Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Hey Girls -
So, most of you know we have our first ever Santa Barbara Conference this Saturday! I am stoked for this event and know that God is going to amazing things in so many girls' lives! I can go on to tell you how awesome this event is going to be, but you'll just have to come check it out for yourself!
So on to the topic of this blog (such a weird new word). It's never easy to confess your pride or vanity, but I felt compelled to do so anyways. So here it goes....
Along with all the major details of the event planning such as dinner, coffee, decorations, registration and all that, one of the main things that I've been obsessing about is what I'm going to wear. If you're a girl I guess it's not that big of a surprise - it's pretty normal to think about that for any exciting event. But what is so embarassng is how much time and worry and wasted energy I've put into hunting for the "perfect" pair of brown knee-high boots the past two weeks. I probably checked online like fifteen times to see if they had this adorable pair (pictured above!) in my size. Aren't they cute??? I've driven out of my way to stop at out outlet malls and shopping centers...and just can't seem to find the pair that matches my idealized look.
I just think it's so funny and humbling to admit to you how preoccupied I've been about my outfit for our conference - an event which is designed to help girls know their true value and worth as a daughter of God. Part of this preoccupation definitely just comes from my vanity; some of it from wanting to be "relatable" to young women, thinking that my sense of style might help with that; and also that we're going to have it professionally filmed. As I paced along the shops in downtown San Luis Obispo the other weekend during my mad hunt for boots (and maybe even a shirt!), I stopped to give two teenage girls in dark eye makeup and skinny jeans an invite to the conference. They thanked me and then one asked them what was it for. I told her it was an event to help them know where their true value lies. "It's not in the guys you date or what you wear or what you accomplish or don't accomplish," I told them. And then I smiled, turned away and continued on my hunt for the perfect boots. Looking back, I know what I should have done - told them about Jesus - about who He is and what He's done in my life and what He can do in theirs. That it's in Him that our true value lies.
I'm so thankful for God's grace - His unmerited favor is upon us always - not just sometimes. I might not know what outfit I'm going to wear and I'm thankfully not that worried about it anymore, but I do know that I don't want to get in the way of what God wants to do.
Posted by Allie Marie Smith at 5:17 PM
Friday, April 17, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Former International Model Gives Young Women a Message of Authentic Beauty and Worth at Wonderfully Made Young Women’s Conference
(Santa Barbara, CA) April 15, 2009 –
Wonderfully Made, a non-profit Christian ministry dedicated to helping today’s modern young women know their true value will host former international model and author Jennifer Strickland as the keynote speaker at their Young Women’s Conference on Saturday, May 2nd, an unprecedented event for Santa Barbara.
Fifteen years in the modeling industry provided Strickland with an up-close look at the inner workings of one of the most glamorized industries in the world. Represented by world-renowned modeling agencies FORD NYC, Nina Blanchard of Los Angeles (now FORD L.A.), FASHION Milan and NOVA Munich, Strickland knows all too well what the modeling business is really like behind the scenes.
At age eighteen, she was named the “Face of the ‘90s.” Strickland appeared in national TV commercials for companies such as Oil of Olay and Mercedes Benz and graced the pages of top magazines including Vogue and Glamour. At the height of her career, she worked the runway regularly for Giorgio Armani in Milan, appeared as “Barbie” for the doll’s 35th anniversary in Italy, and was seen on the covers of fashion magazines across Europe.
By the time she was 22, Strickland’s life was spinning out of control. She struggled with eating disorders, depression, drinking and drugs. She was looking for acceptance and her life was a mess. “I went after perfection until it nearly killed me,” Strickland recalls. “I went after the perfect size, the perfect shape, the perfect image, the perfect look, being the perfect daughter, taking the perfect path and making the perfect escape.”
While in Munich doing runway modeling, an evangelist handed Strickland a Bible. On her way to work, with portfolio in hand and wearing a mini-skirt, a stranger told her, “You cannot sell your beauty.” Strickland turned around and never took another photo for money. Strickland now shares her story with girls across the country. “I want to shatter the perfect image, to tell girls the truth about the image behind the girls in the magazines, behind the scenes.” Her recently published book Girl Perfect, gives a haunting account of the experiences she encountered during her years in the modeling industry, documenting her journey from fashion to faith and the lessons she’s learned along the way. Shining light on the principles of true beauty, Strickland attempts to shatter the illusion that worldly beauty and success satisfy, leading young women and teens to the powerful, lasting knowledge of who they are in God's sight as His beloved daughters, hand-crafted and made for something so much more than the world’s calling them to be.
“Jennifer Strickland’s message goes hand-in-hand with the mission and purpose of Wonderfully Made,” says WM Founder & Executive Director Allie Marie Smith. “Today’s modern young women are desperate for hope and dying for healing.” Having experienced severe depression and body image issues both as a teen and college student, Smith knows the issues many young women in America face first hand. Smith recently published her first book “HEAL: Healthy Eating & Abundant Living: your diet-free, faith-filled guide to a fabulous life.” HEAL teaches young women how to develop an emotionally healthy and positive approach to food, their bodies and life. Wonderfully Made sponsored HEAL groups have been offered throughout Santa Barbara at various locations including UCSB dorms, Westmont College and downtown Santa Barbara. With the books release, these groups have branched out to help young women throughout the United States, Germany, Australia and the U.K. rise above disordered eating.
“Not only has Wonderfully Made and the HEAL program helped me find my true value as a woman after struggling for many years, but it has also given me the opportunity to share my journey and healing with other young women who’ve had similar experiences,” says Nina Vogel, who has been a part of the ministry for over three years.
Allie Marie Smith, along with two members of the executive leadership team, Meghan Incorvaia and Janelle Bosko, graduated from Santa Barbara’s well-known WEV (Women’s Economic Venture) Self-Employment Training course and are continuing to expand Wonderfully Made to reach more young women across the nation. They credit WEV to giving them the business confidence to expand the ministry.
In addition to offering inspiring messages and live music the conference will feature merchandise and book signings by both Jennifer Strickland and Allie Marie Smith. Also featured is 31 Bits Designs, a fair trade organization, based out of Gulu, Uganda, which sells handmade jewelry by native Ugandan women. Started by 4 college girls, 31 Bits Designs works with displaced women who use their talents to create beautiful jewelry made from recycled paper. 31 Bits focuses on the creative art and entrepreneurship already present in the women, while empowering and enabling them to have a sustainable income.
“Our hope for this conference is to see young women learn how to become confident and secure in who they’ve been created to be so they can give back. This world needs them,” says Smith. The upcoming conference will enrich the lives of young women around Southern California and beyond, with Strickland’s powerful and honest message, personal stories from real girls in Wonderfully Made, live music, and global impact.
Posted by Allie Marie Smith at 5:50 PM
As a little girl, I never doubted the existence of a Creator – I saw evidence of his existence everywhere I went – in the giant trees hovering our home above upon the hill; in the glorious sunsets of pinks, purples and orange that he would paint across the sky every evening; and in the marvelous simplicities of roly-poly bugs and shooting stars. I knew he was there and was calling me to Him. I was blessed to grow up in a wonderful home with loving, supportive parents who loved me and loved each other. I had everything a girl could want! I had no reason never to be happy, but I later learned that “clinical” depression doesn’t always require a reason.
Starting at the age of twelve, I often found myself surrounded by unexplainable feelings of loneliness, sadness and insecurity – these feelings became all too familiar to me and stayed like an uninvited friend. Depression crept up on me like an unexpected storm- slowly, but with destructive force. I started my all-girls private high school with everything going for me and it continued to seem that way on the outside. I excelled in school and on the soccer field; was well liked and accepted by my “popular” group of friends. My freshman year of high school I was voted captain of the soccer team; I dated the captain of the football team at the all-boys school down the street; I got my first report card with straight A’s and got invited to all the parties and dances.
But things on the inside didn’t look as pretty as they did on the outside. I was bombarded by thoughts that told me I wasn’t good enough or pretty or thin enough. Some nights on my drive home from a party or a football game I would wonder what it would be like if I just drove my car right into the concrete on-ramp. I was filled with irrational insecurity and emptiness I didn’t know what to do with so I just worked harder at being better – I tried hard to fix myself and pursued perfection at all costs. I devoured self-help books in a desperate attempt to “fix myself” and fed myself inspirational quotes to help me hang on to hope. Shortly after I graduated sum cum lade from high school, is when it hit me – I found myself in a dark, debilitating depression unable to eat, sleep or talk. I found myself in the behavioral health partition of the hospital – signing papers that I was a danger to myself. My body was alive, but there was no life within me. No one understood what was going on in my life including myself. I remember writing a long letter to God one night. “God,” I told him, “if there is any ounce of goodness within me, please help me, save me.” I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to live either if it meant the pain in my soul would linger on forever – I just couldn’t live that way. I decided that the world was better off with out me in it – that I was a failure; a total mess; and I didn’t deserve the many blessings in my life. I felt guilty for having things so good and for not being happy. It was convinced that it was my fault and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t “pick myself up by my bootstraps.” While my best friends were busy enjoying their last summer at home before college, I spent my days in group therapy in the presence of social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. I was diagnosed with depression and put on anti-depressant medication. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to live or do so I was in no place to decide if I should attend the private university I had been accepted to, but one of the doctors recommended that I still start college in the fall, saying that the medication should kick in by then and that I should be okay. Toward the end of August, I packed my bags and my parents moved me out to the east coast for college. For the first week I seemed normal on the surface and appeared to be functioning okay enough to make some friends and get invited to a few parties, but it was only a few days before I completely overtaken by the dark cloud of depression once again, but this time it was more dangerous than ever. I couldn’t sleep – I would lay awake all night in my dorm room with awful thoughts racing through my mind. My heart was beating fast, I stopped eating and rapidly lost weight. Because I could barely take care of myself I stopped taking my medication. My hair started falling out and I wasn’t able to talk or explain to anyone what was happening. At one point I remember sitting in the library after my first college class. I was trying to read the first chapter of Gilgamesh. I must have read the first sentence fifty times without being able to understand it. I walked out of the library to the train tracks behind the building and contemplated running in front of them as a train passed by. Within a few days, my dad flew out to bring me home. By that time, I had sunken even deeper into my depression and irrational and even delusional thoughts filled my mind. I was admitted back to the hospital where I stayed for three weeks. By this time everyone who knew me and my family had heard what was going on – there was no hiding this shameful secret. I watched the 9-11 attacks from the TV in the hospital – I was still so sick that I even thought I had something to do with it. I was convinced that I was an awful person who somehow had something to do with these evil attacks. Because of the delusion thoughts I was having the doctors changed my medical diagnosis to having Manic-Depressive or Bipolar disorder – something I later learned was a wrong diagnosis.
Christians in my parent’s lives began to pray for me and for my healing. One of my mom’s co-workers wrote a beautiful prayer for asking humbly for God’s healing touch in my life – to restore my mind, to stop the enemy who was pressing in for full control of my life, to touch me and to someday use these painful experiences for His glory. God immediately began answering this prayer. I asked my parents to bring me a Bible and began reading it. Before I had graduated high school I had attended church and saw that it was possible to have a real, personal and intimate relationship with God. After I left the hospital, I lived at a recovery home and began attending church twice a week. I entered into a real personal with Jesus – I surrendered my life to him. As I let him into my life, he began to heal the untouchable parts of my life and set me free from the bondage of depression I had been living in.
As I allowed Jesus to heal these innermost parts of me I began to build my value and worth in Him – as His daughter. He gave me a heart to see young women touched by His love and truth. My heart was burdened as I saw some of my closest friends experience similar brokenness such as eating disorders, cutting, promiscuity, excessive partying, drugs, abortion and abusive relationships. I saw a void in the hearts of young women who were struggling on their own apart from a relationship with God. I became passionate about starting an outreach-oriented ministry for young women that would meet them wherever they were at in their life and help them discover, strengthen or reclaim their value and worth in Jesus Christ. One day I was reading through the Psalms and came across Psalm 139. As I read verse “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” I knew in that moment that this truth was something every woman longed to know and so it was clear that that was going to be the name of the ministry God was calling me to start.
I took that the next year drawing closer to God and preparing to return to school at Pepperdine University near LA. I joined a sorority at school, became actively involved in campus ministry and began developing Wonderfully Made on my campus. My sophomore year I became an RA. While I was clearly no longer living in the pits of depression, looking back I see clearly now that it was still a daily struggle. I think I may have thought that because I was a Christian that pain would not reenter my life and that the most difficult days were behind me, but depression soon returned the summer after my sophomore year of college. I decided to live near campus that summer and not return home so I could focus on launching Wonderfully Made. I wanted every woman in the world to know that God that made them and has come to save and rescue them. It was hard to admit, but I found myself struggling with feelings of loneliness, insecurity and depression once again. I began isolating myself more than I should so I could pour hours into my ministry work. But by mid-summer, feelings of despair returned. I didn’t understand why if I had God in my life why I would be experiencing pain again. In a way I felt like I wasn’t a real Christian, because I found myself without joy again. Things progressively got worse that summer the point where I wanted to end it all. I was readmitted to the hospital once again. After my first bout with this illness two years earlier, the doctors had improperly diagnosed as having Bipolor disorder when I was actually just struggling with depression. So for those two years I had been not receiving the proper medical treatment I actually needed. I was put on mood stabilizers, but was not being treated for depression. I know now that depression is a real illness – one with physiological AND spiritual components. It is clear that the enemy was pressing in on my life for control – he wanted to kill and destroy me, but as a child of God I was under His perfect plan, grace and protection. My parents made the right decision that it was best for me to return home and finish my college education at the local university. Ever since I began being properly treated for depression and on the right medication I have been depression free.
I admit that it has been a struggle to accept that depression is a real illness and to be able to reconcile this with my faith. I know that some Christians think that depression isn’t something that people who have a relationship with Jesus experience, and this is something that has been a challenge for me to understand. I can only speak from my experience. I am encouraged by people such as Sheila Walsh who have overcome any feelings of shame depression has caused. I want to give others hope that depression and mental illness is something that they can rise above. While doctors and medicine are indeed limited in their ability to perform authentic healing, we serve a God who is not. And I believe that medication such as anti-depressants, when used as needed can be a life-giving blessing from above.
I am now married to my best friend – a man who loves God and who daily inspires me to live a life of authentic joy. He fills my days with laughter and reminds me of my identity in Christ. He is my biggest support knew I needed Him in my life. God is healing me more everyday and I am no longer worried that depression will resurface in my life. I am pursuing my calling to ministry. God is growing Wonderfully Made and I daily am inspired by the awesome work He is doing in the lives of his precious daughters.
I am humbled and touched by our Lord’s faithfulness. The story of my life reminds me of when Jesus restored a dead girl to life. When Jesus came to the house of the little girl, the daughter of Jairus, he said, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead, but asleep.” He then went to the little girl and He said “Talitha koum” which means “little girl rise” in Aramaic. The girl immediately stood up and walked around. I know that Jesus healed me and restored me to life just like he did this little girl and it is my desire to see other people restored to life abundantly as well.
Posted by Allie Marie Smith at 12:34 AM
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
I want to take this opportunity to tell you about an amazing group of girls who through social entrepreneurship are helping support women in Gulu, Uganda. And I want to invite you to support their cause in a way that if you're like me, I know you will love! Shopping!
Started by a group of close friends and college students from Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, "31 Bits" is a fair trade organization that works with displaced women who use their talents to create beautiful jewelry made from recycled paper. 31 Bits is centered around using the creative art and entrepreneurship already present in the women, which empowers them and enables them to have a sustainable income.
Their goal is to help get them out of poverty, provide consistent schooling for their children, and proper nutrition and healthcare for the entire family. All of their gorgeous pieces are bought directly from the women, are fair trade, are made from recycled paper, and are sold in boutiques across the United States.
We are excited to host the girls and sell their amazing jewelry at our upcoming Wonderfully Made Young Women's Conference on Saturday, May 2nd in Santa Barbara! Be sure to visit www.31bits.com to learn more!
Posted by Allie Marie Smith at 2:20 PM