Navigating your path can be challenging. Learning to let go of idols, offenses and hurt (especially from the Church) isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly necessary. Read this month’s INNER VIEW with award-winning writer Sarah Sumpolec as she shares about the speed bumps she’s had to overcome in her walk with God.
BIO: Sarah Sumpolec is a writer and producer who is particularly passionate about the tween, teen, and family markets. She’s a traditionally published, award-winning novelist with seven teen novels. She began writing for TV and film in 2004 after graduating from the Act One Hollywood Program. She worked in development alongside Vonda Skelton to launch the teen intern program at the Gideon Media Arts & Film Festival and worked on short films and major features in a variety of capacities refining her career. She has a nurturing heart and a passion to mentor writers to see them develop award-winning content. Her family has been involved in the entertainment industry for a long while; two of her three daughters work as professional actresses, and when her youngest was 12 years old, she toured the country on the National Broadway tour of Annie. The family has recently moved to Los Angeles to continue their careers, and Sarah remains passionate about writing and producing content that allows teens (ages 8-18) to flourish and discover their identity and purpose.
Sarah will be leading an Influence Women Mentorship track on writing this coming April. Register at influencewomen.org!
Kathleen Cooke: How has God walked with you through the roller-coaster of a career as a writer?
Sarah Sumpolec: Oh, I could write a book. Quite honestly, I’ve been in a wilderness season that has dragged on far longer than I ever anticipated. I’m still very much in it. But as painful as it has been at times, it has also been precious. I recognize how God has been by my side to transform me on the inside, even as I walk through a barren landscape. How He gently but persistently calls me to keep my eyes fixed on Him alone. Even when everything falls apart and nothing looks the way you had hoped or imagined – He is the treasure. But keeping my eyes on Jesus, abiding in the truth of who He is, means I must ignore all of the things that come at me from the world that try to paint a different reality. It means I must choose joy when grief threatens to flood me. I must choose joy when I face yet another rejection. I must choose joy when yet someone or something else tries to tell me I don’t belong. Because if He didn’t say it, then it’s not true.
Choosing joy is no small thing and I feel like I’ve had increased opportunities to choose joy at ever-deepening levels. Because “everything falling apart and nothing looking the way we had hoped or imagined”? That’s been our journey. Joy can’t wait until things have changed because then my joy is because of that external thing that has changed. No, I have to choose joy here and now, when my hands are empty, and I’ve got nothing to offer except myself. I will “praise before the breakthrough” because He truly is enough.
Kathleen: It takes grit and ambition to carve out a writing career. How do you live in the “wait” and the writing and re-writing and more re-writing, knowing God’s got you?
Sarah: As a young teen, before I met Jesus, I started working in the theater and assistant directing in my local theater. In college, I continued that journey as a double major in Theater and Psychology – I dreamed of being an actor, director, and playwright. Enter Jesus. By the time I was a senior and had grown considerably in my walk, God showed me how the theater was an idol in my life, and that it needed to go. I quickly dropped my major with just one class left to take and walked away from it completely. I didn’t want anything between Jesus and me! And in many ways, that set the tone for my walk with Jesus. When we lay down our own ambitions and dreams, it is only then we can make room for Him to plant new ones in our hearts. I always think of Abraham and Sarah – and how – in their urgency to “help” God’s promise come along, Ishmael was born. But he was not the son of promise. If you try to get things your own way, circumventing God’s plan, you could end up with something that God didn’t mean for you to have. His way is always better. The things He has planned for me will come in my pursuit of Him – not in my pursuit of those “things”.
That allows me to let go of things whenever He nudges me that I’m holding something too tightly, or something that I shouldn’t be holding at all. I used to want the lights shining on me, and now I’m content to be invisible. Being invisible is a weird place, too, but because I know that I’m not invisible to Him, I can be at peace even in this place. Anonymity can become a comfort zone, too – for example – I was recently invited onto a podcast, a live radio show, and asked for this interview!! Because God has had me hidden for so long, doing interviews makes me uncomfortable! So I have found we need to find a balance to be willing to go when He says go, and let go when He says let go and seek to be sensitive enough to His voice to know the difference.
Kathleen: The industry is rotted with promises that are often never fulfilled and people who say and do damaging things which affect creative and artistic endeavors. What has God taught you about forgiveness and moving forward?
Sarah: I didn’t grow up in the Church (I have a wild testimony!), and I think one of the things that surprised me most about Christianity early was seeing how badly some Christians treat other Christians. Over the years, some of the hardest things I have had to endure came at the hands of people who called themselves believers. I learned very early on – thanks to an amazing discipleship group where I was truly healed and set free – that I can never use God’s people as a measure of who He truly is. Sadly, they just aren’t always a good reflection of Him.
But the second piece of that is that forgiveness is a choice. Unforgiveness is a sin that will hurt us if we don’t deal with it. It will choke us like an out-of-control weed if we don’t cut it off. It must be dealt with swiftly. The beauty of choosing forgiveness is I can choose it even if my feelings aren’t there yet. The feelings will catch up eventually. Choosing forgiveness, then praying blessings for those that have wronged you helps your heart line up correctly. I find this is something I go back to over and over in my walk, because, well, offenses happen, don’t they?
Kathleen: God tells us more times in the Bible to “go” and influence the world than He tells us to stay put. Why is this important for someone working in the industry to learn?
Sarah: Right before the COVID shutdown, our family received some surprising direction from God. We were on a completely different path, merrily walking along, thinking that the path we walked made sense. Then everything changed; all because a college kid looked at us and said, “Why would you do that?” Little did she know that her question prompted some deep prayer and soul-searching for us all. And strangely, the idea of “We are all moving to Hollywood” didn’t seem so strange anymore. It seemed like it is what we were supposed to figure out all along. But when I say our lives were upended, it’s not an exaggeration. And it’s been hard. Really hard. I think too many Christians believe following God should be this smooth, even road, and I’ve found that to not be the case. Sometimes your promised land has giants, but when God leads, nothing is impossible.
Teaching in the public school system taught me long ago that we are all constantly influencing people around us. Whatever is in us oozes out into the world around us. Our internal world and personal deep and abiding connection with Christ is the most important thing to care for. Because it is from that core that all influence happens.
The question for me really is – what kind of influence am I? Am I bringing words of faith and hope into the world around me? Sometimes that is all you can do, and that is enough.
Connect with Sarah:
Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/what-do-i-do-with-my-life/id1502924500 https://open.spotify.com/show/1XtoNofXO49HaEGyFbL5LA
Do you hold onto offense easily? How do you navigate relationships when it seems like the brokenness in others (or yourself) continues to get in the way? Dr. Donna Marie Hunter addresses this important topic that we all face. Find out how you can set healthy boundaries, navigating your way to healthier relationships with others and deeper intimacy with God.
Dr. Donna Marie Hunter is an engaging TV show host on her show, Grace & Space, arousing honest conversations that encourages viewers to continue dreaming by building healthy habits and genuine relationships. She has co-authored two #1 International Best-selling books, Women Who Rise and Women Who Empower. Dr. Donna received her BS degree at Pepperdine University and her Master’s in Educational Leadership; she has a Counseling Credential and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Azusa Pacific University.
She is an intuitive coach for personal and professional growth, a knowledgeable consultant in education and leadership, and an inspiring champion for equity, access, and inclusion for individuals with disabilities. With over twenty years of awarded leadership as a counselor and administrator, Donna is a well-respected expert in public education. Her mission is to educate, enlighten and empower individuals with knowledge that transforms thinking and leads to actionable steps toward positive change.
Kathleen Cooke: One of the biggest challenges today is having meaningful deep relationships with those with differing world views without offending each other. What has God taught you recently about standing for what you believe and yet being “gentle as doves?”
Dr. Donna Marie Hunter: Being unoffended is one of the most freeing dispositions to hold. My ministry, Grace and Space, has been my focal point and banner even before hosting a Television Show. I intentionally focus on forgiveness or grace, which lowers the tendency toward being easily offended and judgmental. Giving space allows for time and distance and to gain perspective, enabling us to see our predispositions and biases more clearly toward people, places, and things. God continues to teach me lessons on being unoffended, which produces the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” Hebrews 12:11 invites. Growing closer to God and letting people off the hook has helped me love my brother and sister as myself. It allows me to esteem the individual while recognizing the imperfection of our humanity; it has freed my soul. When we rise above being offended, it elevates our ability to impact and influence others positively. We become light in the shadows when darkness appears. We take on a righteousness that is not of our own and are able to suspend our ranking and judgment of someone else’s motives, intentions, and actions.
Kathleen: How can we choose right relationships? What’s the one thing we should consider in choosing a meaningful relationship?
Dr. Donna: Relationships are God’s chosen method to heal. We are broken in relationships, and we are healed in relationships. Isolation is usually an invitation to offense, creating barriers. Barring times of consecration when God is setting us apart for intentional growth and ministry, we need one another for our health and healing. When choosing to enter a relationship with someone, it’s imperative to hold the mirror up to ourselves and acknowledge our imperfections. Then, we’re more open to connecting with flawed individuals we choose to be in a relationship with. Appreciating the uniqueness of an individual while simultaneously offering grace and holding true to your boundaries (giving space) is the sweet spot of loving thy neighbor as you love yourself (Matthew 22:39). I’m not sure it’s possible to be in a healthy relationship unless we honor the Spirit of God within ourselves. God’s love flows through us first and then to others, touching us first and extending out.
Kathleen: Relationships are also about drawing boundaries. How can we decide where we need to draw them?
Dr. Donna: Boundaries are the language of love. I love you, and I love me; thus, I want the best for both of us. Understanding my limits and limitations allows me to fully love and express unbridled care for another. Boundary setting starts from a place of honesty and authenticity within, recognizing our brokenness and need for a holy God heal and save our souls. Our propensity toward sin, selfishness, and neediness has the potential to invite extremes and may cloud our ability to communicate authentically and avoid unhealthy situations and people. It is both loving and honest to say, “thank you, however, that does not work for me right now.” We offer grace and space by communicating our portion of the wrongdoing, taking responsibility for the mishap, asking for forgiveness, communicating an ending, and giving space or time for God to heal.
Kathleen: Our influence impacts our relationships, and relationships impact our influence. They work in tandem. What have you learned about how we can influence others?
Dr. Donna: Influence, both intentional and unintentional, is a weighty gift. Hence, my goal is to be intentional in loving and purpose-filled in my impact in the communities where I serve and inspirational in sharing my faith and the message of hope that fuels my passion. Influence is the telltale seeds we’ve sown over our lifespan, the fruit that remains after we have passed by, passed through, and passed on. It bears witness to the gravity of our impact. The legacy we desire to leave in this world is a direct result of our influence and interactions with family, friends, and foes. My favorite hashtag is #MyHopesAreUp. These words are indicative of a life, legacy, and influence I desire to intentionally leave upon the earth.
Connect with Dr. Donna:
Grace & Space Season 1: https://rvntelevision.com/tv-show/grace-space/
Facebook & YouTube: @drdonnamariehunter
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.
I have so much exciting news to share with you this month! We promised that we would be working hard to give you opportunities to build your community and network and here were some of the ways we did that in October:
- Influence Women has relaunched and now has a new, interactive website! InfluenceWomen.org has been built with community in mind and will be the hub for all Influence Women information, events and mentorship programs! This new member platform is the perfect place to engage with other industry creatives and includes access to job postings and a roster of fellow professionals.
- The Influence Women Membership Program was officially announced with three empowering levels of engagement: Partner, Professional, and Executive (by application only).
- Influence Women had an incredibly successful in-person event at Castaway in Burbank. The event was sold-out with over 100 women gathered together to be inspired and encouraged by Netflix Executive Christina Lee Storm and Influence Lab Co-Founder, Kathleen Cooke. The event marked the official relaunch of Influence Women, the membership program and the new website!
Upcoming Influence Women Events!
Check out, and check often, our INW Calendar, get plugged in, and grow with us!
- Be a Star on Zoom featuring television actress Renee Lawless – November 1st from 5:30pm – 7pm (PST)
- Our FREE 6-week Bible study on the Book of Nehemiah started on Oct 4th, but it’s not too late to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up! Show business is a demanding pursuit. Feed your spirit and your mind while developing a community of sisters who can support you as work to support and influence others.
- Nashville Chapter Launch! November 9th from 7pm – 9pm at the Homestead Manor Barn. If you’re in the Nashville area, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to get plugged in at the ground level. Become a member and register for the event on our website.
- Hollywood INspire Event! November 12th from 1pm – 4pm in Tarzana, CA. INspire events are small, informal gatherings designed for fun and fellowship. It’s our hope that you will take advantage of these local events to make new friends and grow your community. Visit the website for details.
- Orange County Chapter Launch! Brunch on Saturday, November 19th at 11am. Join the movement in OC, featuring gifted writer, producer, and actress, Alexandra Boylan!
That’s it for now, but stay connected with us as there is always something new!
Chief Operating Officer
Connect with us on Social Media!
The Influence Lab: @influencelab
Influence Women Hollywood Chapter: @InfluenceWomenHollywood
Influence Women Atlanta Chapter: @InfluenceWomenAtlanta
Influence Women Nashville Chapter: @InfluenceWomenNashville