The Wholehearted Hero: Erica Kaze

I'm so excited to introduce you to October's Wholehearted Hero. This woman has challenged me in so many ways. She let me into her world, allowed me to humbly (and at times naively) ask questions, and shared vulnerably about her experiences and reality as a minority and non-American citizen. To say I learned from her is an understatement.

Walking with Erica has marked me and I consider it an honor and privilege to be a part of her journey. She's influenced much of my own thoughts, worldview, and even future plans. I hope you are just as inspired and challenged by her openness and passion as she writes below!


1. Hi Erica! Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you came from. What drew you to Baylor
University, to Finance, and ultimately staying in Waco to work at a local bank after graduation? 

I was born in Burundi, one of the smallest countries in Africa, located in East Africa. When I was 13 years old, my family and I moved to Rwanda, also located in East Africa. I graduated from Riviera High School (RHS), a private boarding school located 30 min away from the capital city of Rwanda, Kigali , then I came to Texas for college. I recently graduated from Baylor University with a degree in Finance. Baylor is well known at RHS because of the yearly summer trips the business school takes to Rwanda. They partner with RHS to work on different entrepreneurship projects and competitions. During my freshman and sophomore years of college, I thought I wanted to be an engineer simply because so many family members are engineers. It is also a joke among Africans that African children only have three career options: doctor, engineer or lawyer. But then the summer after my sophomore year, I realized that I would probably be miserable for most of my life if I end up working as an engineer. So I switch to business and after talking to the Baylor professor who leads the summer trips to Rwanda, I realized that my passion for numbers could turn into a career that I could also use back at home. So that is how I ended up with a finance major. I chose to work in banking for multiple reasons. Some of it being that banks have the potential of changing the future of a community and that is something I am so passionate about especially since Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world.

2. Listening to your experience about job searching as an international student has been extremely eye-opening for me. What’s it like trying to get hired as a minority member? What about as a non U.S. citizen? 

It is practically impossible to get a job offer as an international student in the U.S. especially as an undergraduate student. This is because after graduation, we have about 12 months to work or intern in the U.S. then if a company wants to keep us on their payroll, they need to apply for a H-1B work visa for us and that's where it gets tricky. There is never a guarantee that a student will get a work visa even if they have a job offer which is why most companies don't hire us. But of course, there are exceptions to this. This is the biggest battle I've ever had to fight. This process became discouraging pretty quickly when amazing opportunities kept closing simply because my
citizenship is different.

3. Have you experienced bias in the work place or in the hiring process? If so, how?

Oh, absolutely! While I was interviewing most recruiters would always point out the fact that my English is "perfect". Apparently, I should sound different simply because I grew up in Africa. Also, just this week I was told by one of my supervisors that maybe I should stop reading books and news articles in French so that my English writing skills could improve. I have been speaking English and writing it for 9 years. 

4. What does unconscious bias mean to you? What biases do you face on a regular basis? 

Unconscious bias to me is simply stereotyping a person or group of people and expecting them to be/do certain things a certain way simply because they belong to a particular race or ethnicity. I will be the first one to say that I also struggle with this one. Two weekends ago, I was in NYC and my Uber driver who took me to the airport was from Uzbekistan and I found myself wondering why this Asian guy was playing rap music in the car and was jamming to it. I found myself doing the same thing that I hate when people stereotype me when I am listening to
country music since I am black. Lord, help us all.

5. What was it like being a minority in a predominately white community and university? What are some challenges you face regularly?

I struggled a lot with being a minority at Baylor but also within my church community. For my first two years in Waco, I just felt like I didn't connect with anyone and it was really hard for me to make friends. Not only was I black at a predominantly white school and white church, I was also from a different country, my culture was different, and everything about me was different compared to the typical Baylor student. I have heard that research has revealed that the lack of early and meaningful exposure to other groups of people often makes it easier for us to quickly identify and remember people of our own ethnicity or race while we often struggle to do the same for others.

I can attest that this is true. During those first two years at Baylor, white girls didn't really befriend me. I had to make effort after effort to become friends with some of the girls I knew but it just seemed like the efforts were coming from one way. I remember one Tuesday morning during my first year at Baylor going to class and noticing this girl I had seen around church. At this point it was the spring semester and I honestly still couldn’t tell you who my friends were. So I said to myself, "she seems nice and already has a black friend, maybe if I go sit next to her we
would become friends too?" Three years later, Meryn is one of my best friends. But I don't take all the credit for how our friendship started because Meryn had decided in high school that she was going to be intentional about her group of friends and specifically befriend people of other races and ethnicities. Her willingness and intentionality opened a door for us to become friends.

Pictured above is Erica and her friend Meryn. 

Pictured above is Erica and her friend Meryn. 

6. What's something you wish majority members knew about you? What's something you feel most majority members assume about you? 

I will probably never fully fit into your stereotype of a black person. I hear black people can't swim, but I was on the swimming team of my high school and I was pretty good at it. So just get to know me. Ask me questions instead of assuming. 

7. In your opinion, what does racial reconciliation look like? And what steps can I take as a
majority to bridge the gap?

When I hear those two words, racial reconciliation, I think of Revelation 7:9 - "After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands."

I dream of days when we won't have a black church, Hispanic church or Asian church but simply a church full of people from every nation, tribe and language worshipping God together.
One of my favorite things this year is that I am living with 4 amazing girls. Our house of 5 is very diverse: two white girls, one Hispanic, one Asian and me. As I spend more time with my roommates, I am learning so much about them, their families, and I finally understand why most Asian people take off their shoes before entering a room. Haha. It is amazing how much we learn when we get out of our bubble and put ourselves in situations with people who don't look like us or who were not raised like we were.

My recommendation to everyone who is reading this is to get out of your bubble. Be strategic and figure out where people are then go and do life with them. If you live in Waco, you are
probably not going to find a lot of African Americans at your favorite local coffee shop, Common Grounds, but I bet you would make at least one friend at the local YMCA while playing basketball.

8. Have you ever been treated differently because of your race or background? If so, when? When are you most aware of your race?

Oh for sure! One time, a friend pulled my ponytail as I was walking past him. It wasn’t in a mean way. I think he was fascinated by my box braids. But his actions left me wondering if he would have done the same things if I was white. By the way, just a public service announcement, please don't touch a black person's hair without their permission. Most of us hate that. It makes us feel like you are petting our heads like you pet your dog. Please don’t do it, it is disrespectful and uncomfortable. 

Recently, I have had a hard time attending social events. No one wants to be the only black person at a wedding full of white people.

9. What are some of your dreams for your life right now? Where do you see yourself in 5-10
years? 

I am currently working in the banking industry. I am really enjoying my job and I can see myself being in this industry long-term. The banking industry is dominated by white male which bothers me so much. My plan is to earn my MBA in the next 2-4 years and hopefully end up in a leadership role in a few years. It is about time more women and people of color have a seat in the C-suite.

10. One of my favorite things about you is how confident you are - there's a powerful strength
about you that impresses me every time we're together. What advice would you give to other
minorities struggling to find their own voice? And how did you find your voice and embrace your
own identity? 

Wow, thanks for that compliment. I think that I draw my confidence from my determination to not be ignorant. I spend a lot of time educating myself. I do my best at keeping myself knowledgeable by listening to the news daily, podcasts, and reading books. So when I interact with people, I have a well that I can draw knowledge from and not feel embarrassed. But I would say that my relationship with God has played the most important part. When you are told by a racist person that they don’t like black people because “black is a bad color”, you just have to figure out
what the creator says about you then decide who you are going to listen to. And according to my Bible, Psalm
139:13-14 says “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, and my soul knows it very well.” I just took this as the truth I need to believe and that God defines who I am and not this world.

11. What comes to mind when you hear the term, "wholehearted living"? 

When I hear those two words “living wholeheartedly”, my brain automatically asks me which areas of my life need improvement. I do my best to not be complacent with where I am in life. So once in a while, I evaluate my life and try to identify areas that need some improvement. I try to not overdo it so I choose 1-3 areas then work on them until I am satisfied with the results. These are not New Year’s resolutions by any means. These are things that I know for a fact that if I don’t make changes now, there will be consequences in the future.

12. Is there anyone or anything that's been inspiring you to live wholeheartedly recently? Maybe a favorite author or podcast? 

I just started a new job recently and there have been lots of changes in my life. Right now, I am learning so much about personal finance so I visit Dave Ramsey’s website pretty often, I am also
listening to podcasts: Millennial Money and The Clever Girls Know. I also listen to a podcast from the New York Times every morning called “The Daily”.


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Born in Burundi and raised in Rwanda, Erica is currently living and working in Texas. She surrendered her life to Jesus when she was 15 years old and never looked back. She discovered college football when she came to Texas for college and now absolutely loves it. She enjoys listening to rap music and sleeping in on Saturday mornings. She is passionate about politics, racial reconciliation, education and anything business related. 

If you're curious about learning more about unconscious bias and how it affects minority members, like Erica, sign up to receive my free work guide. Because of my friendship with people like Erica, I'm more committed than ever to overcoming my own bias in order to love the people in front of me. My life has become much richer because of it! 

The Wholehearted Hero: Natalie Garnett

This series has become one of my highlights each month as I get to interview some of my real-life heroes. I am so honored to feature my friend and old roommate, Natalie Garnett at September's Wholehearted Hero. Natalie is just an impressive person, but more than that, she's a great friend. 

One of my most defining moments with Natalie happened last summer after we both got dumped just a day apart. Even in her own grief, Natalie managed to comfort, love, and distract me during that process. She even left chocolate and a sweet outside my door the next morning. Who doesn't want a friend like that?! She also kicks butt at her job and has been affectionately been named the "Hottie Abolitionist". Keep reading to find out why. :) 


1. Hi Natalie! I've had the privilege of seeing your life up close for the past few years and am consistently incredibly inspired by you. Can you give us a glimpse into your life now? And what are you doing in this season of life that you're really loving right now?

I’m entering my ninth year living in my college and now young-professional town - Waco, Texas. If you’d told me I’d still be in Waco in 2017 a few years ago, I’d probably have freaked. But now that it’s 2017, and I’m actually here, I see what an incredible gift it is. I’m really loving the fact that I run into friends in my Piyo class, at the grocery store, in church, at Chuy’s, really wherever. And although I don’t think Waco is my forever home, I’m savoring the charm of living wrapped in community and pretty proud of the growth I’ve gotten to be part of here.

I’m also entering my fourth year in my job as Assistant National Director of a local anti-human organization called UnBound. I’m consistently challenged and kept on my toes. I deeply believe in the work we do and am proud of the impact we’ve had in our community. I love getting to empower our awesome volunteers, coordinate our human trafficking coalition and work within the local church.

2. Take us a little bit into your professional journey. How did you land the job you are currently in and what's your favorite part about your job? Hardest part?

I graduated from Baylor University in 2012 with a degree in Journalism, PR & New Media and a minor in Social Work. From there, I spent four months interning at International Justice Mission headquarters in Washington, DC, where I worked as the communications editorial intern. In a surprising (to me) turn of events, I ended up back in Waco next to do the Antioch Discipleship School and did administration and customer service at a property management company. I’d been involved in UnBound in college and jumped back in when I moved back to Waco, and by spring of my discipleship school year, my now-boss came and asked me to work for UnBound. My goal all along had been to work in leadership of a human rights focused non-profit, but I was convinced at the time I needed some corporate, “real-world” experience to prepare me for that.

When Susan (our executive director), told me I could make up my own job description and help shape UnBound, I knew it was something I wanted to be part of. I’ve had a lot of “how am I old enough for this” and “what do I actually know about anything” moments over the past three years, but I’m really, really thankful I took that risk and jumped right into the formation stages of this awesome ministry. Looking back, it seems so obvious how God was leading me from one step to the next to set me up for where I am now. Looking back, I can also see how I have a bad habit of trying to interfere with the process. But we’re working on that.

My favorite part of my job -- I have ideas and get to turn them into realities. It really is so rewarding and exciting to have the support and work environment to shape projects and programs and see the impact so quickly. The hardest part is balancing multiple roles and not always feeling I can give my all to any one area. This leads to a lot of “coulds” and “shoulds” -- I could strengthen our social media platforms, I should send more regular newsletters, I could be more proactive in, I should (insert limitless list). My boss does a great job reminding me that being spread thin is sometimes part of being in leadership, and I have to let what I do each day be enough.

3. How are you seeing real life transformation in your job? And how are you directly involved? What do you do on a regular basis that yields rewarding results?

Working with people in major trauma definitely has challenges, but I’m consistently amazed at the resilience of the clients we serve in staying alive through what’s happened to them and fighting for recovery afterward. In 2017, UnBound has served 38 victims and survivors of trafficking in Waco (so far).

Although my role is more heavy on the organizational development and training side, the work that I do on my computer and with our constituents directly results in identification and awareness that leads to reports and rescues, not to mention the funding and systems that make it possible. My interaction with survivors is limited, but being part of their stories of rescue and recovery is very rewarding.

For example, in mid-September two girls from Central America made an outcry at their school. The investigation led to the discovery that their mom was a victim of labor trafficking and the daughters were likely being groomed for sex trafficking. We were able to intervene and get them to safety, meeting their tangible needs alongside law enforcement and other service providers.

4. Can you identify some common misconceptions about fighting sex trafficking and how you and your coworkers strive to overcome those?

The most common misconception is that sex trafficking is something that just happens on the other side of the world. Our awareness campaigns focus heavily on educating people on the impact of trafficking locally. People also often assume sex trafficking victims are all females. We serve victims of both labor and sex trafficking, and we see victims who are both male and female.

Another one that comes to mind is that when we talk about being an anti-trafficking organization, people automatically think that means we have an aftercare home for survivors. Although aftercare is a vital part of the recovery journey, we’re working specifically to prevent trafficking from happening and empower community members and professionals to identify and serve victims.

5. How have you found vision in your job in the mundane? Oftentimes our cause-motivated generation is guilty of grabbing hold of work with obvious purpose and letting go of tasks that feel irrelevant. Have you experienced this? Is your job always inspiring and rewarding? If not, do you have any encouragement to offer?

When I say I love my job, that doesn’t mean I love sitting in an office answering emails all day. It doesn’t mean I love collecting and analyzing data to submit for our federal grant funding. A lot of the work is mundane! But I really believe in the mission I am a part of, the people I am working with, and the need for what we’re doing in our community. I try to work into my schedule opportunities for me to get time with youth in juvenile detention or give a training to community professionals to help remind me how important this work is, especially when I can feel my vision or passion waning. I think it’s important to identify early on what the resources and tools are around you in your workplace to keep you filled up. I know I’m in the right position within my organization, but stepping into one of my co-worker’s or volunteer’s role can give me a helpful perspective shift when needed.

6. How have you found purpose in your single years as a young adult? I know this is often a messy journey (for myself included), but what advice would you give to someone struggling to find vision for their single season of life?

Haha, do we have to go in this direction? JK, happy to share. Being single in my mid-to- late twenties has been a challenge. It’s not what I imagined for myself. Like many people (maybe especially from college towns in the South), most of my college roommates and best friends are now married and on their first or second child, and that can make me feel pretty behind sometimes. I’ve been a bridesmaid 13 times and been through more a few too many breakups. BUT. When I stop and think about it, I’m honestly thankful for the journey. My life is rich in relationship and rich in opportunity. I’ve been practicing using the ache that singleness can bring to push me into things I want to be -- more deeply devoted to Jesus, a more present friend, a more involved community member.

About a year ago I asked a friend a few years older how she stayed positive in singleness, and her answer stuck with me. She said if you’re going to be single, you might as well be happy in it. Happy is more attractive to people (including potential romantic relationships) than miserable is. I liked that. I also have a quote on the wall in my room that says, “I am in charge of how I feel, and today I am choosing happiness.” Life is full of choices. I think how we handle singleness is one of those choices. I’d also recommend finding a friend or two who will listen to you bemoan your existence and give you a pep talk when that choice is feeling impossible. :)

7. You are one of my role models for work/life balance. How and why do you make this a priority in your life?

Thanks! For me, the key to balance has been to cut comparison and take responsibility for my own life. There are always going to be people who can do more (or less) than me. There are always going to be invitations and requests and opportunities to do more. There’s always going to be more work to be done. And there is always going to be a strong internal pull to lay in my bed and eat tater tots (my true love) and watch Netflix. I’m constantly learning and shifting, but I try to hit the mark of being diligent with my work and commitments, doing what I feel is right and peaceful and sustainable for me, and also knowing when I need to sacrifice and push myself. It’s also important to receive feedback from the people who see how you live, as it’s easy to be blind or biased either way.

8. Speaking of balance, I always ask my guests about their life rhythms. Can you tell us some daily, weekly, or monthly rhythms you prioritize in your life to help you live wholeheartedly?

Daily - My morning routine is important to me. I wake up, make my bed, wash my face, make breakfast and coffee, spend some time reading my Bible, praying and journaling, then get ready for work. I also try to get in bed early enough to read a book I enjoy until I fall asleep. The way I start and end my days makes a difference in how I feel for the in between hours.

Weekly - Exercise and rest are (increasingly) important rhythms for me. Exercise became a habit for me when my mindset shifted from my physical appearance (“I want to look good”) to my mental health (“I want to feel good”). I’m now exploring ways to integrate the discipline of Sabbath.

Monthly - It’s helpful for me to get out of town about once a month when I can. Whether that’s a day in Austin, a weekend visiting my parents in Dallas, or a trip out of state, there’s a lot of routine in my regular life and it’s refreshing for me to break it up.

9. What does living wholeheartedly mean to you? 

I think we learn to live wholeheartedly out of the push and pull of an aware, open, given life. I want to live aware of my unique self and my needs, strengths and weaknesses. I want to live open to the feedback, encouragement and challenge of like-hearted, trustworthy relationships. And I want to live given to the people around me, the mission I’m a part of and the calling on my life.

10. Is there anyone or anything that's been inspiring you to live wholeheartedly recently? Maybe a favorite author or podcast?

I just finished “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Pete Scazzero, and I am currently reading “Present Over Perfect” by Shauna Niequist. Both are challenging and refreshing perspectives on how to sustain a life of serving and loving people. I also come back often to Christa Black Gifford’s “Head to Heart” podcast. All three of those authors/speakers hit a place of exhaustion/burnout in their own lives which inspired their approaches to wholehearted living. I’d rather learn from them early on than repeat their experiences.

11. Lastly, is there something we can do today to join the fight to end human trafficking? 

Yes! My three challenges to everyone are to learn, serve and give. Learn what trafficking looks like in your community and share what you know. I’ve seen first hand that awareness saves lives. Find an organization in your community that is serving trafficking victims. Whether you volunteer every week or once a year at an event (like the Light Up the Dark 5K), serve if you can. UnBound has chapters across the United States, and there are a lot of other orgs out there doing incredible work. And give! It takes a lot of time and resources to effectively fight trafficking. You can become an Ignite Partner with UnBound through a donation of $22/month, and you’ll get special updates as we work to ignite hope in the lives of trafficking survivors.


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Natalie Garnett is the Assistant National Director of UnBound, an anti-human trafficking organization founded in Waco, Texas, in 2012. Natalie also provides oversight to UnBound's other chapters in six U.S. cities and Mongolia, and serves as the coordinator of the Heart of Texas Human Trafficking Coalition. Natalie has provided training to hundreds of professionals and worked with dozens of human trafficking victims and survivors in her role, and is passionate about seeing communities activated to fight human trafficking. 

The Wholehearted Hero: Michelle Leatherwood

Michelle and I became friends on a short term trip to Germany and have shared long morning walks ever since. Michelle is always moving - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. She's one of the those people who isn't going to stay in the same spot and is always looking for something fresh, inspiring, new. And yet she's incredibly grounded, stable, secure. It's a beautiful balance. 

I feel many people my age are swept into what's trending or so-and-so's new podcast or someone else's pain. Michelle isn't easily swayed yet she enjoys life to the fullest and is relatable to all kinds of people. Today we're talking marriage, independence, renovation, and settling down deep. I hope you are inspired!


1. Hi Michelle! Your friendship was such a surprise little gift to me on our trip to Germany last Spring and into our time in Waco! Can you tell us about where you are now and what this season of life looks like for you? 

Thanks so much for having me on here on your blog space! Truly a place of inspiration and beauty!  

I currently am living in Waco and loving it. Hubby, Jonathan, and I just bought our first home and are in the process of renovating it! Life is full right now with house projects, creative ideas for home decor, helping Wacoans get into new homes at work, and enjoying the end of summer with friends! Honestly, it is a really sweet season we are in and feel super thankful. You gotta enjoy the spacious seasons and embrace the more narrow challenging ones when those come, ya know.  

2. I remember you talking so many times about settling in your spirit with God and with your husband and learning to put down roots. How did you and your husband choose to stay in Waco and build your life together there? 

Yes! Roots are essential for a healthy sustainable life for plants and for us. Deciding to stay in Waco was honestly more of a discovery than a big "sign in the sky" kind of process. Coming out of our time in Morocco, we had to choose whether to stay in the USA, go back overseas, stay in ministry or begin new careers. We considered and prayed through which community to invest in and where to essentially begin our new life together once we got married. We asked God to lead us in the next best for us and for peace to lead. As humans, we are so limited in our perspective to see the potential of every season. Making big decisions sometimes can feel overwhelming, but we found that as we knocked on many doors, the right ones opened up. There was always a peace that followed, and that's how we knew. Favor and peace. We decided to simply ask God to make a way for us in way of careers/jobs and people we could build family with. Thankfully, Waco was it.  

We just kept saying YES to the next thing in front of us. And every step, God met us and made a way for us. 

3. How have you balanced both compromise and independence in your marriage? 

This is a great question and can be applied to every area of life! There is a choice to be made between compromising or choosing to be independent in certain decisions and areas of relationship. I am not sure we are ever truly "independent" from each other as we will always influence each other. However, I would say there is something wise and right about preserving each person's preferences and "independence" per se. I think the balance is found in seeking to understand the other person and their value system.

How have you journeyed to find the ways you both complement each other? 

It's definitely an on-going journey/discovery. Seeing our marriage as a team and partnership really helps. Finding our sweet spots and leading out in our natural strengths instead of simply putting expectations on one another because that is our "conditioned gender" role or "i always imagined you would do this" roles has been key. I naturally am more of an initiator and he naturally is more of a supporter. Instead of being mad because one of us is stronger than the other in certain areas, we are consistently trying to look for opportunities where both of our strengths can build together.

I used to get frustrated because "the man" is supposed to initiate, everything. Right?! And I, "the woman", am supposed to support what the man initiates. Now, there is so much truth and good in that, but my point is, we all have different strengths and what good are they if we hold back and don't use them to strengthen the relationships we are in? They are God-given strengths and gifts given to us to serve and nurture those around us. Own who you are, give what you have to give, and grow with those around you. 

Have you had to give up things you didn't expect? 

Yes. Haven't we all? Mostly I would say my expectation of timing. I want things to go faster and I think I see what could be great, so why won't it happen or why won't they change. Essentially, I have had to give up more control of how I thought I wanted life to turn out. Every season of life changes, hence the word season. And each one requires something different from us holistically. Our heart, mind, soul, body. In each one, there is usually something we have to give up, but in each, we always gain something we didn't expect either. I am learning how to live more open-handed and with the attitude of a child's hope. Anticipating Good. 

Being so different from one another helps to strengthen our weaknesses and learn from the other. You either grow and learn, or fight and stay stuck. This is true for all relationships. God, parents, siblings, friends, roomies, spouses.

There's also a covenant relationship you're now in that fosters a safe place to explore who you are, to change, to question, and discover. I am more peaceful, quiet internally, way less stressed, I care less about expectations or ambition. I've experienced the joy of partnership and that trumps all of the previous self centered quests. I am more generous, gracious, and happy being married. I know Jonathan cares about me, stands by me, but most importantly, I can see how God is expanding my heart to love deeper through our marriage. (and sometimes expansion hurts as it pushes past your threshold) But I can honestly say it has been worth it, every time.

4. In your experience, how do you stay content and settled while still staying on edge, pushing limits, and running hard in this season of your life? 

The thought of being content used to scare me. I so closely associated it with "settling". I would say that now I love the idea of being content and settling! They mean thankfulness, being present, and investment. However, becoming "stagnant" is what we want to stay away from. 

Being content is a mindset and a perspective you choose to take on. There are a few things I tell myself daily. They're super simple and almost childish, in a basic kind of way, but they've changed my life. "God is Good" "There is grace for this moment" "I love me" <I take breathes throughout the day. I pause and breathe. In my car, at my desk, in the shower, before a meeting, anytime!> "I am thankful for..." I keep a close watch on my thoughts daily. What am i thinking about, am I choosing negativity or can I see xyz differently? If I can't shake something, I try and talk it out. To myself out loud, it actually does help! To someone I trust, a text, journal, whatever I can to get it out in the open. I've found that if I do this, I never stay "stuck" for long. We need others and honestly Jonathan is one of the most content people I know, so he keeps me grounded with all of his positivity and hope. 

I want to always have movement in my life. To discover, to create, to live in the "why not's"! Bill Johnson once said people who love God and believe in a higher power should be the most powerful and hope-filled humans in the world. I couldn't agree more. I am not saying this is where I am at, but I keep thinking about that and how motivating it is to believe these words deeply. HOW if I got deep hope (anticipation for Good) within me, I would risk more, love deeper, and enjoy every step of the ride. Thoughts like these keep me on the edge of my seat. What would God want to breathe through me into existence? For today.  

How do you balance self-care and giving your life away? 

Such a great question! I think everyone needs to know their own capacity and current life season. What is it that you need in this season and how can you get those needs met. For me, I consistently asses my capacity and where my heart is. Sometimes I need to make adjustments and cut back when I am trying to do too much. Other times, I realize I actually feel great and have more in me than I thought. It's like my running coach used to tell me, "if you feel like you can go, go! if you feel like you're spent, take it easy!" I live by these words. 

As we have different experiences in life we also come to realize more of what we need in different times. I would say I am a pretty aware person, I consistently evaluate how I am doing holistically (spirit, mind, heart, body) and make adjustments as needed. I don't feel guilty about putting less on my schedule and keeping certain routines, like an early bed time. I am all about good sleep! Find what you need in this season, and make adjustments. You'll have more energy, be more present, and definitely gracious and patient (with self and others!) You won't regret it! 

5. Can you let us into the freedom you've found in your own personal health and wellness journey? What does living free mean to you? 

I love learning! I think this is probably what I consider living free looks like. A life of openness and not being boxed in by self or others opinions.

Being given the opportunity to learn about ME. What works for me, what I love to do, what kinds of workouts I like, which foods are most nutritious + enjoyable to me, what makes me happy, asking who I am learning from and what I am learning about myself and wellness. I love to try new things and am kind of a nerd when it comes to research in this field. I literally listen 5-10 podcast episodes a week on health + wellness. I just love it all and there is so much to learn!  

Truthfully, there is only one me and only one me who will live and experience my life. So, I might as well try to enjoy it as best I can. I am passionate about health in the mind, heart, soul, and spirit. So, I pursue knowledge and experiences that give me a sense of wonder and enjoyment in those areas. If people find what they love and do that, I think that leads to a free life. Not living bound by "should" but living by "discovery". 

6. How would you go about counseling someone in practicing healthy rhythms in their life? I always ask my guests about the rhythms in their own life and I'm curious how you would suggest others make healthy habits. What are some daily, weekly or even monthly rhythms you put in place to help facilitate the process and journey you've been on so far? 

Oh yes I love this topic! If I could talk to someone about their healthy life rhythms I would sit down with them and first ask a few questions. What does your daily life currently look like? How do you feel in it? What makes you happy? What makes you feel purposeful? When and how do you rest? Simple questions that help bring awareness to self.

I would want them to write down their current season, described any way they want. A picture, a list, a story. Then, write down what you feel you need this month, this week, today. What kinds of rhythms do you like? What is one thing you can start doing daily in a category that feels important this week/month? 

Then, evaluate. What worked, what didn't, what did you love, what did you learn. It's very simple really. Just evaluate where you are at, what your needs are, and choose simple life-giving actions that are practical into your daily/weekly/monthly/yearly life. If you want, ask someone to join you for 1 or more of them! 

Personally, I have a few things I have come to learn are best for me through experience. My "miche routines" as Jonathan calls them.  

Weekdays, early bed and early morning. I wake up at 5:35 am, because yes the extra 5mins actually takes away any anxiety from an early morning alarm for me! It's all in the mind.

I make sure to have at least 2 free evenings during the week as to not overbook them and feel so drained. I try to not make set plans for Saturday mornings because those are my special days where I plan what I want to do. I have foodie routines that are fun for me too! Things like "Thursday smoothie" and "Friday Happy Harvest (local health spot) treat" and "Monday green tea latte" - I kind of have one for every day :) My focus is to nourish my body, keep it simple, and love doing it! These are some of my favorite daily and weekly routines. Monthly/Yearly: Getting involved and serving our local community in some way is important to us. It changes every year on how involved we are and what we are doing, but it has kept our love and action growing together. J and i try to make sure we get travel time and little getaways here and there. SO good for the soul, heart, spirit, mind, body, relationship, economy, perspective, discovery, all the reasons! ;) Girl trips for me and dude trips for him are also top priority! 

7. What does living wholeheartedly mean to you? 

Whole hearted - I think that if we are doing our best to be present, to love, and to be loved, that is being whole hearted. We contribute to the world uniquely and that is what we have to offer. When we walk in faith and take on challenges and risks even though we feel unprepared. To live with your whole heart is quite the quest, but as we seek to do so in our daily lives, I think we find a rich discovery in the most simple. 

9. Is there anyone or anything that's been inspiring you to live wholeheartedly recently?

My dad and mom are. They won't read this most likely so it's not for them that I say this, but as I am getting older, I have a new found respect and admiration for them. They live so present, yet with an eternal perspective. They give generously and don't hold back. They forgive and don't allow pain to turn into bitterness. They love us as their kids as best they can, and consistently ask for forgiveness and humble themselves before us. I mean wow. I can't even do most of that in my marriage, let alone 4 kids! I am inspired by their steadfastness to Truth, unwavering faith, and humility. It's like they just don't let fear hold them back. I want to be like that.

As everyone knows, Houston and South Texas has been devastated by the rains and floods. It has been beautiful to see so many give, donate, go, pray, and unite in all of this. My family and friends live in Houston as well as Jonathan's family. Thankfully all are safe but there will be much work in the restoration of these cities and lives. I have been moved to tears not because of the pain and destruction, though sad, but by the urge of fellow friends and strangers to rescue, restore, and give sacrificially. It's what our world needs, wholehearted people who are already on the move. 

And so many podcasts! For wellness I listen mostly to "balanced bites podcast" (one of my faves!) and "trim healthy mama" (sounds tacky but they're two Christian Aussie women who are moms, sisters, and talk about health from a Biblical perspective! + cool Australian accents!) and for spiritual, just the good ole Bethel Sermon of the Week and Kris Vallotton's podcasts! I listen to some marketing ones and mortgage related pod's too. 

Authors, I honestly wish I read more! I am currently reading Tim Keller's book on marriage, the purpose of marriage, and really liking it. It's a great read for anyone honestly ;) 


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The Wholehearted Hero: Kamri Phillippi

Whenever I initiate with people for this series, I am always drawn to people who are vulnerable and open with their personal stories. Kamri does this so gracefully and sets others at ease with her blunt honesty, wit, and tact for making others laugh in the process. 

Kamri and I lived in the same neighborhood growing up and played soccer together for several years (although "playing" for me looked more like sitting on the bench... ;)). We "produced" plays with our neighborhood friends and had our own little girl gang going for a while. I also went to high school with her husband for a few years. Though we haven't connected in several years, I've been inspired and encouraged by her honest writing on her blog, Musings of a Mixex Wifey and new podcast series, Letting the Light In


1. Hi Kamri! I love following along with your life on social media and have been so inspired by your blog and podcast series! Can you give us a little snapshot into your life? How did you end up back in Wichita and what is this season of your life defined by? 

Hi Tori :) Thank you for your kind words. I would say this season has been characterized by rest. My husband, Taylor, and I moved back to Wichita (where we are both from) in August 2016 after living in Kansas City for two years. I taught middle school mathematics at a charter school there and it dramatically altered my perspective on race, our country, and the power of education. As incredible as that experience was, the days were long, and I carried a constant sense of not doing enough for my students. Ministry wise, we were also spending time in the projects weekly through an organization called Freedom Fire, which led to Tay and I spending more time pouring out, neglecting our need to be filled by the Lord. My husbands job brought us back here, and as much as the Lord knew I needed rest, He also knew I would have a hard time receiving that gift He was trying to give me. Its been a lot of beautiful tension in learning how to receive what He knew I needed after an intense two years. We also found out we were pregnant in early December, so a lot of that rest has been in preparation for a new sort of demand in the form of an infant! 

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2. A few weeks ago I listened to your podcast on pregnancy and was so inspired by your vulnerability. What makes you passionate about sharing so openly with others? And what is your vision for bringing others into the Light (like your podcast title suggests)? 

I am so honored you listened! I was a little long winded ;) I think it was C.S. Lewis that said the most powerful two words in the English language are "me too." I can only use these words after someone has shared something with me, and I can recall countless instances where I felt less lonely or embarrassed after someone was just honest with me. Specifically with pregnancy, I think because it took Tay and I a year, I try to share that as often as possible to normalize the struggle of waiting. The waiting is lonely enough, and it can be even rougher when you feel as though you're in isolation in that waiting, so my hope in sharing so much is to cast a little light into the dark places. I think Satan works most craftily when we believe we're alone. Lastly, I am most moved in both my marriage and in friendship when confessing and forgiving are a consistent part of our relationship. It's so terrifying, because you think that revealing these terrible, selfish, manipulative actions, words or thoughts will drive you further from the person, but it ALWAYS humbles me to do the same.

3. Can you let us into your pregnancy journey? I remember you saying you have long anticipated being a mother - where did this desire come from and how have you stewarded this through years of waiting? 

Through some common trends in friendships, both in high school and college, I started to realize that I am a (sometimes way overboard!) nurturer. I went to Zambia to intern at an orphanage the summer between my junior and senior year of college, and it was there that my desire and vision for being a mama took color. Ironically, that vision also included a man, and for all the years leading up to that, I just assumed I would adopt on my own. Teaching for two years gave me the sweetest gift of 60 kids each year that really felt like my kids, and it also taught me that my gifts aren't necessarily in drilling math content in a creative way, but rather in smothering them in love. We also got to "foster" a couple of kids we knew from our project ministry on the weekends, so that was sweet to have some trial and error experiences as their care givers, too. As soon as we got married, I would've been ready to start trying ;) but, of course, He knew exactly when and where to give us baby #1. It took a year to conceive, (I actually had an appointment scheduled with a fertility specialist when we found out we were pregnant), and I really cannot believe how fast the 9 months have flown. I've felt like my body has spoken more clearly about what it wants/doesn't want in order to grow this child, (like I started eating meat again after 9 years!) and feeling him move is the coolest thing. 

4. What does anticipation or expectancy mean to you? And how have you found peace and encountered God in the midst of it? 

Ahhh - such a good question. Obviously waiting for a spouse/child/answers to big prayers are easy examples to point to, and I learned SO much about His character through that waiting, but I think the more meaningful examples come on the smaller scale each day in my time with the Lord. To be blunt, I would say about 80% of the time I am not "jumping for joy" to get in the word or pray or journal. There have definitely been other times in my life that its looked a little more like 50/50, but right now, it is so much more out of expectancy for Him to come and change my heart and mind and spirit in that time. There are truths about God that allow me to believe He will show up every.single.time. Usually the first few lines of my daily journaling contain something like 'Come, Jesus. I know that you will, because you tell me that if I call to You, You will answer me." Now, I think that can be tricky, because He doesn't always show up in the way I am hoping or expecting. But simply knowing He promises to show up and change my heart and mind in the process is security and intimacy I crave. I think the times I am most anxious or lacking peace, it's simply because I have forgotten who He is. That in my waiting, His character doesn't change. 

5. Can you identify a life event that prompted you to start living in the Light and opening your doors (both spiritually and physically) to others? 

Hands down, 100%, my eating disorder my sophomore/junior year of college. I have never been more aware of my sin/wickedness during that time, which allowed me to experience and know God to the sweetest depths. Like literally, waking up each day, needing Him to get me through the day, because the desires of my flesh were to appease the idol of my body. There's a visual that the girl that discipled me in college showed me during that time, which I think put a picture to what I was feeling. At the top is God's holiness and character, and at the bottom is our sin and depravity. Connecting the two is the cross. As the our knowledge of the distance between the two expands (aka the more I see my sin, the more I realize how much I need God), the cross has to grow bigger to connect the two. There are trillions of miles between God and me, and the cross bridges that gap. I finally started to realize the truth behind 2 Corinthians 12:9: sufficient grace and His power made perfect in my weakness. I think that weakness also breaks down barriers between our relationships on earth too, because then we see people as vessels God shows His power in, instead of these amazing, talented, brilliant facades we so often put forth. When I share my crap, you see that everything good in me is Jesus, instead of Kamri. 

6. How do you practically bring others into your process? Or, in other words, what does walking in community mean to you? 

Oh, Tori. I wish I did a better job of this. Life on life contact is so much easier said than done!! I also think it is way less glamorous than people think.

I would say the truest example of this in my life lately is my in-laws living with us for the past couple of months. It has been incredible, and I feel like when you live that closely with people, you have no choice but to start carrying each others burdens. Also, your sin just shows. And there are so many more opportunities to talk about it.  I experienced community for the first time my freshman year of college through a bible study, so that has been something I have sought to cultivate living here in Wichita. Giving women a place to see what God says about the things we are experiencing on a weekly basis, and encouraging each other in the process. I've felt convicted with that though, just because that is only weekly. How much more powerful would it be to walk with those women daily, seeing their sin, and confessing to each other, kind of like the church in Acts. Tay and I try to hang weekly with another couple in Wichita, and I think thats important just as wife. Nan can call out things she sees me doing and hold me accountable because she seems us interact on a weekly basis, which has been sweet. 

7. What's it like being in an interracial relationship and marriage? I've seen you comment #whitehusband on many of your posts before and find your blunt honesty refreshing. What's this dynamic like for you? 

I love this question!!! I am so thankful you asked it :) Thankfully, I had one modeled my entire life (my mama is white, and my dad is black!) and I have been largely immersed in white culture for as long as I can remember, so I think we have had a few buffers.

My intention in using the #whitehusband hashtag is exactly how you phrased it; it's meant to be refreshing! Race is certainly a HEAVY topic, but I try to find little ways like silly hashtags to soften people's hearts a little to the discussion. I believe so fervently in what God does through difference. I think it demonstrates His power, since our comfort draws us to people that believe and live in ways similar to us.

My favorite podcaster, Jamie Ivey, always says that God does something incredible when races mix, using her mixed son Deacon and how stunning he is as an example. We haven't really experienced a ton of push back in our marriage thus far,  but I think a lot of that is because of where we live. Truthfully, I think if we lived in the South, it would be a different story. I still giggle when every now and then, the cashier at the grocery store will ask if we are "together" when checking out at the grocery store. But I am hopeful that when people see us, they'd ask, "Have I ever been attracted to another race? Why or why not? What does that reveal about how I value that particular group of people?" 

8. I always ask my guests about what sort of rhythms they put in place in their lives. It seems to me, those who are wholehearted aren't just simply floating through life, but walk with intention and purpose. What are some daily, weekly or even monthly rhythms you put in place to help facilitate the process and journey you've been on so far? 

Firstly, time with Jesus. I've been pretty flexible about the exact time of day, as I've heard a lot of mamas talk about how it has to be flexible when you have a baby, so most days it looks like 30 - 45 minutes in the afternoon. 

Secondly, I love to move my body and sweat. Up until 26 weeks, that looked like running, but now its walking, and it is magical. I really value that time, and will listen to podcasts/worship and feel like I have a full cup to start my day. 

Lastly, I love to cook. For the longest time, I didnt think I was creative because I couldn't draw/paint/play an instrument etc. But I've begun to embrace that creativity in cooking and experimenting with things you wouldn't typically put together. The podcast and blog have also been precious creative outlets that I am so thankful for. Writing has often felt worshipful, and interviewing people and hearing people's stories and seeing how sharing them with other people makes an impact has been really fun. 

9. What does living wholeheartedly mean to you? And how have your views on this sort of lifestyle evolved over time? 

I think living in surrender to Jesus and His Spirit is when I am living most fully. Seeing Him show up amidst my tendencies to choose the things I want to do or the way I want to spend my time. Also, embracing how He made me, and running confidently in that. That has certainly evolved over time. For the longest time, I would question why He made me a certain way, or focusing on the things I lacked, instead of realizing the unique Kamri ingredients He used to make me and using those to live more fully. I think He is most glorified when we are so satisfied in Him and how He made us. It's so beautiful to see people who know who they are and have accepted their strengths and weaknesses and live out of His affirmation instead of the world's. 

10. Is there anyone or anything that's been inspiring you to live wholeheartedly recently? Maybe a favorite author or podcast? 

The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey is always a weekly highlight :) 

C.S. Lewis always seems to be able to put words to things we experience in life in a way I haven't seen replicated, so I adore him. 


I’m Kamri. I love a lot of things; Jesus, my husband, dancing to dirty rap while being creative in the kitchen, wit, writing, nicknames, and a mixed baby that is due to appear in August. ’ve been to and lived in hundreds of places and have somehow landed back home in Wichita, Kansas and (wo)man is it sweet. I fought its goodness and the magic of roots planted for far too long. 3 words have themed my life; Relationship, Reflection, and Redemption. I pray my life continues to be a humble expression of those things daily at work. 

The Wholehearted Hero: Paige Forrest Martindell

I met Paige when she was a Junior at Kansas University. I remember sitting across from her over coffee and thinking 'this girl is going places'. She did some freelance design work for our church in Lawrence and I was always impressed with her commitment to excellence and creativity. She's a born leader and it's been such a joy to watch her (via social media) transition to and then thrive in Dallas. Paige has navigated her entrance into young adult life with grace and poise and has planted herself in a place to grow and remain. Cheers to you, Paige!


1. Hi Paige! Tell us a little bit about yourself, what you're doing in Dallas and how you got there. What prompted you to leave your full time job and work for a start-up? 

Hi Tori! I’m a full time Creative Lead for the tech/fitness startup StudioHop, I teach fitness before and after the work-day, and I am super active within the fitness and entrepreneurial communities in Dallas. To put it simply, I’m always on at least 5 different payrolls, I work from sun up to sun down, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

2. I've been following you on social media for a few years and have been so impressed by a) the amount of encouraging content you're putting out there and b) the way you seem to be going for it - both professionally and personally! What has motivated you to pursue new opportunities, learn, grow, and take advantage of what's in front of you in this season? 

Honestly, the Lord. Alongside the encouragement and love I feel from Jesus and my faith, is the love Dallas has shown me as a city and new home. I moved to Dallas in June 2015, two weeks after college graduation, pursuing design at Fossil Headquarters. I knew I was excited about Dallas, but I had no idea what God had planned for me down here. Because of a long-distance relationship I was in at the time, I put a time-frame on Dallas and only thought I’d be here a year or two. Now being single, working for a different company, I feel the most alive I ever have before (and am getting far less sleep, so crazy how that works out). This city, it’s a REALLY special place. It was made for hungry young people like me, eager to be doing more and more.

3. When and how did you decide to leave your job at Fossil and what do you do with StudioHop? Can you identify some of the challenges and rewarding things about this decision process? 

Fossil was such a great home to me; I felt supported, invested in, and I genuinely liked going to work every day. After a year with the company, leadership was changing drastically which caused my position to get shuffled around. I found myself really dreading going into work, and was no longer satisfied in my creative work (I was pushed to production design because of budget cuts, and was tired of laying out the same ol’ box die line day after day) I was ready for a change. StudioHop was always the dream, but with the company being so young, there was no room to hire me on full time until October 2016 when the company had done enough fundraising to bring me on. I was scary – leaving such a large secure corporate company, to be the fourth full time employee at StudioHop, but I thought to myself, “Paige, you’re 23, it’s now or never. You’ll regret it if you don’t!” so I made the leap and left.

4. When you first moved to Dallas, how did you get connected to community? What did you go in looking for and how did you approach the transition?

I still find this so funny, but I made most of my first friends from Instagram. I found other young, creative women, and set up coffee dates with them. From there I joined Circle Seven Five which is a young professional network for women (and was SUCH an influential part of me growing my community at first). I knew after college, having such wonderful friends there, I wanted to make sure I was meeting the RIGHT people in Dallas. It can be easy when you move to a new city, to hang out with just about anyone so that you’re not lonely, but I fought those lies of loneliness and just waited until I felt genuinely connected to people – which is why my network grew so organically – they were true people, inside and out. I’m blessed with the absolute best community here.

5. What sort of advice would you offer to someone relocating to a new city? If we could learn from your journey, is there anything you would have done differently? Anything you'd recommend prioritizing? 

The biggest lesson I learned when I moved, like I said above, stay true to yourself. It’s just like in any transitional phase, you can bend your beliefs and morals to be ‘accepted’ by the general public, or you can remain exactly who you are & who you want to be, and pray it out during loneliness. The right people will fall into your life when they are supposed to. I highly recommend prioritizing work over anything else at first. Get plugged into your job, work hard, stay late, prove to those around you that you deserve to be in the position that you’re in. If you’re not happy, it is OKAY to look elsewhere. Don’t be public about it, but I like to think life is too short to be unhappy each and every day you go to work. 8-5 makes up SO much of your life – chase a career you’re passionate about and do not stop until you wake up each morning GRATEFUL to be going into the office. Also just be extra friendly – when you’re in a new city, friends can be made ANYWHERE. So jump on opportunities to make conversations with those who you make connections with.

6. What's your favorite part about working for a start-up? What does your job and daily responsibilities look like? 

My favorite part of working for a start-up, is that I get to wear so many hats. I can never predict a day, because I’m being pulled in so many directions, but it keeps me on my toes! I’ve learned more in the past 6 months about business, than I ever had throughout college and working for Fossil. Day in the life of Paige: wake up at 5 am to workout or teach a couple fitness classes, eat the Tupperware breakfast I packed once I arrive to the office around 8:30, design, photograph, email and problem-solve the day away until about 6pm when I head home! Of course that’s a very condensed version, but overall, I come home VERY tired every night.

7. How has your faith and outlook on life shifted or been affected through your transition to Dallas? Do you feel you reached new levels of ownership in your personal life as you entered into young adult world? If so, how? 

My faith has never been stronger. There is just something about being on your own – relying on God and God alone for strength and comfort. Over the past two years (exactly! My two year anniversary was last week) I have grown more than I have in all the years before combined. I feel so confident and strong in who I am, all thanks to God for the story He’s written for me.

8. What are some daily, weekly, or even monthly rhythms you put in place to help facilitate your personal, physical, and professional growth? 

I don’t think I’m ever on a strict rhythm, each and every week looks SO different but they all have one thing in common – they’re full. I work 8:30 – 5:30 and instruct in the mornings so that leaves lunch breaks and evenings to make plans. I’m usually booked two weeks out but I love that. I plan meetings with girlfriends, entrepreneurs, companies, new friends, etc. It’s so fun getting to connect in the middle of the day too – fuels my afternoon.

9. What does living wholeheartedly mean to you? And how have your views on this sort of lifestyle evolved over time? 

Living wholeheartedly to me means being authentic to yourself in every part of your life. Being true to who you are, how you’re feeling, being transparent but also having grace on the days when you have no energy left. I think it will always evolve for me, as I continue to take on whatever comes my way but I want to stay true to my roots. People have always meant the most to me – others are the reason I do everything I do. Without the ability to inspire and encourage, I wouldn’t have fuel.

10. Is there anyone or anything that's been inspiring you to live wholeheartedly recently? Maybe a favorite author or podcast? 

I’m inspired by my boss, Natalie Wolfe, who is the CEO of StudioHop and has grown our company from the bottom up over the past two years. I also cling to Jake Thompson of Compete Everyday, a close friend of mine and mentor, truly a rock star in all areas of life and pushes me to the be the absolute best person, teammate, designer, athlete and believer I can be.


Paige Forrest Martindell is a 24 year old Kansan currently living in Dallas, TX. She's a fitness instructor by morning, Creative Lead for StudioHop fitness/tech start-up by day, and freelance designer / amateur chef by night. She's always on the move, but she wouldn't have it any other way. A good sweat fills her soul, but she wouldn't be who she is today without Jesus, her loving parents, supportive siblings and the rest of her dynamic community. She recently began blogging, but loves keeping her focus on her digitally journal - good ol' Instagram. She uses these outlets as a form of encouragement and strives to shine light on everyone around her, even if it's for a 45 minute sweat sesh. | Follow along on her journey at paigeforrest.com

The Wholehearted Hero: Lauren Taylor from The Letter Publication

Late last fall I got a phone call from an energetic and bubbly #bosslady asking me if I wanted to be a part of her magazine publication. I reached out via instagram for a call for writers and quickly resonated with Lauren's heart and the mission of The Letter Publication. Lauren decided to chase her dreams early on in her 20's, launched a freaking magazine, and now manages a large team and publication remotely. She both impressed and inspired me during that original phone call to say the least and I am so honored to feature her today!


1. When did you start dreaming of owning or editing a magazine? And what did it take for you to get to where you are today? Can you give us a snapshot into your life now? 

I started dreaming of owning my own magazine at the age of 15 and what's really insane is that I even wrote it down for a school project "Where We See Ourselves in Ten Years" and I had forgotten about it up until the year after I created the magazine and it was so fulfilling to see that I had this dream in my heart since I was a kid. I think it took guts and determination for where I am today. I really just went for it and many people didn't get it or felt like it wasn't going to be anything but I was so head strong about it and didn't let anything get in my way and I believe I learned so much from that and it truly taught me the life lesson of persistence and how important our dreams are. Right now if someone were to take a snapshot of my life I would probably be in my pjs, having my desk covered in letters, to do lists, boxes, and whatever else they could find but most of all they would see I was happy and being very blessed to be able to do what I love. Being able to be creative all day long is not something I take for granted. So many people are not able to just do what they love or even find out what that looks like and so I am obsessively grateful for my opportunities and what I am able to achieve everyday.

2. You strike me as a woman with a beautiful and self-assured confidence. You're not flashy; you just know who you are and what you like. How did you learn to believe in and love yourself? What did it look like for you to embrace who you were made to be and be comfortable "in your own skin"? 

Aw, you are the sweetest soul Tori, thank you! My mother for sure, she is a fire to be reckoned with and she taught me to be very strong and self -assured even if I didn't feel like it in the moment. Many things in life showed me my worth and how loving who I am as a person will only strengthen my other relationships and how I live my someday. Funny enough, my ultimate realization of embracing who I was came after two bad relationships. I think it's funny how an awful situation can turn out to be a catapult into the best things you create and found out about yourself. I now just feel like I can conquer the world and even though every day may not look like that, and I am enough. Flashy is overrated sweatpants and top knots are totally in. 

3. One of the things that most impresses me about you is the way you virtually manage and edit a publication with so many moving pieces. How do you develop and collaborate with the Letter Mag team from so many places? 

Haha, thank you and definitely trial, error, and lots humor. I always wanted a group of girlfriends like in Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants or any other Disney related movie and in essence I created that. At the time, I had no money to buy a warehouse and put people in it to call it a work place and so I reached out to friends across the world and it ended up being the best choice I could ever make because I not only gained help but surrounded by inspirational and inspiring women who ultimately ended up as some of my closest friends. My mind is literally a moving piece and is constantly going at a record breaking speed and I think that definitely helps me to develop and keep up with everything. Collaborating to me has been more of me inviting people to my heart and asking them to be apart of something bigger then all of us. 

4. How do you stay motivated to work hard in order to achieve your dreams and make space to do what you love? Is there anything you do on a daily or weekly basis to stay envisioned or connected to where you want to go? 

Dance parties are a necessity to my sanity. I am constantly dancing around in my pjs and I can't very well explain it but it just keeps me connected and motivated. Time is such a funny thing and we all need more of it but I think you can create a space for what you love and what is most important to you no matter what. 

5. What advice would you give to a young person wondering if it's time to chase their dreams or work some boring day job to pay the bills? In your opinion, what's the balance between responsibility and dreaming? 

If you are working that boring day job to pay the bills so you can achieve your dreams, then work it! If you are chasing after your dreams and struggling but it's "worth the struggle" then keep doing it. Everyone has to make their own decision of what works for them and their own balance. I don't think it's fair to anyone to only stick with day dreams. We have them for a reason and we owe it to ourselves to explore them in the best way possible. 

6. How did you meet your boyfriend and what's it like being in an interracial relationship? I watched one of your youtube videos a few weeks ago on interracial relationships and so appreciated how honest you were! You said something that really struck me - you said you used to tell yourself to "stay in your lane". How did you learn not to limit yourself and be confident that you could relate to and introduce someone of another race to your culture and family?

Another hilarious long story but to keep it short we met at a Redneck Prom. I was working for a radio station at the time and his mom actually introduced us. Being in an interracial relationship is definitely different than other relationships I have had but at the same time it wasn't. I believe it was different because there was this expectation it might be different or certain things might be awkward but we ended up being such close friends before we started dating that I think we both became so comfortable with each other and it just worked.

I believe everything happens for a reason and Eddie came into my life when I wasn't even looking and I think how I learned was just by how he treated me. He was so funny, sweet, and just really got me and I didn't feel like I had to act like anyone else besides myself and myself was enough. It opened my eyes to being confident in who I am and who I care about and love and race/culture wasn't even a question anymore. Introducing your families, was a little nerve racking because you don't want them to say the wrong thing and you want a great first impression and our families were a little hesitant at first but once we met each other's families it was like we knew each other forever and that was something that meant so much to me. 

7. Did you experience any push back from your family or friends in the context of your relationship with Eddie? If so, how did you respond and why is cultivating honesty important to you in your relationships? 

Actually, it was the opposite, we received so much attention even from people we didn't even know and it was almost like animals at the zoo and you're the one behind the glass as everyone talks and watches you. In dealing with that, we are always very open with each other and have so many late night conversations and discussions and really keep in touch with what we are both feeling and we do this thing where we say " How's your heart, hows your mind, and how is your spirit." It's our thing to check in and I think that helps so much with dealing with any animosity or anything from society. Cultivating honesty is the food for our hearts in a relationship. I believe no matter how hard the honest may be it's necessary and will only strengthen your relationships. 

8. What does living wholeheartedly mean to you? 

Waking up and living with fulfillment and purpose. I often ask people what gets you out of bed in the morning, what excites you, and what is the essence of who you are. Big questions but once you I started to answer these things  it lead me to living a wholehearted life.  

9. Is there anything or anyone that has inspired you to live wholeheartedly recently? Maybe a favorite author or podcast? 

I would say definitely Oprah and/or Ellen. They are both two of my favorite inspirations and the way that they pursue life and help others is something that not only motivates me but sets the bar high for me to remember to live wholeheartedly. 


Lauren Taylor is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Letter Magazine. She is obsessed with pizza, dancing in her pjs, puppies, and believing in the being the real you. In early 2014, after making a promise to herself to breathe life into creative ideas that others deemed impossible, Lauren established The Letter Publication as a way to celebrate women, to inspire them, and to encourage them to make impossible dreams a reality.