August 2015, Reading For Life

A Review of: Meet Me in the Trunk

Meet Me in the Trunk

By Yvonne Hilton Bourgeois

Review by Cheri Bowling

51PueW8T-1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Proving that some of the best gifts really do come in small packages, Meet Me in the Trunk by Yvonne Hilton Bourgeois is a powerful reminder that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Heb 4:12 ESV

Finding her psychology degree inadequate to help her navigate life’s bumpy and oftentimes treacherous roads, Yvonne finally surrendered to the still, small voice of God and let go of the wheel. Climbing into the trunk, far away from a place of control, she let God drive. As a result, He not only became her source of strength and comfort, He opened up to her the treasures of the Kingdom. In Meet Me in the Trunk, Bourgeois opens the door for her readers to join her in her trunk where encounters with God take her from stress to rest, from despairing of life to abundant life.

Combining narrative with the power of the Word, Meet Me in the Trunk is nothing less than a trip into deep intimacy with God. A cross between book/devotional/bible study, its short, two-page chapters are honest and refreshing. Thoughtful questions at the end of each chapter enable the reader to personalize the topics that include overcoming your humanness, setting aside selfishness, the true meaning of covenant, impurity, the power of words, and much more.

Yvonne Hilton Bourgeois is a member of Healing Place Church where she was a group facilitator for the family group for over eight years. She also assisted in the New Beginnings Ministry, a ministry for those who have destructive lifestyles and those who love them. She and her husband live in Prairieville.

August 2015, Healthy Life

Getting Creative: Turning Plants into Treatments for Disease

by Stephanie Ryan Malin

When you think of Louisiana foliage, you might think of the crisp, sweet smells and vibrant colors of azaleas, camellias, magnolias and crepe myrtles.

For Anik Boudreau and Elizabeth Floyd, Ph.D., they see native Louisiana plants as a creative answer to increasingly common—and prevalent—health conditions such as diabetes, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.

groundsel1As Boudreau explained, countless remedies we use today come from plants, many of which were inventive solutions used before doctors knew exactly how they worked. In the 1800s, doctors who detected a sweet smell in the urine of their patients advised their clients to chew on French Lilac to help slow down the frequent urination. That was before diabetes was even classified as a disease, Boudreau said. Today, a compound originally found in French Lilac is the most common diabetes drug, metformin.

Working together with Ray Brassieur, Ph.D., at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Larry Allain at the National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, Floyd and Boudreau take plant specimens collected in Louisiana and send them to Rutgers University where extracts are isolated. From there, Floyd and Boudreau get to work testing these extracts to see which plants show promise for treating insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

Their work in the Botanical Research Center at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center is unique. The Botanical Research Center is spearheaded by Dr. William Cefalu, Pennington Biomedical’s executive director, and it is one of only five centers of its kind in the United States funded by the National Institutes of Health to evaluate botanicals in search of treatments to prevent or even reverse elements of metabolic dysfunction, diabetes, and pre-diabetes. Their work shows promising results.

e99c6cd9cab135eae6dfa7ec7fa49145Right now, Floyd and Boudreau are evaluating groundsel bush and lizard’s tail from right here in the bayou state to see how effective they might be at controlling diabetes.

Boudreau also points to research underway with Russian tarragon, which may be helpful in regulating how our bodies metabolize carbohydrates. She and other researchers at the Botanical Research Center found that the herb improved insulin resistance in mice, and the same herb shows promise in helping people too.

Bitter melon is another of Boudreau’s favorite plants to talk about because of its promise for the treatment of diabetes. Studies at Pennington Biomedical and other institutions have shown the plant to be beneficial in regulating both body weight and glucose metabolism in mice.

“Our work may be uncommon, but it is incredibly important, given that one in 10 people across our state have diabetes and one out of every three people have pre-diabetes,” Floyd explained. “We are laying the foundation for better treatments for diabetes and its related diseases, and if we can help even one person live a healthier, happier, longer life because of the work we have done, I would be content.”

Potential remedies using plants are only a part of Pennington Biomedical’s ardent efforts to learn more about better ways to prevent and treat diabetes and pre-diabetes.

25-plantEndocrinologists at Pennington Biomedical are seeking people across Louisiana to participate in an ongoing research study seeking new and better treatments for the disease. Specifically, people who have had diabetes for less than 10 years and who are currently only taking metformin for type 2 diabetes.

People who participate in this research study – known as the GRADE study – will be given one of four FDA-approved diabetes medications to take with metformin to see which works best at controlling blood sugar and supporting overall health. In addition, participants will receive diabetes medication, diabetes education and blood work at no cost.

If you are interested in participating in the GRADE study or one of Pennington Biomedical’s other diabetes research studies, visit and click on “Diabetes/Prevention.”

August 2015, Healthy Life

Only at the Y

by Kristen Hogan

Picture1When dealing with life’s daily demands, people need a place to go where they can feel supported and receive help in trying times. A place where adults can find life balance; children can reach their full potential; seniors can be active and find camaraderie; and families can connect and strengthen relationships. By becoming involved with the YMCA individuals have the opportunity to improve their health and well being, and connect with the community, all while participating in their favorite program or activity at the Y.

At the Y there is a unique combination of programs and services that improve health, nurture youth, and connect you to the community. Programs include: art classes, water exercise, outreach programs, youth sports, swimming lessons, family fitness classes, Bible studies and more.

Along with its unique combination of programs for seniors, children, and adults, only at the Y will you receive the tools needed to improve health and well being at home. Following are five recommendations to improve your spirt, mind and body:

  1. Eat Together: Sitting down together for a meal is a great way for parents and children to share stories, or talk about the school day or their favorite part of the day. Set aside time for the family to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner at least once a week or every day if scheduling permits.
  1. Volunteer Together: Giving back and supporting your neighbor benefits everyone involved. It teaches children and teens the value of helping others and is also a way to meet new people or discover a new interest. Find an opportunity in your community that the entire family may enjoy, such as cleaning your neighborhood park or distributing food at a local food bank.
  1. Unplug from Technology: Limit screen time (television, video games, computer, etc.) and instead set aside an hour or two for activities that allow interaction and camaraderie. If weather permits, go for a walk, bike ride, trip to the park, or have a game night at home. If you do want to watch television, maybe have a movie night with the family.
  1. Be Physically Active: It’s important for children to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day (30 minutes for adults). Incorporate physical activity into your daily routines and spend more time walking to places instead of driving to improve your health and well-being.
  1. Put Extras to Good Use: Do you have extra canned goods or clothes that could benefit others in need? Clean out your pantry, closet or attic and donate extra items to homeless shelters or community outreach programs. You can also get the entire family involved and demonstrate to the children the value of giving.
August 2015, BRCLM Lagniappe

Our Life As a Canvas: Educating God’s Masterpiece

by Nancy Smitherman

2081_1068580764420_6453_n-2As an artist and a certified art educator for more than 30 years, I have always been passionate about unlocking creativity in others. As I read through Genesis where it says that God created man in His own image, I realized that every human being has creative potential. It may be in different forms of creativity such as music, dance, architecture, writing, visual arts, etc., but there is a unique creative aspect in each person waiting to be unlocked.

As a young teacher I wanted to teach young people what I loved about art so they could discover their own way to express themselves. After several years of teaching the basics of design I discovered only one or two students who felt they were good at art, so I set out on a mission to figure out how to unlock the creative side of the brain to help all students achieve a higher level of expression. I discovered that the brain receives information through the eye by observation, different from a computer, which only gives out what has been put into it.

If people are taught to really see, the information gathered could add new thoughts and ideas to their lives. This realization sent me out on a journey to teach what I call a “visual language,” through the use of visual art. As people are taught the A B C’s of a visual language, they can be released from child-like thinking, to a higher level of cognition and self-expression.

BRCLM.ArtCamp-2If they are taught to see shapes, use line, color with different aspects and values, 3D perspective, and negative space, (all abstract concepts), they can become excellent observers. They will also be better equipped to use their entire brain and utilize what they are learning in the other disciplines of education (science, language, technology, and math).

The new buzzword in education is STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. This emphasis, however, is based on a linear model (math and science only), and lacks the creative aspects that allow for comprehension of new ideas by experiencing new ways of designing and thinking. By adding the arts back into education (STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), students with different learning styles are given an equal opportunity to excel as part of a curriculum that educates the whole brain.

During my time in the classroom the Lord showed me in Ephesians 2:10; we are God’s workmanship (His masterpiece) created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. I sensed He was calling me to more than just educating the brain, but to also reach the hearts of my students. Since we are all uniquely designed and have a soul that He desires to fill, I wanted to make a difference in as many children as I could. I am now on a mission to teach adults and educators alike who could learn this visual language, and in turn, influence more people and students than I could ever reach on my own.

I have found quite a few people who needed to be introduced to this new way of thinking and who, by using the right side of their brain (creative dominant), could become more successful as people and educators if they were able to do so.

BRCLM.ArtCamp-3I also saw many students who learned new skills, which enabled them to succeed, along with self-motivation. Education became more intriguing and they looked forward to what they could discover at school.

This summer, God has given me an opportunity to serve Him with my passions at New Bethel Transformational Church’s Summer Outreach Camp, whose mission is to teach Biblical principles to inner-city children and families so they can go back into their neighborhoods and schools as heroes of their faith. Many of these children would otherwise be left to themselves or on the streets. These children come from homes that lack more than just financial means; they lack a biblical view of God’s unconditional love and the hope that He alone can give them if they put their trust in Christ. They are so hungry to learn and be accepted and loved, that it is a joy to serve there. They need to see themselves and life in a new and better way.

Pastors Monica and Kecert Turner have seen God do miracles in the lives of these children and their parents in just the past few weeks. We are bringing hope to a lost and dying generation of people right here in our backyard neighborhoods through the message of Christ.

I feel like a missionary bringing hope when I see the eyes of more than 60 children light up as they see God’s beauty in creation and that they are capable of learning as the apply this new visual language and produce a beautiful work of art. My goal is that every child will go home this summer with their own painted canvas to serve as a reminder that they too are valuable and have a future and a hope if they continue to follow the Creator.

August 2015, Pastor's Perspective

Faithfulness: The Only Path to God’s Dreams

by Richie Fike

IMG_7404I can remember being a young man with great ambition. I remember the dreams. I remember the angst. I remember the fear. I remember the insecurity. I remember the passion. I remember the questions.

“Which direction should I point this passion?” “How can I get someone IMPORTANT to pay attention to me?”

“How do I get where THEY are?” “What if nobody ever hears the music within me?”

So much of life is about embracing the brilliance of God. How can it be that this great and powerful being who holds the mountains in place, causes the oceans to rage, numbers the stars in the universe and quiets the storms of Earth could be so intimately involved in crafting the heart of every man?

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. And we are singular.

You are singular.

People have asked me, “How do I get to where you are?”

I am the Worship Pastor at The Chapel on the Campus in Baton Rouge, LA. I am also a songwriter for Integrity Music, and one of the members of FIKE, the worship band we travel with in an effort to share the ministry and music that’s blossoming around us.

These platforms are results of one activity: faithfulness.

Faithfulness is not sexy. It is not exciting. It’s not visible to the masses. It’s often unpleasant, arduous, grueling and gut-wrenching. Faithfulness is the proving ground for your calling. It’s the place where your resolve is tested. It’s the place where your identity is refined. It’s the place where your destiny is less important than your obedience. Faithfulness is everything.

The Word says that if we will be FAITHFUL with the small things, then He will reward us with more. But, if we are being faithful with the small SO THAT we can get the reward, then, in fact, we are not being faithful to the small. We are being faithful to the reward, and the reward isn’t even ours. So, we will never get the reward, because we weren’t faithful with the small. Make sense?

God is compelled by surrender. Why? Because what He wants for us is better than what we want for ourselves. And, He wants what’s best for us… HIM.

Back to the question asked of me: “How do I get to where you are?”

The answer is a bit of both good and bad news.

IMG_7386The bad news is that there is no formula for any of us. There is no clear, definable, inexhaustible path to success that will work without fail for everyone who wants it. No, you have to carve your own path. You have to find God’s vision for your life and surrender to it with all you’ve got.

The good news is the same. There is no path. If there were, you’d be last in line, because you’d only be the latest person to find it out. So, the countless others before you would likely keep you from ever getting to the front of the line.

I truly believe that God’s plans for your life are better than your imagination could conjure. God, who is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than anything we could ask or imagine, is waiting for you to entrust your life to His glory. No eye has seen, nor mind conceived of the glory of God. How precious are His thoughts towards you.

You are singular. There has never been nor will there ever be another you.

What is it that’s stirring in your soul? What is it that’s keeping you awake at night? What is it that breaks your heart? Your vantage point is uniquely yours.

Just to temper the grandeur a bit, keep in mind that your ‘platform’ may not ever be on par with that of your heroes.

It cracks me up that my song, “We Believe” is known by hundreds of thousands of people. Yet, I am not. Most people think that the Newsboys wrote that song. They’ll never know my name. There are people in my own church who are continually surprised to find out that I wrote that song.

But, “We Believe” has found its way into the hearts and lives of God’s people, because that’s what HE wanted to happen.

Faithfulness to God’s call on your life will yield the results God is imagining. Stillness is the posture of freedom. Busy-ness is the posture of control. Obedience is the posture of faithfulness.

Yes, you are singular. But, God sees us all. He is the one who knows best when and where to utilize your singularity. Surrender your heart to His dreams. Yield your ambition to His sovereign intricacy.

Ask yourself what matters most to you, God’s dreams for your life or your own…

You’ll be amazed what big things God can do with a little faith.

August 2015, Learning For Life

Christian Youth Theater: Building Character Through Creativity

by Susan Brown

DSC_0003In the world of theatre, competition – not character – often takes center stage. Christian Youth Theater turns that formula on its head – and with growing success. The Baton Rouge CYT affiliate began production two years ago and has surprised even the national organizers. “The national founders said it’s obvious that God is doing something with the arts in Baton Rouge,” said Director, Tonja Rainey.

The schedule is challenging. The after-school program holds classes once a week in voice, dance, drama and stagecraft, and produces three Broadway-style musicals a year plus summer camps. In 2014 they performed Shrek, Aladdin Junior and Rapunzel. During the one-week summer camp for 5-13 year-olds, students learned a full showcase and performed at the end of the week. Camp All Aboard, held in July, gave students the experience of performing to international music. At the annual national conference, students are able to connect with professional actors who advise and teach to their interests. This summer, Rainey’s daughter took a class taught by James Eckhouse of the Beverly Hills, 90210 cast.

From planning to performance, students are immersed in the values taught within each show. Productionsare chosen on the basis of their ability to provide wholesome family entertainment that reflects Judeo-Christian values. During the semester, instructors begin to see those values take hold in kids’ lives.

“It happens when you’re not looking. It happens when they don’t get the role that they want, and they have to learn how to deal with disappointment. It happens when they have to work with someone they don’t know or their personalities are different,” Rainey explained. “Through trials we usually learn. That’s what develops perseverance and perseverance, character.”

Families are involved in each production, building sets, making costumes, finding props, working backstage, and selling tickets, souvenirs and concessions.

camp2“It’s cool because the parents get to do things with their kids. It’s something they can all do together,” said Rainey. “Just watching the kids – they want to be better. They want to get closer to the Lord. They love this place.”

Rainey understands the importance of nurturing kids through the arts. She danced her way through childhood and into college at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Then, she headed a drama team at UL through Chi Alpha campus ministry, using pantomime to teach Biblical truth on mission trips.

“Back in my college days I used to think, “Oh, I can do anything. You need me, Lord. I’ve got skills.’ And He’s like, ‘Really?’” Rainey said God used experiences that did not build her credibility in the world’s eyes to bring her into the work He had planned. That included homeschooling her three children. As a member of a co-op, she began to teach dance and drama, a process that sharpened and broadened her own skills.

“God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. That’s how I feel,” said Rainey. “He’s definitely called me to do it…and it shocks me, it surprises me because I look up and go ‘Wow, that is not me.’ I know that it’s Him.”

DSC_0012When her oldest daughter – now a theater major at LSU – expressed a desire to study theater in a Christian atmosphere, she was surprised to find no ongoing, affordable opportunities.

“When my kids want to do something and we can’t afford it, I just start my own thing. So that was the obvious answer,” she said. From that point, she explains, God began to make unusual connections.

“I had actually read some Karen Kingsbury novels and she mentioned a group her kids are part of called CKT.” A quick Google check revealed that, in reality, her kids are part of CYT and Kingsbury is a major sponsor. The only existing CYT in Louisiana turned out to be based in her hometown, Lafayette. And the project took off from there.

But it came with a new set of challenges: Rainey knew it would take over their lives. Her husband was concerned about burnout. Plus, CYT is built around musicals – and she didn’t sing.

“So I just said Lord, I have a yes in my spirit and I want to say yes to you but I can’t say yes until he says yes. So you go deal with him. And two days after I prayed, he came back and said, ‘I want you to do this.’ And it was just the Lord. We just knew.”

Eighty families came to the first information meeting – one of the largest interest meetings nationally. The program, for 4-18 year olds, was ready to open in record time, in July of 2013.

The upcoming season features Mary Poppins in the fall, Annie Junior in the winter and Mulan Junior in the spring. As a community-oriented organization, CYT depends on local churches and stages to provide space for rehearsals and performances. New Life Church, Bethel Temple, Hosanna First Assembly and, most recently, Jefferson Baptist Church have embraced CYT in their facilities.

Rainey said many parents appreciate the Christ-centered, encouraging atmosphere. “They love that the staff and leadership pray with the kids, that the kids are more important than the show, that this is a place where good friendships are formed.” The program currently trains 170 kids in theater arts and is growing every season.

Christian Youth Theater, based in San Diego, Calif., is the largest youth theater in the U.S. For more information, sponsorship or tickets, see their local website,

August 2015, Geaux Life

Building the Kingdom of God

St. Aloysius parishioners find spiritual fulfillment in Nicaragua

by Lisa Tramantona

nic4Jonathan Duhon recalls the moment the pieces of the puzzle came together in his mind and in his heart. It was during a mission trip to Managua, Nicaragua, and he was listening to the testimonies of a group of young people who talked about their struggles with drugs, gangs, violence and abuse. Before he left Baton Rouge, people had asked Jonathan what he would be doing on the trip. “Will you be building houses for the poor?” many of them asked.

And as he listened to the stories of his Nicaraguan hosts, the purpose of the trip became clear. “We’re not building houses,” he thought. “We’re building the kingdom of God.”

Duhon, 23, is one of 11 St. Aloysius Catholic Church parishioners who made the trip in May. The trip, which is made twice a year, is a partnership between St. Aloysius and an organization called Cantera, which was founded in 1988 by Annabel Torres, a Sister of St. Agnes in Nicaragua. The organization promotes personal and community reflection that leads people to discover solutions to their own problems, taking concrete steps to transform their realities whether their challenges are economical, social or personal.

As for mission work, Cantera urges visitors to focus their efforts on “being” rather than “doing.” As organizer Alvin Raetzsch says, “We were there to listen to their stories, offer support and encouragement, and build relationships.”

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the world, and is haunted by war, gang violence, gender inequality and sexual abuse. Cantera has built youth centers that offer young people a safe place to reflect on their own experiences, realize their value, join the fight for human rights, complete their education, and build new futures. Through discussion and artistic expression, participants learn to identify what is broken in their lives, set goals, forgive others and move forward.

Two years ago, Amy Pizzolato was reflecting on her own life and realized that she was not spiritually fulfilled. “I was doing a lot of praying,” she said. “I was looking for deeper meaning … as a mother, as a Catholic, as a Christian, as a role model … and one day I saw a flyer for the Nicaragua trip. I didn’t have much time to think about it. By the time I inquired about it, there were only two days left to sign up. But I went ahead and took a leap of faith … and it changed my life.”

nic2During that first trip, Raetzsch saw how the experience was affecting Amy, and he asked her to be his co-chair on future trips. “It was a huge commitment,” she said. “It meant making the trip twice a year. My family was surprised but they were also supportive. And now that this is part of my life, I am always excited to share what I’ve learned with others. It has changed me as a person and taught me how to grow in my faith. It has affected my children deeply so that they want to visit Nicaragua someday when they are older.”

During their stay in May, the St. Aloysius group visited three youth centers and met with young people whose lives had once centered on broken homes, abandonment, poverty and abuse. But through their participation in Cantera’s programs, their stories ended with big dreams, small steps forward and hope for their futures. The St. Aloysius group cooked and shared meals with their young Nicaraguan friends, and with the help of a translator, shared stories about their own families in the U.S., their own personal struggles and their desire to be stronger Christians.

“It was all about making connections with our brothers and sisters,” Raetzsch said. “It puts things in perspective.”

nic3Cantera also responds to the rural communities surrounding Managua, helping families that need food, water and other basic necessities. On one of their last nights in Managua, the St. Aloysius group spent the night in a rural village where local families had been invited to meet them. Raetzsch recalls feeling especially close to God that night.

“There was no electricity, no running water … just some lanterns for light and a large group of people sharing a meal and then talking, laughing and singing in the dark,” he said. “It made me feel a part of something bigger. And I realized that while we often feel sympathy for those who live in poverty, we miss the bigger picture … that they also live in the richness of faith. It’s something I was able to bring back to my family and friends … the need to look beyond our own little bubbles and appreciate the dignity of all our brothers and sisters … and the lessons they can teach us.”

Margarita Long, Cantera Development Coordinator, authored an article that was shared with St. Aloysius last month. In it, she wrote, “Our dream for the mission trips is that they provide a space where parishioners are able to experience a deep and transformative love that does not end when they leave Nicaragua … but one that continues to weave through their relationships at home and their interactions with the world.”

nic7Service is ultimately about relationships and Cantera’s philosophy redefines what “God’s work” can be. Obviously, we gain a sense of achievement when we do something concrete to help the poor and disadvantaged — whether it’s hammering nails or delivering medical care. But being present for others is just as fulfilling — sharing in their suffering, nurturing their dreams, connecting on a spiritual level — creates a global sense of community.

As Christians, we want to not only be touched by God’s grace, but be transformed by it. When we make the effort to build relationships with each other, to share laughter and tears, promises and prayers, we can change the world. More importantly, we can change ourselves — what is in our hearts and in our souls.

The Nicaragua mission trip takes place in November and May of each year. Organizers try to keep the groups small (between 8 and 10 travelers). If you are searching for a life-changing experience, contact Alvin Raetzsch at, or Amy Pizzolato at

August 2015, BRCLM Lagniappe

Hartley-Vey Gardere Park: Inspiring Hope Once Again

by Susan Brown

BRCLM.Gardere.Playground-3Where there is hope a community thrives. The most visible evidence is a colorful, first-class new playground, designed and constructed in conjunction with the community at BREC’s Hartley-Vey Gardere Park. But change is deeper than that.

“I just thank God for the way things are improving, people’s mindsets are improving,” explains Gardere Initiative President Caulette Jackson-Guillard. A former resident of the Gardere neighborhood, she recalls a sense that giving up – not stepping up – was prevalent. The prospect of overcoming the avalanche of individual and community challenges seemed too distant, too lonely, too hard.

“They’re being inspired to hope again, to believe that it can happen. And if we just stick to stuff and not give up it’ll work out. Perseverance is ringing in my ears,” Jackson-Guillard said. That’s the point. This is not just a playground, but a physical and symbolic coming together for neighbors.

A key part of the project was a series of town meetings in which Gardere residents considered their needs and designed their own playground structure. Children created tiles for the playground benches. Under the supervision of Planet Recess, neighbors joined Louisiana National Guard Teen Challenge and local Boy Scouts in building the structures and shoveling a mountain of mulch to form the soft playground surface.

BRCLM.Gardere.Playground-5“110 yards of mulch was placed in half the time it usually takes, and a five-deck play system went in about an hour and a half earlier than scheduled,” said Treynor McAdams, owner/president of The playground grant is part of Let’s Play, a nationwide system of community partnerships designed to motivate children and their families to be active. Dr. Pepper, Snapple and national non-profit Kaboom awarded BREC a $15,000 community construction grant to build the playground.

“Unstructured children-directed play has proven to help kids develop physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually,” said BREC Assistant Superintendent for Recreation Programs and Facilities Dale Auzenne. “Today’s kids have less time and fewer opportunities to play than any previous generation.” Adults also need unstructured time together. Gardere Initiative stakeholders are hoping the playground will provide a setting for ongoing interaction among neighborhood residents.

BRCLM.Gardere.Playground-13“One of the major goals of the Gardere Initiative is to create a community and I think this park is going to be essential to creating that community,” said Gardere Initiative Treasurer/Secretary Murelle Harrison. “So that’s why this is so important.”

“We’re involved with our kids,” said Andrew Stevens, commander of the Gardere Substation, EPRP Sheriff’s Office. Working side by side with residents to build the playground is part of an ongoing effort to build relationships and invest in the community. “They look up to us and that’s a good thing because you don’t find that a lot across the country with law enforcement.” He credits Sheriff Sid Gautreaux who challenges each commander to have a good working relationship where they serve – and holds him or her accountable.

“When I walked into this it was like I just walked into a blessing because the people were just so receptive to law enforcement.”

BRCLM.Gardere.Playground-9“It’s a milestone – something that we have been praying about and hoping and desiring for the kids in this neighborhood,” said Jackson-Guillard. “I believe that such things bring ownership. You take care of what you helped build, and the things come to fruition that you thought weren’t possible.”

“Our heart is so happy, so contented to know that we’re continuing to move in the right direction,” said Harrison. And I also know that all this is only possible through Jesus Christ himself. We’re very blessed.”

Neighborhood Churches involved are:

Faith Chapel Church of God

St. Jude Catholic Church

Iglesia El Aposento Alto

Greater Sixty Aid Baptist Church

Greater Morning Star Baptist Church

August 2015, Family Life

Creating A Christian Canvas

by Tonya Woodridge-Jarvis

PicutureA Christian Canvas is defined by the way people see you, not just in the spiritual world, but in your everyday world. Often times we say that we are Christians, but I sometimes stop and ask myself, is my canvas a Christian one?

A new mother with her newborn baby is very cautious of the baby’s surroundings. As the baby progresses and begins to crawl, the mother makes sure that the house is childproofed and everything is neat and in order. Because whatever a baby sees, we know it goes straight to their mouth, which then can get inside of their little system. The new mother is doing everything the correct way because she wants to create a safe canvas for her baby.

We as Christians are newborns in Christ. We need to be conscious of what we allow into our spirits. We need to ensure that our surroundings have been Christian-proofed (safe for Christians).

My husband and I recently went to the movies; surely a good comedic film was within the scope of my Christian canvas, or was it? We began watching the movie and after the use of vulgar language one too many times, we looked at each other and realized that it was time to go.  I am a firm believer that what you allow in, will stay in, to some capacity.

You will find yourself saying things that you don’t usually say or doing things that you don’t usually do.  Our Father did not groom us for this behavior. He wants greatness for us, just as a mother does for her newborn baby. But, we must follow His plan. We must detoxify our minds, bodies, and spirits, and fill them with the pure essence of Godly pleasures, not worldly endeavors.

So as Christians, we need to be aware of our surroundings and ensure that we are creating a Christian canvas for both ourselves, and the people that follow us.  Lord, protect my surroundings and remove anything that is not of you, Father I pray, Amen.

August 2015, BRCLM Lagniappe

Over the Edge for Adoption

by Mark Hunter

18346_1325378808395_3593312_n-2Lacey and Jaci Sanchez hugged, said a short prayer together and cautiously stepped up onto the narrow parapet edging the roof of Baton Rouge’s second tallest building, the 310 foot high One American Place.

A small crowd that was gathered on the building’s south side patio 24 stories below shouted up encouraging words that could barely be heard above the din of the downtown.

The view was spectacular as cargo ships and barges slowly navigated the swollen Mississippi River and vehicle traffic crawled over the I-10 bridge. Heat waves shimmered off the white roof of the distant Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

But the sisters didn’t really notice the scenery, they were focused on conquering their fears and experiencing something they never felt before, stepping backwards off the tower’s roof secured only by two thin ropes linked to their climbing harnesses.

Along with about 40 other Louisianans from all walks of life and several Christian faith groups, the Sanchez sisters were going “Over the Edge for Adoption” to benefit the Louisiana Family Forum.

The issue of adoption is special to them, they said, because Jaci, 27, was adopted as a day-old baby and her sister, Lacey, 25, was born two years later. This was one of Lacey’s last activities as Miss Louisiana 2014, and she said she was happy – but very nervous – to do this.

After being tightly buckled into industrial-grade climbing harnesses and undergoing about an hour of instruction from Over the Edge technicians on how to rappel, the young ladies stepped up to go over the edge.

“It means a lot to me to be able to come up here with her and show what adoption means to our family,” Jaci Sanchez said, nodding toward Lacey who was mustering up her courage at the edge of the roof. “There are so many kids that need loving homes that are in foster care – a lot of kids are adopted at birth but the older kids need homes and people sometimes put that issue on the back burner.”

Jaci confidently backed off the edge but Lacey needed some extra encouraging from the Over the Edge crew. After leaning back until she was sitting in her harness, she planted her feet flat against the tempered glass windows and gingerly walked backward 280 feet down to a first floor terrace.

An automatic-locking rappel device, used by cave explorers and fire and rescue crews, slowly let the rope out each time she gently pulled on its lever. Back on the ground Jaci was smiling again.

Jaci Sanchez smiles and lets go of her rappelling rig after going "Over the Edge for Adoption" from the roof of the 310 foot tall One American Place tower in downtown Baton Rouge on June 18. The device automatically locks if the rappeller lets go of it for obvious safety reasons. Photo by Mark H. Hunter

“It was sooo scary – I’m afraid of heights but I overcame that fear,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t want to do it but my sister was with me. Would I do it again? NO! I will do whatever I can to raise awareness of adoption but I don’t think I will ever go over the edge again!”

Brian McNabb, 36, district director for U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, also rappelled and shared his own story of being adopted.

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” McNabb said. “I don’t know what I might have gotten before, but I was adopted by two wonderful parents who are still married, still love me in spite of my flaws and really shaped the course of my life and laid the foundation for my Christian walk.”

“At first it was frightening, then it gets to the point where it gets exciting – then when you get to the bottom it’s complete relief,” McNabb said. “I’m excited to survive to tell the story!”

The Rev. Gene Mills, the Family Forum’s president, said over 100 churches have responded to their cooperative effort with the state’s Department of Children and Family Services. Louisiana Baptists, Catholic Charities and Crossroads NOLA, are also cooperating in adoption efforts.

Over the Edge Lacey Sanchez ponders hz mhh“Of the 500 kids who were ‘adoption eligible’ when we started this in 2013 – only 71 have not identified with a family,” Mills said. “The Bible tells us that we are to take care of the widows and orphans and we have churches that are taking that very seriously.”

U.S. Senator David Vitter, R., who did not rappel but was there to show his support, agreed with Mills.

“You know, if, just say, a third of the churches of Louisiana set out a goal of making an impact for one foster care or adoptive child we would change the landscape overnight,” Vitter said.

Suzy Sonnier, secretary of the state Department of Children and Family Services said in a statement, that every child deserves a safe home and a family to love them.

“Events like Over the Edge allow us to combine efforts with organizations that have the same goal in mind – raising awareness for the need for foster and adoptive homes and recruiting individuals interested in opening their hearts and homes to Louisiana’s foster children,” Sonnier said.

State Rep. Valarie Hodges, R., Dist. 64, one of the state’s most pro-life legislators, was there while some of her staff rappelled.

Middleton n Lowman OTE hz mhh“These children deserve a home – they deserve normalcy that other children have and I think it’s a great cause,” Hodges said.

The Rev. Tommy Middleton, director of the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, a group of 85 churches and missions, rappelled for the first time since he was a Boy Scout decades ago.

“It’s a life issue,” Middleton said. “It’s about families – it’s about the sanctity of the home.”

For more information:

About becoming a foster parent, visit

Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home and Family Ministries:

Louisiana Family Forum:

August 2015, Family Life

Living Your Creative Calling

by Julia Summers

unnamedWhat does creativity mean to you? Each individual could define the term in various ways. I believe we desire to create things because of our Creator. God created us in His image, and so we thirst to do the same. Becky Nash, a local Baton Rouge artist, shared with me what creativity means to her, and how God has used her for His glory through her creativity.

“Creativity is the ability to express yourself through the arts. It is the piece of God within us that comes out when we use it,” Nash said. “Through my art, I have shared God’s name. I taught art classes to kids, high schoolers, and adults. So many people have been blessed by my artwork, and I did not even realize its impact.”

God uses us through our creativity to glorify him. He has a purpose for each of us, and He has a plan. Nash shared her favorite verse with me, found in 2 Corinthians 4:7. It says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”  This scripture tells us that the power within us and the creativity within us is not man-made, but from God.

Everyone is blessed with a creative gift from God. How we use that gift, however, is our creative calling. I am able to share God with others through my writing, and I hope that I can bless people. We all have different gifts, and different callings that allow us to share our gifts.

unnamed-1“My creative calling is blessing others with my artwork. I donate some of my work to missions and ministries,” said Nash. “God has given us gifts, and our creative calling is how we use our gifts and share God.” Sharing your God-given gift is so important in our society. We are called as Christians to glorify and spread the Word of God throughout our lives. If we are using our gift in order to share His name, we are glorifying God with our creative calling.

“Our gift is part of where we all fit into the body of Christ,” Nash said. “I have come to realize that my talent is not from me, but a gifting from God. We are creating something with beauty.” God calls us all to a unique and different path. We are to use our gifts, and to remember our Creator while we do so.

“Take every advantage you have to use your gift,” she said. “There is a resurgence of the arts taking place. People sometimes don’t realize that they have a gift.” It is my hope that people will begin to discover and use their gifts, and that they are able to glorify God through them.

August 2015, Family Life

A New Creation

by Sue Miley

SueMileyI remember when I took up watercolor painting.  I tried so hard to stay in the lines.  I carefully controlled the flow so that I had delineated lines and pure brilliant colors.  At the end of one of these first paintings, I accidentally got too much water on the brush. The drops gushed over the lines into other color’s territory. I dropped my head groaning. Now it was ruined.

But when I looked up, I saw a beautiful meshing of colors and textures. It was as if it was meant to be. It was a new creation.

I see this same experience in other areas of life. We grow up, become spouses, parents and employees. We try to carefully balance it all, stay in control, and create a beautiful life.

Most of us in this season of life are usually frustrated, strained, and sometimes we don’t recognize ourselves in the mirror. Is this what God had planned for us all along?

I believe that God gives us everything; including our gifts and talents, our passions and compassions. And, according to scripture God has a plan for each of us. Personally, though, I have learned that sometimes He will wait on us to finish our plan. He will let us try to stay carefully in the lines of what everyone wants from us and watch us strain as we try and control the picture of life.

What if we stopped? What if you stopped?

If we believe that God is all knowing, all loving, and all powerful, can’t we trust his calling for our lives? If we know intellectually that God’s plan is always better than our own, shouldn’t we figure out how to let go of our own?

I read this recently, “Our gifts are not from God to us, but from God, through us to the world.”

I have to believe that when we are in God’s zone and following his call, we have purpose and make an impact in His Kingdom.

I wish I could tell everyone in a few words exactly how to find God’s creative calling for your life. I may not accomplish that, but I can help you get started.

  1. Begin to let go of control. Pray that God will help you let go and stop controlling every outcome. You will know when you are controlling because you will feel anxious and hurried to make things happen.
  2. Get in touch with your natural gifts and talents. Usually this is found in creative endeavors. Anything from a walk in nature to picking up a paintbrush and dipping it into water.
  3. Seek God’s will. Pray for his calling in your life, whether it is in something little or big. It may be just a hobby. Many years ago, God was calling me out of the hectic corporate world to be at home more with my children.
  4. Be obedient. Although we need to let go of control, we still need to participate. Keep moving forward in obedience and trust the doors God opens and closes.

I know it isn’t as simple as 1, 2, 3, but I have worked with many people trying to find God’s calling for their lives… and one day… one day you may lift up your head and see a stunning, colorful, landscape that is your life. A new creation.

Sue Miley is a business coach and licensed professional counselor who founded Crossroads Professional Services. Crossroads provides faith based coaching and counseling services for the Baton Rouge and surrounding areas. Sue can be found online at and

August 2015, Faith Life

Benny DiChiara & Empowered

Following God’s Calling Into Performance and Worship

by Krista Bordelon

“I find that artists who get saved later in life have a stronger call from the stage because we’ve been there. I played for the devil all those years not even knowing it. I saw things I would never want [anyone] to see, ever. Name something and it was happening; it’s all a chase for fame. But now it’s a chase for Jesus to have the fame.”

The struggle for Benny DiChiara was what to do with his passion for music after he was saved at the age of 35 following years of playing the secular rock circuit in New Orleans. From that struggle, the band Empowered was born. DiChiara recognized how empowered he had become through music and desired to use those talents to now empower others. He realized that he didn’t have to give up his music, just the lifestyle and atmosphere of what he was doing before.

Performing was always a part of DiChiara’s résumé, and now as an opening act for artists including Chase Crosse, Jaci Velasquez, Point of Grace, Audio Adrenaline, Switchfoot, and most recently Mercy Me, Empowered is certainly no stranger to the Christian performance circuit. However, the change from his previous performances to these came in ensuring an aspect of worship during their performances. That aspect is of the utmost importance to DiChiara, the calling behind the talent.

“I’ve been asked to just get up and play through the set, not to talk about that ‘God stuff’ because that’s not what they wanted. I was able to honor that request even though it was something that really turned me off because my lyrics are my testimony,” DiChiara explained. “That’s all the words I need to use. I’m not an artist that writes songs that can be used interchangeably as a worship song and a love song. I always say ‘Jesus’ not just ‘him’. My songs aren’t cross-overs.”

DiChiara said there is a key difference in what they do, what he calls, “performance and worship” and what is done in churches, known as “praise and worship”.

“There is a fine line, but I think God honors that line. You can’t do what we do as performers from the stage in a church on Sunday morning and have it be the same thing. Praise and worship is about ushering God in; performance and worship is about honoring God in what you are doing,” he said. “Your praise band is not your opening act. In churches the struggle becomes not about praise, but about performance. That’s not what it is about, and that’s why I’m not on my church’s praise team.”

With an age range spread across two decades, the witness of Empowered’s members reaches many. “It’s really cool to see how God does that,” DiChiara said. “How His hand just makes everything work even when it seems like it won’t, and obviously, if His hand isn’t on something then it won’t work anyway.” The other members of the band, Shane Madere Jr. (lead guitar and back-up vocals), Danny Trahan (guitar and back-up vocals), Jay Yuratich (bass and back-up vocals) and Chris McCullough (drums) share DiChiara’s vision.

IMG_5956After several years of pulling together new material, their album Soul Cry was recorded in Nashville with the talents of Jason Wall at Angel on the Wall Music, Multi-Grammy Award winning producer and audio engineer Jim Dineen, and Erik Wolf at Wolf Mastering.

“People were saying, ‘You sound like Boston or Journey found Jesus and cut a CD,’ and I was struggling with that classic rock vibe. Then one day, God said, ‘How old were you when you came to know me? How many people do you think are like you, who love a certain style of music then come to know me and there is nothing for them?’ And that’s why He chose me,” he explained. “God likes to use not only regular people, but also resistant people. Look at Moses and Jonah; God was showing me all of these people He used that had made so many excuses why He couldn’t.”

“I look back over my days with the secular music crowd, when I wasn’t even saved at that point, and I was using the symbol of the cross and telling people who asked what it meant, ‘That’s who is going to get me where I want to be.’ I look back at that and I know He was talking to me because how else would I have known that? Why else would I have said that? But that’s how it works. He has always been there for us, it is just up to us to pursue Him.”

DiChiara has also used his band to help raise awareness and funding for a cause close to his heart. A portion of each CD sale goes to Children’s Cup to help with providing meals, wells, education, medical care, etc., and instead of selling t-shirts sporting Empowered logos at the merchandise tables they sport the Children’s Cup.

“What I do is very important to me. Some people just can’t understand why it is I do what I do, or how it is I do it, but it is because I am called by God to do it. It is that simple.”

You can find Empowered’s newest CD at iTunes, Maxwell’s Market on Highland, Yoglates II South, The Jambalaya Shoppe on Perkins, and the Healing Place Church Mission Cafe. For booking information contact Benny DiChiara at

August 2015, Cover Story

Sylvia Weatherspoon: Behind the Scenes

by Beth Townsend

Attachment-1“You have to be your best you. Be the person God created you to be,” words spoken by Sylvia Weatherspoon, a woman who spent her life chasing after God’s heart.

What you see is not always what you get when it comes to television personalities. Most are intricately trained to win audiences and influence others. They develop a persona and sometimes off-the-air you meet someone that, based on the persona, isn’t what you expected. But Weatherspoon, an award-winning journalist and popular local television anchor, is someone with such natural talent that what you see is in-fact what you get.

While her education and journalistic credentials are solid, and her experiences vast, it’s the warm smile and notable authenticity that makes her a favorite year after year. As a news anchor for WBRZ Channel 2, tens of thousands in the Baton Rouge area depend on her to keep them informed and decipher world happenings. Her insightfulness and discernment helps determine the stories that become our headlines.

“I started WTKL radio as a disc jockey but wanted to be a news person. I used to listen to Don Grady on WJBO and thought, ‘Oh my goodness that is what I want to do!’ So I would rewrite some of his news stories and post them around and practice reading the news!” she laughed.

DSC_0154Sylvia makes a very difficult job look easy through her gift for communication, and draws viewers in daily with a style that has developed a loyal audience. She is a determined woman who has overcome hardship and worked diligently to refine her skills with the goal of setting herself apart as a professional, as well as a woman of God.

Born in Clarksdale, Miss., she was adopted at birth by her great aunt Alene Sparks. Sylvia moved with her family to Baton Rouge when she was a young girl. “I knew my father but didn’t know my biological mom,” she said. Her aunt had previously birthed a stillborn baby and wanted a child badly. “My father nor mother could take care of me, so I came to live with my great aunt. She was the only mom I knew, until later.”

Over the years Sylvia had noticed the word “guardian” on school records and birth certificates near the name Alene Sparks, but when she would ask about it, the response was consistent, “It must be some mistake.” It was passed off as no big deal.

IMG_0822It wasn’t until the day she graduated high school she was told the rest of the story. “It was a conversation I overheard. My grandmother had come for my graduation from McKinley High. I heard her saying to Lene (Alene), ‘When are you going to tell her?’ “Her response was that she was not going to tell me because ‘she may hate me.’”

Finally, Sylvia asked, “‘What are you talking about?’ I’d sensed it, you know how kids can be, my mom was always the oldest. They would ask, ‘Why is your mom so old?’” she said laughing. “I had all the reasons; she works hard, she had me late.”

A graduation day is emotional for obvious reasons. But for Sylvia, the emotion was compounded by the reality of the conversation when she discovered that her biological mom had given her up to be raised by her aunt.

“I don’t know where she is, but I have a sister,” she explained that Lene wanted the sister as well, but someone else adopted her. “I also have a biological brother. My biological mom kept him. I’ve had an opportunity to speak with him, but we haven’t met yet but hope to at some point.”

Thinking back, she said definitively, “My mom raised me and that is the only mom I’ve ever known. She was divorced and she raised me as a single mom. I grew up on Maryland Street in South Baton Rouge,” she said. “This little village was full women, mostly widowed or single. Those little ladies…if your momma didn’t spank you one of them would!” She recalled the powerful way those women went about caring for their homes and families.

IMG_0823“Most did domestic work. They used their talents and gifts. There was a hairdresser across the street. One lady sold pecan candy and baked goods. There was a seamstress. My mother would bake, be a housekeeper by day and she also babysat. Each one made the extra money they needed to stay home. That was huge! I know inside of me somewhere there is an entrepreneur waiting to be born,” she laughed as she recalled the fond memories of childhood.

Growing up near LSU, Sylvia would walk to campus to work on high school projects. “We just walked back and forth to the library. We also liked hanging with all the big kids,” she said grinning.

As a graduate of the LSU School of Journalism, Sylvia worked her way through college, determined to pave the way for a career by gaining a solid education close to home.

Her faith has always been important to her, instilled in her heart since she was a child.

“I feel like I’ve always been a Christian. My mother was…you couldn’t be in that house and not love the Lord. Later, I came to where I understood who God was; that took a while for me to learn to trust who He was in my life. She was ambitious from a young age, perhaps inspired in that little village in South Baton Rouge.

IMG_0827“I had my little cassette player and I’d go cover things. If I heard Don Grady say something was going on, or I read something in the paper, I’d go cover it and get interviews with people. While still a DJ they covered Sheridan Broadcasting Network. Somehow I convinced them to drop that and let me do a little local news cast, and they did!”

She recalled pivotal moments when God used others to help shape her life that led towards His purpose. “On Sundays I’d babysit the morning programs. Many pastors would bring in their sermons. I’d tell them, ‘I’m going to be in news one day.’ They would pray over me! That was the first seed planted. I’d share my vision with those pastors never really knowing that would happen,” her gratitude was apparent.

She had looked up to Don Grady as a mentor and one day received a call from him. “‘Hey, come work with me!’ Before we hung up I said, ‘I’m in!’” Sylvia’s excitement about that event years ago is still visible. “I came up with this full proposal, wrote it down on big pages and posted it up with Scotch tape. I said, ‘Here are some ideas I have for doing the news.’ They said, ‘OK’ and that is how it started.”

After working in radio with Grady, she eventually got into television. “I always knew that I loved Christ, but didn’t go to work thinking, ‘Today I’m going to share my faith.’ I just try to live my life. Yet God did this thing since working at Channel 2. I received a call asking me to consider doing the news on WQCK The Bridge. I didn’t think WBRZ would allow that, so I kept putting them off, afraid to ask.”

Darren Ryder was the GM of The Bridge at the time. He called me to ask if I’d talked with my supervisors at WBRZ to see if they would allow me to do the news for The Bridge. When I said no, he said, ‘Let me pray with you now!’ After we prayed he said, ‘Go talk to them right now and call me back in 20 minutes.’ My legs froze; I was so afraid. Somehow I got up out of my chair and went up front and talked to management.”

1385026_504843936287644_3666567405895673101_n-2Sylvia gestured with her hands expressively as she described that day. She continued, “He said ‘you want to do what?’ I was also told to talk to another person in upper management. I thought, ‘what?’ That is like calling the president and saying, ‘can I have a minute with you?’ I talked to one of them, but I didn’t dare mention any other names. However, both who were the decision-makers came into the room! As we discussed this option, they asked me ‘Are you going to be praying on this station?’ I said, ‘well, I don’t know! Maybe? If someone asked?’”

She continued, beaming. “The first one said yes, then the other said yes. After that, I didn’t hear anything else!” That defining moment would prove to be a stepping-stone further paving the way for the future God had planned for her.

“I walked back to my desk in total disbelief like ‘what is happening?’ The policy was clear, that was not typically allowed. I called Darren back and he said, ‘When do you want to start?’ I responded, ‘I haven’t even talked to you! Did you talk to them already?’ To this day I don’t know if he did or not. But that was a God thing. He must have known how scared I was to ask. I needed that push.”

Now reading the news for WBRZ, as well as The Bridge, she was enjoying the environment and experience, but it is was physically taxing.

“I had to be at work at 5 in the AM to write my news but loved it. Then an amazing thing happened. People started calling and asking for prayer! On air! The thing about praying is that I prayed short prayers, I hadn’t really prayed out loud much and I had some insecurity about it. I think God did that as a set up to get me past those fears, of praying for people.”

Then my thought was, “They (WBRZ) are so going to fire me!” she laughingly recalled. “But, they didn’t. I think God opened that door to show me who he was. He didn’t give me talents to just keep me in one little box. He did that to show me how He can use even those skills to glorify Him. That experience was amazing and grew me up quickly in Him. It was also great exposure for WBRZ because they would introduce me as WBRZ’s Sylvia Weatherspoon. It was a win for all of us. Yet the greater lesson is what God taught me about Him.”

Because of her talent and professional ease, it is apparent Sylvia is living the life God intended for her. She seeks His will for her daily to ensure that she stays on track. “He is bigger than us. We don’t have to force things. In my life when I get off track, things just don’t feel right. I’ve gotten off the path many times, then to be corrected by him. Others see that as success, I see it being on the right track.”

Recognizing when we get off track can be difficult, but Sylvia has learned a simple skill from pastor Larry Stockstill of Bethany Church. “He was recently talking about the Holy Spirit. You get that feeling when something isn’t quite right. Listen to it. Plus I have people in my life who really pray for me. They may say, “Are you sure?” If it feels weird and becomes a struggle, for me that is a sign.”

Sylvia delights in discussing her marriage and family. She met her husband Donald in high school and sang in choir with his sister Carolyn.

“I had a boyfriend at the time but Carolyn said, ‘I want you to meet my cousin.’ I went over to her house, the cousin wasn’t there, but Donald was home on break from Mississippi Valley College. He was nice, athletic…a baseball player,” she continued. “I said, ‘hi, got a boyfriend, not interested!’”

Later Donald got hurt, came home and was working at McDonald’s,” she said. “Often I went in and ordered the same thing, a small fry and orange soda. Donald saw me, and he would bring the order and ask if I remembered him. I said, ‘Hi, oh yes, got a boyfriend not interested.’ Same thing. Later my boyfriend was killed. Donald was so sweet. From there our relationship began to flow. Now if he were sitting here, he would say, “She loved me from the start! She just played hard to get!”

Donald and Sylvia married in 1986 and had a son two years later, Donald II. “He was a surprise, but I guess there are no surprises with God! Donald comes from a large family and wanted a lot of children but I didn’t. He had to convince me, as marriage and children were not on my list of things to do. My girlfriend and I had it all planned out; she was going to be a successful attorney, I was going to be a successful doctor, we were going to own property and travel. It was going to be amazing! Who needs a husband? Then Donald came along,” she beamed. A few years later she and Donald had a daughter they named Taylor.

Donald II, a LSU graduate, celebrates his 27th birthday this month. He is trusting God to get into dental school and is currently working at a dental office. Taylor turned 22 on Father’s Day and graduates from LSU on August 7th and plans to pursue medical school.

Being parents has been a joy for the couple. Now as young adults, the struggle is accepting that their children are growing up. She laughed as she talked about their next steps. “They are adults and don’t need us anymore and both want to go away to school!” Yet she believes in them and knows they are grounded. “They are prepared to go on their own, it’s just scary to me.”

IMG_0825Sylvia continually uses her platform to bring glory to God, “When I speak publicly, I just share my testimony. I thought I was going to be a pediatrician, but God had other plans. He didn’t give me my skills just for the sake of being a news anchor, though it’s something I love doing. I’ve been able to do what I love and glorify Him at the same time.”

She gives sound advice and encourages others to be certain they are following God’s plan for their life, “I just tell them to pray about it. Everyday I ask, ‘God is this what I’m supposed to be doing?”’

One thing that she has heard consistently over the years is the perception that the news is always bad. “Many say they don’t even watch. I went to school at a time where we were taught in journalism class, ‘if it bleeds it leads.’ And, yes, I’d get excited about that big story that was breaking. My response was always, ‘send me there live.’”

Sylvia was in a car accident about a year after 9/11. Though she suffered no major injuries, she was home for about a week and a half. “As I watched the one year anniversary I was considering how I would cover that story if it were me. I remember asking God, ‘where is the glory for what I do?’” she continued. “I am telling you just as I’m talking to you the Holy Spirit ministered to me and took me right back to journalism school. ‘If it bleeds it leads.’ God said to me in my heart, ‘He is to be the lead story of my life.’ That my purpose and my responsibility; to tell His story, not only that, that very thing about if ‘it bleeds it leads.’ He bled on the Cross for my sins! It was a wow moment and I got it.”

“Others may not understand that, but to me it made perfect sense. I’ve not questioned since then my purpose,” Sylvia explained. “It’s amazing to see the result and knowing that my steps are ordered by Him, that I’m walking on purpose in what I do. It is more than just showing up everyday and reading the news. His will for my life and his purpose is bigger than that.”

One of Sylvia’s hidden treasures is her creativity and willingness to step out of the box and be different. Full of ideas, she’s been able to set herself apart by stepping up to the plate and making innovative suggestions.

FullSizeRender-2“2 Make a Difference came about when I got promoted to the 6 and 10 anchor. Before I was the medical reporter for 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. news. My question was ‘what happens to health?’ My general manager said, ‘we would work that in.’ I said, ‘Well I have this idea!’” Starting with the name 2 Make a Difference, it would be all good-news stories. “We started in 2008. We are supposed to serve people; that is what love looks like to me. Last year, 2 Make a Difference won second place in the state of Louisiana Associated Press for story of the year. That was the Trevor Sims story.” Tears welled in her eyes.

“That little boy, oh my word. I think about Trevor almost everyday, I don’t know why, I just do. He impacted my life. I’ve never met a kid so wise, grown beyond his years to have the understanding that he was not to be here long. Then to have the community rally around him, he was amazing, optimistic. I went to see him in hospice before he died. He woke up, looked around and saw me sitting there. He waved, I waved back, and he looked so different. I said ‘how you doing buddy?’ He said, ‘I just want to thank you for telling my story.’ He went home that night to be with the Lord. Such a special relationship that God set up; we sang Jesus Loves Me together, it was so sweet.”

Circling back to the new segment, she continued. “I love 2 Make a Difference because we can share good news; my goal is that it encourages people,” she said. “Trevor said it best. ‘You can do anything; one little thing you do can make a difference. I’m dying, and I’m trying to raise food for others.’ One day I hope to do a project that is centered on serving others from a needs perspective. 2 Make a Difference is preparing me to do that. First it lets me see the need within the community. Plus, there are a lot of people that want to serve others.”

As she discussed how to bring our community together as a united body of believers, working together to have impact on our city, Sylvia’s response was refreshing.

IMG_0828“Part of the solution is our voices as Christians have to be louder, and I mean that in all respect. We sit on the sidelines too much. I don’t think you have to wear a banner saying, ‘I’m a Christian.’ But I do think you have to live your life out loud. Start speaking out more as Christians, not just complaining about how this happened or that happened. Show who Christ is in our lives, people need to see that. For some that is all they are going to see. They are not going to go to church and they may not open the Bible. We have to take every opportunity we can to show who Christ is to people who don’t know Him.”

“I believe God brings people in our lives who he wants us to share with. Pastor Larry used to call it ‘being a pastor of one.’ So if it’s just that one person that you get to minister to, we could see a difference.

Recently Sylvia has started using social media as part of her platform. “In Bible Study Fellowship we learned that we should use any opportunity to minister. I’d post news stories, then I started posting Scripture every day, The Good News Report. What has blown me away is that others message me with testimonies! A few weeks ago I received a message. ‘I see your Scripture today. The one you posted spoke to my heart. My wife and I are in the ER at Women’s Hospital and our baby is not due for 3 weeks. It’s coming now and we are scared.’ He asked me to pray for him. My husband came home for lunch and found me sobbing and I told him what had happened. We prayed right then for this man and his wife. They messaged back the baby was born and all was good. I get testimonies and prayer requests and I’m like, ‘what?’ That Scripture ministered to him!”

She admits it can be risky to invite God to use your life as He see’s fit. “I had a lady prophesy over me at an Encounter Retreat at church. I go to Bethany, but I also visit a church in Darrow called Word of Life,” she recalled. There a lady laid hands on Sylvia and told her that she would evangelize. In her mind, that meant preach. When she told the lady she didn’t understand, she responded. “Let God explain.” She continued. “I’m not called to preach. Yet that can mean social media, speaking to ladies’ groups. It means living my life. When I go off script and don’t know what to say, the Holy Spirit takes over. Once I was asked to speak at Chapel on the Campus and share my testimony. I was freaked out! It went great but when I was walking off stage, our leader asked me to do an altar call! OMG what? An altar call? I had never done that! But, I channeled pastor Larry,” she laughed aloud. “I’ll never forget that. It was amazing!”

She went on. “God has a sense of humor. If you ask God to use your life, he will take you out of your comfort zone to grow you up in him. You don’t know what he is capable of until you depend on him.

The beauty of who Christ is, the real church, is out there,” she said, pointing outside. “We fellowship at church to encourage each other. The real way to make a difference is to share your story. It’s not preaching, it’s sharing who you are, who God is through you. Those things we go through in life, God will bring someone into your life that is going through that same thing. You can share with them that God brought you through and He will bring them through too. People are looking for something good to believe in. It’s my belief that that is why so many are depressed, people try all that other junk and it’s all junk!”

“I can’t be anybody else because that person is taken. The best you, is who God has created you to be. I’m doing me, and to be the best me I have to stay on point of what God has for me.”

“Let the Holy Spirit guide you, that voice telling you to get back on track, you are okay if you listen.”