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
The grip of the eagle’s claws dug into my gloved hand, and it took every ounce of my strength to hold up his 20+ pound body on my outstretched arm. Within just a few minutes, the eagle’s trainer, who was standing by, came up behind me to help me hold up my arm as its claws dug in. I was in Mongolia shooting a project on how Christianity spread to the ends of the earth and the stories of the many missionaries who had made unthinkable sacrifices by giving their lives and sacrificing the lives of their spouses and children so that God’s story and light might be made known. Holding that bird became a teaching moment for me. One I’ll never forget.
In Luke 17, Jesus is trying to provide some understanding to those listening of what the end times on earth will look like. Many throughout history have speculated on when Jesus will return for the final time and what life will be like. Jesus shares a few examples and then tells us that it will be like the days of Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah, when there was much debauchery. To those living there, it was normal and nothing new. They had accepted the culture into their lifestyle. (more…)
Sometimes self-centeredness can look like striving and having an internal hyper-focus on yourself. If the focus is on you, you, you, then there might be a need for readjustment. Read this month’s INNER VIEW with producer Amanda Ashley Miess as she shares how she took the attention and pressure off of herself and put it where it belongs… back onto God.
Amanda Ashley Miess is a writing, producing, and directing triple threat who has over ten years of experience working in almost every facet of filmmaking. A creative storyteller and idea generator, she’s had her hands in film, TV, and digital media and has worked for some of the most influential names in the industry, including Jerry Bruckheimer, The Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros. Amanda has developed, produced and directed a host of digital kid-led variety shows for big brands such as Disney Princess, DC Kids, and Polly Pocket, with some videos reaching well over 1 million views. She also co-directed the Pure Flix mini-series The Power Couple, starring Alexa and Carlos PenaVega. She is currently a Senior Producer at Little Dot Studios, an award-winning digital content agency and media network owned by All3Media. A graduate of USC, she has also made several short films, including festival winners Silence Is Olden and Remember Me, winner of 9 awards at LA’s 168 Film Festival. A kid at heart with a strong passion for making influential content for today’s youth, Amanda loves to do anything a 12-year-old would do…. including but not limited to dancing, backflips, board games, crafts, and making goofy music videos.
Kathleen Cooke: This industry is about “hurry up and wait.” How have you learned to wait on God and embrace His peace?
Amanda Ashley Miess: Has God ever “recently” taught you something that He’s actually been bringing to you layer by layer for years? I have! He is so patient. After spending way too much time trying to earn people’s respect and affirmation in this industry, I am finally starting to embrace the fact that I only need my Lord’s approval. I literally have a Google Drive that is 98% full with unproduced scripts, pitch decks, and story ideas. My Lord has shown me that my value comes from Him alone; all my giftings are from Him and are for Him. He will open the doors in His way and in His timing.
One vision He showed me years ago that I’ll never forget: I saw a dog pile of people clambering on each other to reach one key dangling from the ceiling. This is what succeeding in the entertainment industry often feels like. As I stood to the side, watching them climb over each other, fighting for that one key, the Lord told me to instead walk forward towards a small door that was shaped like me. Only I could fit through it, and I was the key. I have spent many years striving to reach that prized “key” hanging from the ceiling and have grown disappointed in God and my abilities when I have not obtained it. Recently, He has instilled in me a newfound peace and purpose. Even if I don’t have all the answers and I am still learning what my true purpose is in this industry, I know I am exactly where I need to be, and I know that even through the mundane, He is using me to bring His Kingdom on earth.
Kathleen: What do you do when it seems like God is silent and you can’t connect to Him?
Amanda: The times I feel most disconnected from God are when the enemy gets me to look at my human efforts and believe that my works aren’t good enough. Even in my spiritual walk, it is easy for me to believe that I am not praying hard enough, reading the Bible long enough, fasting enough, or ministering enough. I start to believe that nothing I do is ever good enough, and so I give up. That’s when I have felt like God is silent, or I am not close to Him. I think that I need to improve my relationship with God and work harder at loving Him and serving Him. But the truth is that if I believe what Jesus did on the cross puts me in right standing with my Heavenly Father, then I am in right relationship with Him right now! Even if I’m not “feeling it,” I am connected. I am pleasing to Him. Every little thing I do for Him or every thought towards Him counts. He is still moving in my life, and progress is being made. When I remind myself of that truth, connecting with God is easy. He’s right there, and I’m right there with Him. (more…)
Where do we get the confidence to push forward, take risks and negotiate without fear? Is it found in us, or in something bigger than ourselves? Read this month’s INNER VIEW as author and producer Victoria Slater shares about rooting herself in the “certainty of God”.
As the daughter of an Air Force officer, Victoria Slater spent her childhood traveling the world and gaining a passion for travel and world culture. She attained a BA in Theatre with minors in Business and French from Wright State University in Ohio, but spent a few post-college years working in chemical defense research. Yet, a lifelong dream to work in the film industry egged her on to Hollywood where Victoria worked over twenty years in the industry; she was also delighted when her new career took her back to foreign lands.
She spent a year in South Africa for TransWorld Pictures as a Production Executive and Director of Development, where she oversaw and negotiated distribution deals for the production of many feature films.
Victoria also has been part of the production teams on several independent and studio feature films and television series, including Twentieth Century Fox’s disaster film Volcano, Paramount’s Star Trek VII Generations, and Baywatch. She has also produced high-end projects ranging from commercials to short videos for private resorts and members-only clubs with the boutique post-production company, Moving Pictures, co-owned with her husband, Ken.
She is a proud member of the Producers Guild of America, where she served on the Board of Directors for nine years and chaired the mentoring program for over seven years. In 2007, Victoria was awarded the prestigious AP Council Commitment Award for her service to the PGA.
Victoria published her book, How To Negotiate Without Freaking Out, to encourage women to become better and braver negotiators. She loves God, her husband, and her two very spoiled little dogs. These are her non-negotiables.
Kathleen Cooke: You had a long and significant career working in entertainment. Looking back, what is the one thing you’d say was the most significant thing God taught you about the industry?
Victoria Slater: God taught me that He is in control. I have recently been reflecting on my past efforts to promote our business or my career that yielded no fruit. Yet projects seemed to come out of “left field” (aka from God). We have been very blessed and have done well, but I can never point to my efforts for our success. Now in making efforts to promote my book, I turn to God and ask, “what should I do?” A friend reminded me of the biblical passage in Luke 5:4, where the disciples had just returned from a night of fruitless fishing.
Jesus told them to put out into the deep and let down their nets for a catch. At first they argued with Him, but then did what He told them to do and took in an abundance of fish. That is what I am trying to do now – not go on my efforts but look to God first and follow His direction.
Kathleen: If you could tell your 20-something-self something that you know now, what would you tell her?
Victoria: “Pride goeth before the fall.” I look back on many opportunities I lost because of pride. I was given an incredible opportunity early in my production career when I was sent to South Africa as a production executive. When I returned to the States, I was a bit puffed up and turned down jobs that seemed a step back but would have led to much greater experiences. I cringe when I think of my poor judgment because I was so prideful.
Kathleen: We often aren’t honest with who we are and how God has wired us. We negotiate with Him on what we want (our will) and what He wants (His will). How can we become that authentic person and accept what He has called us to be and do?
Victoria: I love Psalm 139, especially verse 14 (NIV), which says, “I will praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” I love people who dare to be their wonderful, unique, authentic selves. It can be hard sometimes. We are, by nature, herding animals. But I find people who are authentically themselves are the most fun to be around. So, I strive to be honest and authentic with everyone I meet. And let my unique sense of humor and intellect shine through, for “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Kathleen: I love that. Especially because of the last half of that scripture, where David (the writer of Psalms) acknowledges the confidence that inward knowledge gave him. A career in media, entertainment, arts and leadership can be one of risky choices and uncertainty. Where did you find your certainty and confidence as a high-level executive making many strategic influential decisions in Hollywood?
Victoria: I was around twenty-five years old and had just broken up with my first serious relationship. We had been together for four years, and I was devastated. I was living in Dayton, Ohio working in government research on chemical defense. A friend saw how heartbroken I was and got an Air Force captain to invite me out to lunch. At that lunch, he started talking about God. God?! I didn’t want to hear about God. I wanted to be told how pretty I was. On the way back to my office, this Air Force captain asked me if I wanted to accept Jesus into my life. To this day, I can remember the feeling of standing on the edge of a precipice. If I accepted the offer, I would be jumping off a cliff. I wasn’t ready. So, I declined. Shortly after this, I was in Arizona on vacation. I was heading to California and couldn’t sleep, still upset over the breakup.
I took a walk in that arid climate and started to talk to God, and I had the overwhelming sense that He loved me and would take care of me. I accepted Christ into my life that night.
The Air Force captain will never know how much he influenced my life. You never know how God will use you to influence others. His confidence and certainty of who Jesus was in his life influenced me, and I couldn’t stop thinking of his invitation to know God personally in my life. And it’s God’s certainty living in me that still allows me to keep my confidence in Him as we continue to live in growing, uncertain times today.
Register Now for the Influence Lab Webinar with Victoria on Tuesday, August 23rd at 5:00pm PST!
The Art of Negotiation: How to Grow Your Confidence
We’re growing! Influence Lab Women is expanding into the hub of film and television production in Atlanta. “Hollywood and New York are no longer the only epicenters of media production,” shares Kathleen Cooke. “Influence Lab Women is thrilled to introduce you to the new Atlanta Influence Lab coordinator, Anna Oakley.”
The kick-off of the Atlanta group will be an in-person watch party of the Influence Lab Women’s online event featuring guest Cindy Bond, producer of “Redeeming Love” and the box-office hit, “I Can Only Imagine.” If you live in the Atlanta area, sign up here to join us for this event. (Not in Atlanta? Sign up here for the free webinar.)
And now, meet Anna Oakley…
Hi! My name is Anna Elizabeth Oakley, and I’m an actor, puppeteer, and children’s coach living in what has come to be known as the “Hollywood of the South” – Atlanta, Georgia. In December 2021, I journeyed to LA to hear actress and producer Jessica Oyelowo speak at The Influence Lab Women’s Christmas Gathering. I didn’t know anything about The Influence Lab and little did I know what God truly had in store for me that night. After a long desert season of almost two years due to the pandemic, the gathering blew me away and filled my soul. It was not only an evening filled with new connections, friendships, and empowering prayer but of being strengthened and mentored in faith and career excellence. I was inspired to press on and into what and where God had purposed for my life.
My immediate question when I met Kathleen was, have you thought of bringing this to Atlanta?
It turns out she had! The Influence Lab team had been praying about expanding into Atlanta. They, too, knew that Atlanta had grown into a strong industry community and had become a major hub for TV and film production. The Influence Lab had felt an urgency to expand, encourage and empower professionals there. But how? It was a matter of God’s timing. That night I felt God tapping me on the shoulder and calling me into action. (more…)