Do you struggle with anxiety? Perhaps even in the areas you’re most gifted in or feel called to? Learn to navigate the highs and lows of the industry as Sweet Magnolias showrunner, Sheryl J. Anderson, gives insight to real connection with God and true influence. When your career, family or future feels unstable, you can find joy in the steadiness of God.
Sheryl J. Anderson is the creator and showrunner of Sweet Magnolias, a romantic drama for Netflix whose third season drops in July 2023; she also has a variety of projects in development. Sheryl began her writing journey as a playwriting major at The College of William & Mary in Virginia. Lured to Los Angeles by the intrigue of television and the promise of 300 sunny days a year, she worked as a television studio executive, screenwriter, and half-hour series writer (Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, Dave’s World). She then moved to writing and producing hour-long series, working on a wide range of series (Charmed, Flash Gordon, When Calls the Heart). She created Ties That Bind, UPtv’s first scripted series. She has sold pilots to Netflix, SyFy, NBC, Lifetime, and Disney and has written movies for Hallmark, UPtv, and Lifetime. Sheryl is also a novelist and teaches and mentors through a variety of universities and organizations.
Kathleen Cooke – What’s the one thing you’d like to share with women that God has recently taught you?
Sheryl J. Anderson – In the last several years, God has taught me – is still teaching me – that I am not in control; He is. I was impatient from childhood, always sure I had the answer, I could solve the problem, I could lead the way. There were triumphs, but there were also plenty of failures. Now, after a series of painful, heartbreaking events – the deaths of my parents, my divorce, the betrayal of friends – I finally understand. I do what I can to the best of my abilities, but there are situations – and people – that I must entrust to His care because I am not able to fix them. This applies to my relationships and my work. While hard-won, patience has become a source of peace and power, a constant reminder that He walks beside me. And when I walk with Him, rather than racing ahead, it is easier to stay on the path He would have me walk.
When you’re impatient, it is all too easy to overreach: “This one moment will solve everything.” Which all too quickly turns into “This one moment will ruin everything.” But impatience is a form of fear: “If it doesn’t happen now, it will never happen!” And, as we know, fear is the absence of faith, the denial of faith. When we root ourselves in faith, we know that God is holding us up, just as Jesus lifted Peter out of the stormy sea, and we will find our footing again – as long as we walk with Him.
Kathleen – The industry is a roller-coaster of highs and lows. One day, you have a job, and then it may be a while before the next one comes. How do you find hope when things fall apart? Do you have a scriptural promise you find comforting?
Sheryl – Anxiety is my chief antagonist. It blocks my path when I’m striving to do my best. It whispers in my ear when I’m considering an uncertain future. It wakes me up at night. And it fuels my constant struggle to set aside my will and embrace God’s will. (more…)
Strikes and layoffs are never planned. No one is exempt. The recent pandemic showed us how fast life can change. I live in the hills of Los Angeles, and our home was in jeopardy a few years ago when what was then the largest fire in LA history, the LaTuna Canyon fire, came up out of nowhere and raged one block from my home. Uncertainty due to disasters, health issues, and constant disruptions seem to have become everyday occurrences. The recent devastation in Maui, HI, is one recent unimaginable tragedy. As leaders, we constantly hold our breath, wondering what will be next. But disruptions force us to pause and reflect on how to lead and help others find God’s peace and restoration when chaos happens.
As we begin to reflect on what we are most thankful for, let’s look at those disruptive occurrences and look for the opportunities in them. Here are three leadership qualities I’ve found to be helpful to bring light and hope.
First, leaders need to be ready, and being ready means spiritually prepared.
Matthew 6:19, 20 tells us not to store up earthly treasures. So don’t pile up the unneeded. This scripture speaks of physical things that can be eaten by moths or stolen, but what about fear, stress, and depressive thoughts? They can steal more from you than physical things. Remember to store up heavenly treasures. Eternal wealth and security start with a prepared soul and a relationship that is fortified with prayer and God’s Word. So hide it in your heart where it can’t be stolen. (more…)
People come into their callings and spheres of influence through many ways; it’s often not a direct path, and that’s definitely true for screenwriter and social worker Andrea M. Polnaszek. Read this month’s Inner View as she encourages you through the twists and turns, highs and lows.
BIO: Andrea M. Polnaszek has written many books and is the co-creator of multiple films alongside her sister, Alexandra Boylan, as part of The Boylan Sisters Entertainment company. Andrea’s most recent movie, The Greatest Inheritance, with her accompanying book by the same title, is a study of Ecclesiastes. The film wrestles with the theme, “There is a time for everything and a season for everything under Heaven.”
Andrea is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has spent her clinical career helping children and their families communicate their feelings. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social work at Gordon College, a Master’s in Social Work, and a Certificate in Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Kathleen: As a filmmaker and writer, you come from a unique position as a licensed clinical social worker with an understanding of the human mind and our choices. What has God revealed to you on how we can make better choices that will sustain our careers and lives, especially during the disruptions of a pandemic?
Andrea Polnaszek: I had the opportunity to write a book and devotional about Ecclesiastes and specifically spent much time meditating on Ecclesiastes 3. During an unappreciated time of the global pandemic, I felt like folks around me, including myself, were asking questions like: “Why?” “What do we do?” “I don’t like this new life?” While exploring the idea of what season this is and what God is teaching me in this season…
God brought a surprising insight. I was invited to perform a funeral service for the first time. The woman who had passed had struggled with mental illness for many years before her death. Her family felt they had lost her many years before she died. The process of preparing for the funeral provided an opportunity to remember. Looking through pictures and reminiscing reminded everyone of beautiful memories. This insight caused me to ask: Why do we wait for funerals to share a eulogy? So, I have begun to tell people what I appreciate about them in real time. I have spent some time thinking about happy memories and sharing those with others. The experience has brought me new insight into what the Joy of the Lord looks like. I believe that joy is born in gratitude. And a heart of thanksgiving is a gift from God alone.
Theodore Roosevelt said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” God has brought me to a place of hard-fought contentment – accepting that there is good and bad in every season and that He is over it all! I would say that when I look at all that the last few years have thrown at me – the joy of the Lord was my strength. God revealed to me the importance of disciplining myself to put Him first.
Kathleen: It’s not the normal screenwriter’s path to come into the film business from a clinical social worker background. Many might struggle with their career goals and identity and lose their way. Yet God seems to carve us uniquely into His plan and purpose. Why is knowing who you are in Him the essential choice?
Andrea: Boylan Sisters Entertainment just finished principal photography on a movie called: Identity Crisis. I have done a lot of thinking, meditating, and studying on this issue. Our culture seems to be telling us that uniqueness needs to be named and that our core identity, or “created in the image of God,” can or should change. I struggle with this conversation because when I talk to people wrestling with gender euphoria and questioning their sexuality, I see genuine concern, discomfort, and a deep sense of longing to feel whole.
I was one of those teenagers and young adults who always wanted to be in a different stage than where I found myself. I wanted to be grown, married, and have children. I was convinced that when I became a wife and mother, those feelings of longing would be fulfilled. My life experience has taught me that every new stage of life comes with new questions and the opportunity to have even more longing. Different is more than OK. God has created us with an array of personalities, gifts, and various appearances.
I struggle with staying at peace with whom God made me. Ten years ago, when I wrote a book about rest and openly wrestled with being disappointed with God, I took the next step toward being at peace in my skin. I don’t always stay at peace, but I do find that if I am disciplined to be vulnerable and stay real with others and myself, I find the peace that passes understanding.
Kathleen: To sustain ourselves in our 24/7 world, we must have boundaries. But often, we don’t draw the right boundary lines. What’s a boundary you struggle with within your work and life?
Andrea: I am a recovering people pleaser. I find that when my boundaries go down, my people-pleasing increases. I am a lifelong student of John Townsend and Henry Cloud’s book: Boundaries. I discovered the book when I was at a very low point as a pastor’s wife. I found myself sad, lonely, and resentful. This book taught me the difference between walling myself off and having a fence with a gate. The key was that I had control of the gate; I could open it or close it. The Boundaries book reviews each of the main areas of your life – family, marriage, kids, work, church, and family of origin. I often use the book as a reference going back to it to read just one chapter on whatever area of my life I am struggling in.
The biggest lesson I have learned is that when I let my guard down and allow what I think other people want to overtake me, I need to pause and adjust my boundaries. In the past, I would think: “If she would just do this, then I could feel this.” Learning how to hold healthy boundaries has freed me from the thought that someone else can make me feel a certain way. It has caused me to focus on what I can control and what I am responsible for.
I am currently watching the TV series, The Chosen for the third time. One of the things that I am struck with by Jesus’ example in that depiction is that He spent time with God and followed what God wanted, not what others wanted. He paused regularly to seek what His Father had for Him. I wish I could say I do this all the time. I don’t. But I’m a work in progress, always striving to notice how I feel and how I am behaving and stopping to invite God to inform me who I am!
Kathleen: God tells us to GO and be an influence in the world. Why is this important?
Seven years ago, I had a wild experience. It was following our movie Catching Faith which featured a Bible Study I had written called The Elijah Project. I’ll never forget the Saturday morning. My husband was making pancakes, our family was all home, and the kitchen was full of life and noise. My phone rang with a number from Florida. I don’t usually answer numbers I don’t know, but this time I did. It was almost like I had lost myself in the excitement of our home and just spontaneously answered. The voice on the other end of the phone spoke to me in broken English. I removed myself from the crazy family breakfast and sat on our landing while the words poured out. Ingrid Duarte had been brought back to spiritual life through the Bible Study I had written. She was asking permission to translate the workbook into Spanish and take it on her next trip to Cuba. Two months later, this woman, who I still had not met, texted me a picture of her luggage with the Elijah Project workbooks stacked inside. That day, I shared the news with my husband, and he said: “They are going to ask you to go to Cuba.” To which I responded: “No, I don’t speak Spanish.” A little later that same week, Ingrid sent me another text message; this one was a video of thirty women holding up their Elijah Project workbooks and saying: “Gracias, Andrea.” When Ingrid returned from her trip, she invited me to go to Cuba. Three months later, I met Ingrid and her husband at Fort Lauderdale airport, and we flew together to the nation of Cuba. A 45-minute flight from the United States, where we were met by true physical poverty and rich spiritual health. I told my story to hundreds of people who literally sat on windowsills and rows deep outside the doors. God has been so faithful, and we now have over 500 Elijah Project mentors teaching the Bible study across the country. This story is one of the times in my life when I said YES and then God said GO, and I can’t describe the blessing that has come from this ministry.
Kathleen: I am excited that the Elijah Project Bible Study will be what we will be studying online in our Influence Women’s INtogether Bible Study. I know it will be life changing for those who participate.
Finally…We all impact others’ lives. What’s the one thing you’ve learned about influence?
Andrea: Influence is a BIG word. With the rise of social media, becoming an “influencer” is sought after. For me, I feel it is a heavy weight. As soon as “people” are watching, whether online or off, I immediately get cocky and say something I don’t really believe. The thing I have learned about influence is that it is very important to be wise. My heart’s desire is to use my influence to give God glory, and I don’t mean that in a cheesy or churchy way. I mean that I struggle with a form of pride that relates to “getting credit” for what I do.
When I find myself caught up in getting what’s due to me, I have taken my eyes completely off of God and how He has intended to honor me and chosen to focus on how I want to be seen. Influence is something that should be guarded and treated with great respect. For me, I must put my eyes on Jesus so that He is influencing me first before I am influencing others.
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
Ever wonder what the secret to joy is? In this month’s INNER VIEW, I talk with Suzanne Niles, Director of Relationship Development at Broadstreet Publishing and a faithful woman with years of experience in the entertainment industry as an executive producer, actress and publicist. Find out how her relationship with the Lord has impacted her life and career.
Kathleen Cooke: This month’s Influence Lab Journal focuses on JOY. Joy comes when we are confident and contented in our relationships, and specifically, our most important relationship, the one we have with God. What have you learned about the importance of a personal in-depth relationship with God?
Suzanne Niles: An intimate relationship with Christ takes personal deliberate action and faith. Action like that which moved the woman with the issue of blood to discreetly approach Jesus believing, “If only I can touch the hem of His robe, I will be healed.” She didn’t feel she needed to present her case; she didn’t have to say a word, but she determined to have confidence in His miraculous power. She had faith, a faith certain in who He was and what He could accomplish. A faith that persevered without doubt. Make your move towards the savior… He’s more than able and He’s waiting.
Kathleen: You talked about the bleeding woman’s “confidence” in the miraculous power of God. It’s confidence that we often fail at that cripples us from being obedient and acting on God’s direction. What has God taught you about stepping out of fear, embracing His plans and moving forward in His confident arms?
Suzanne: I wished I had understood earlier in my life how to judge the inner motive of my heart and to consider my underlying reasons for my actions. So many times, we do things because we want to please others and the only one we really need to please is God. We should love, not only to have that love returned but because we are loving others for Him. We shouldn’t act to have our good deeds noticed but because we want to be His hands and feet. We should sacrifice for Him because of His great sacrifice on the cross for us. I wish I could say every moment of my life was lived solely to honor Him, but it wasn’t. Yet it has now grown to be my heart’s greatest desire.
Kathleen: Your work keeps you surrounded around influencers, accomplished artists, leaders and authors. How has that impacted your life and the choices you’ve made for your lifestyle?
Suzanne: I learned during a time of financial lack to find encouragement by focusing on my future heavenly dwelling. While others around me were building their dream homes and traveling to exotic locales, I set my eyes on the hope of the eternal dwelling Jesus has prepared for me. Now that the finances have resolved my perspective has remained with the realization that time is short and earthly possessions will not last. All that is eternal are people and what matters is where they will spend eternity. It is not about what I can gain on earth but how I boldly share the gospel with all I encounter so that they may gain heaven. Fulfilling the great commission must be our focus.
Kathleen: I love that. It’s about others, God’s eternal Kingdom and the contentment of God’s eternal love we find in Jesus. What would you tell someone about how they can begin to take on that “sweet aroma” of Jesus’ contentment in their life?
Suzanne: We carry the life of Christ in us… let that sink in… let it amaze you and convict you. We are responsible for how we represent Christ. For a while, after I had given my heart to Jesus I backslid. I don’t ever want to walk a single step outside of God’s will again. My gracious God was waiting with open arms of forgiveness and acceptance when I was done chasing the empty wind. But what if I hadn’t repented or lived to regret my rebellion? I shudder to think where I might be now. Hold Him close and serve Him well. He is the only way, truth, and life and without Him people will perish. Let the legacy you leave be a life lived for the salvation of others to the glory of God.
Suzanne Niles has worked in different facets of the entertainment business for several decades as executive producer, actress and publicist. Director of Relationship Development at Broadstreet Publishing, she is the co-author of “Fast Friends, the Amazing Power of Friendship, Fasting and Prayer,” contributing writer on six published devotionals and enjoys pursuing new authors. Suzanne is also part of Beautifully Flawed Productions founded by Shari Rigby with Claire Yorita Lee.
Follow Suzanne Niles on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.