape from her bondage.
Unconditional love is the healing balm for repeated offenses.
Rapunzel’s beauty and eventual saving grace are revealed in the power of her hair. Her hair, like God’s unconditional love, is never cut off but keeps growing longer and stronger year after year. It is her hair that the prince uses to save Rapunzel. It is God’s never-ending unconditional love for us through Prince Jesus that rescued us from our eternal separation from Himself. Jesus was God’s ladder of love used to reach and free us from sin’s bondage. Rapunzel’s hair was woven – braided in three substantial sections of hair which allowed her to be rescued. God’s love and forgiveness are also interwoven with the strength of three – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which provide us with an unbreakable bond.
It’s our inability to escape our sins that requires God’s never-ending forgiveness.
Jesus, our ladder of love and forgiveness, is thrown to us daily so we may escape the entrapment of sin. As long as we’re entrapped in this world, we will never be able to stop making sinful choices. Our only hope is to recognize our need for God’s escape ladder – Jesus.
The book of Hosea in the Bible tells the story of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness for us. Often misunderstood because of its sexual themes, Hosea is far from a tale of sexual lust and fantasy consequences. Instead, it is the story of God’s unrelenting forgiveness for our continual sinning. He may allow our deserved punishment, but He’ll never abandon us.
Stories make us think and hear God’s voice.
God used the parable of Hosea and his marriage to a prostitute for us to understand the height, length and depth of His love and forgiveness, and the reason why Jesus came and sacrificed His life for us. Prince Jesus scaled sin’s tower to reach the depths of our hearts. Then God commands us to forgive just as He forgave us. He urges us to fix our eyes on Jesus, who empowers us and allows our eyes to be opened to those entrapped in the bondage of their sin and to forgive those who have caused us pain and suffering. It enables us to turn from anger and the root of bitterness we may have eaten and then clasp onto God’s powerful, forgiving love. Like the voice of the prince whom Rapunzel heard while in her tower, God allows us to hear His unique voice and the heart song of Jesus.
On February 24th, The Influence Lab will host producer Cindy Bond of Mission Pictures International in a free online event. Her newly released film, Redeeming Love, from the best-selling novel by Francine Rivers, was inspired by the book of Hosea. I will interview Cindy, and we will examine the challenges of making the movie and how its story of forgiveness and love is so needed in our culture today. Redeeming Love, like the story of Rapunzel, reveals the effects of evil, choosing to obey God’s direction and not our own, and how His plans for us bring renewed life and a way forward.
Can you hear the Prince of Peace’s voice in your life? Don’t let unforgivable acts keep you entrapped. God desires you to be set free and to live happily ever after.
Don’t miss the Influence Lab webinar featuring Cindy Bond on February 24. Sign up today for this free on-iine event! Register here.
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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