Man with a Mission

Getting to know Mr. Michael Scanlon

       

  Photo Credit: @dmfphotoworks  & @latoya.shanell

Bio:

Michael’s resume is both multifaceted as well as impressive. He is a world traveler, photographer, speaker, fitness & fashion model, and has worked as a Behavioral Analyst in the field of Autism. Yet that does not even cover his volunteer work nor his Criminology and Psychology degrees from the University of Miami. Along with currently finishing up his MBA in Finance, from Governors State University, he’s also a contributor/writer for Seeking Alpha, an online financial and stock market publication. For the past fourteen years, he’s also played competitive rugby.

You were first introduced to him via his previous interview about Autism Awareness Month. Now through this in depth interview you will get to know Mr. Michael Scanlon on an entirely different level. To connect with him, see more of his pictures, or purchase his workouts or landscape photographs,  you can do so via his Instagram accounts @michaelscanlonfitness  and @Freedomfix.

       

 Photo Credit: @joembayawaphotography

You’re currently finishing up your MBA. What has been your educational focus and why?   I just finished my MBA with a Finance specialization. More precisely, I have geared my study towards working in the financial markets.

What do you hope to do with your degree?   Even though I can have a great impact as a Behavioral Analyst, it is a stressful job for which you do not make a lot of money. I knew when I returned back to the States from Australia, that I wanted to go back to school to get my MBA. By doing so, I could attain a job where I could make quite a bit more money and have the dispensable income and time to still help in my own way.

What kind of job are you looking for?  A position within a company that’s focus is around the stock market.  Probably something within equity or financial analysis like analyzing stocks, companies, their balance sheets, and their finances.  Where I can determine whether or not those companies’ stocks are properly valued. I currently do that stuff at the moment as I write for Seeking Alpha, as a paid contributor.

How did you get into modeling?  I randomly got asked to do one photo shoot last summer and it was for the LA Tan Ad campaign for the upcoming year. From there I put up a couple pictures online and was noticed and approached by photographer, Joem Bayawa. He suggested that I start an Instagram account and from there I got contacted by a couple of agencies. Since that everything has just taken off, all of a sudden people out of nowhere are asking me to work and I started to build a portfolio. Now I’ve been signed to five agencies and am getting paid shoots for different brands like Coors, Groupon, Met Life, and many others. With these doors opening I’ve been able to pay for my schooling, pay off my credit card, start an investment account, and even have money to do other things with.

                                                                                                               

 Photo Credit: @erik_ruiz_photography

What drives you?  It’s hard to pinpoint any one thing. I want to have a good mixture of being happy and helping other people. I was originally a Radio TV Broadcasting major my freshman year. Though I enjoyed it, after a year I didn’t feel it was meeting the need or desire to help others. For me helping others is my driving force, so I changed my major so I could help as many people as possible while also having the right balance of doing something that makes me happy. So, everything I do is either to help or be happy myself.

Tell us something about you, that has impacted you in a personal way, that you often don’t talk about.  Something I haven’t shared is, although I’ve never had cancer before, there was a time several years ago when for about three hours I was misdiagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma cancer, which is an extremely rare form. This all came about when I had previously injured my shoulder and still to this day have a separated shoulder. I went to the hospital to get it x-rayed and was told the x-ray revealed that I had a shadow in my upper arm that I needed to get checked out. So, I subsequently went and got an MRI which led to the misdiagnosis. Of course, it rocked my world and devastated my parents. I was sent to the same children’s hospital I now volunteer at to be seen by an oncologist. During all this all I could think about is all the things I wanted to do, wondering what was going to happen, what are things I’ve wished I’d done, and what does all this mean? I remember walking through the hospital hallway as we were sent to get more tests done and my hand was just shaking as I was holding the order for the additional tests. The doctor at the children’s hospital would reveal that it turned out that I didn’t have cancer but instead a very unusual kind of spiderweb type boney structure inside of my arm where the bone is actually supposed to be hollow. After that I went home and just kind of sat in a trance for a while thinking about what was going through my mind when I thought I was sick. The one thing I wished I had done was move abroad, so later that week I bought a visa to move to Australia and less than a year later, I did…In fact, my parents to this day do not know that the cancer scare is one of the reasons I moved away.

Why did you choose Australia for your big move?  I wanted to play rugby somewhere that was better than America because I’m always looking to better myself. I wanted somewhere warm that had good rugby and an overall better job market.  A friend had given me some positive feedback about Brisbane so that, with other factors, led to my move to Brisbane, Australia. When I moved there I didn’t have a job or a place to live, but I figured I’d make it happen and I did.

Let’s talk about your acting! You’ve shared some Instagram stories of current projects. So, what do you have that’s coming up? What do you enjoy about it?  I’ve actually never really considered myself an actor and wasn’t sure I could do it. I think that the part I recently got for the pilot I’m filming was typecast as the set is in a gym and I’m playing a gym rat. I’ve got a part in every episode and depending on where the storyline goes I may become a little more ingrained in some of the other parts of the show. But so far, I think what I’ve really enjoyed about it is when you work a regular job you work with people who are both positive and negative. Yet with this job, you are working with people who are funny, creative, and it’s just a fun atmosphere to be a part of.

 

  Photo Credit: @lshanelleevents

You had posted on Instagram asking your followers what they daydream about.  So, what do you daydream about?  I have weird daydreams about what I would do if I won the power ball when it was worth 500 million dollars. The answer I would always come to is I’d probably invest half of it. Just to be smart and make sure that I got consistent returns on my money, so I could always have cash flow. I’d take the rest and do what the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation does and give to as many charities as I can, because I think that too many people give themselves too much credit for where they are in life. I think a lot of where you are at in life is just luck and circumstance. I feel I didn’t do anything to garner the fact that I’m able to model, that had a lot to do with my parent’s genetics.  I also didn’t make myself intelligent, yes, I studied, and my parents pushed me to that, but it wasn’t anything that I specifically did. I believe that when a lot of people are in unfortunate situations, it’s not necessarily their fault either and I think we should do everything we can to help them.

On Instagram you had mentioned that you hoped to make it back out to Australia in March. Did you accomplish that?  I did! So, I do a lot of the investing in the stock market and I try to pick up on behavioral trends in the market.  At the end of November 2017, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange announced that they would be offering futures trading on bitcoin, which has never been traded on a major exchange before. It was still considered almost like a black-market kind of thing, a bit sketchy. Though when it was announced that they were going to start trading it I figured that would create a lot of hysterical trading and cause people to start buying it just to buy it. It seemed what the Chicago Exchanges were doing helped to legitimize it. So, I took some of the money I had made from modeling and bought bitcoin and litecoin. About a week later I sold it before the seasoned investors could get in and start shorting the bitcoin features and drive the price down, which has happened since. From that trade, I made enough money to not only fund the entire Australia trip but was also able to put even more than that into my investment account and invest that into the stock market.

Where are your top favorite travel spots?  I love the GlassHouse Mountains in the sunshine coast of Australia; I’ve actually climbed a couple of them. I scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef, which was incredible. I’ve driven all around Ireland and it’s so hard to just pick a single place there. I also really like San Diego. In fact, for the first time in my life I had made a decent amount of money while working in Australia. So, I was able to surprise my dad with a father-son trip to Ireland where we could explore our Irish heritage.

So, tell me about the children’s hospital that you work with? What is your involvement?  I work once a week for a few hours as a child life volunteer. I’m given a list with names of patients that are there that week, a description of their age, and anything else I need to know about them including their needs. The hospital is equipped with video game systems in the rooms for patients there for an extended stay.  Also, there is a closet full of donated toys for the children. There are two rooms where the children can hang out either in the play room or the teen room. One of my jobs is to check on the children and be a support to them as well as to the parents, even giving parents a much needed break.

 

 Photo Credit: @joembayawaphotography

How do you stay fit, what is your fitness regimen?  I write my own. Depending on whether or not I’m playing rugby will determine my fitness schedule for the week. When I play rugby, I lift four days a week plus four days of rugby training and a game. Tuesday and Thursdays are my club training. Wednesday and Sundays is when I train with CARFU(Chicago Area Rugby Football Union). Though this does not just include Chicago but the entire state. On Saturdays we have rugby games but when I am in the off season I work out six days a week. During those days, I break down the workouts to focus on one individual body part – chest, legs (twice a week), arms & abs, shoulders, and back, per each day.

What about diet?  Diet is interesting, so I am not one to just eat chicken and broccoli, for me that is boring. So, what I do instead is I make what I consider smart replacements. Every morning for breakfast I eat six eggs, but I only eat two actual eggs and supplement with 4 eggs worth of egg whites. When I scramble it you still have the yolk from the actual egg so to me it still tastes like regular scrambled eggs. Each egg has five grams of fat so by eating egg whites instead, you are removing 20 grams of fat. I also use wheat breads instead of white breads. Kraft makes fat free singles and I use 96% lean ground beef instead of regular. All those little things add up.

On your Instagram account you have four workouts for sale, tell me about that? I sell written workouts that target each part of the body on different days. The workouts come from years of experience with playing rugby and having my workouts written for me by doctors of kinesiology, and exercise strength and conditioning coaches. I learned from them about what works well and also through a lot of trial and error. I also have a personal training certificate though I haven’t studied it formally.

Even though you don’t model nude, you do show a lot of skin. Has that been an adjustment? How do you get comfortable with showing what you do show?  It’s hard. I think it depends on the photographer. You have to trust the photographer(s) you work with because they may accidentally see some thing when they are shooting, and you have to trust that they are never going to show anything that you don’t want to be seen. In terms of specifically and intentionally ever showing anything, that’s just not something I want to do. I show a fare bit of skin just because I’m trying to build up my following and I know that’s what people want to see. I know in isolation the pictures may look a little risqué, but it’s nothing more than what you’d probably see at the beach.

                 Photo Credit: Michael Scanlon@FreedomFix

On your Instagram account @FreedomFix  you have taken beautiful pictures that you have for sale. Tell me about your photography.   So, I started taking pictures just because I was traveling to all these new places. When I’d go out sightseeing, whether for leisure or through traveling for work because we had Autism centers all over, I was mostly traveling by myself. So, I wanted to have a way to share all my travels with everyone back home. With photography if you can have a decent eye and take a decent picture, it’s been a great way to document all the places you visit.

What is your advice for growing Instagram followers?   From all the things I’ve read you need to have a theme and keep to it. Know who your followers are and what they want to see. Also try to use as many relative hashtags and tags as you can. I make sure to know all of the pages that might share my pictures, just to increase the different possible groups of followers I can attract. So, when posting a picture if I tag those pages it grabs their attention and they repost the picture(s) that I posted, which gets me more followers.

Tell me about playing rugby? Why rugby and what do you love about it? While in High School our rugby team was the winning state championships every single year. My dad played football when he was HS as well as a year of college football, as quarterback. I had grown up swimming and playing baseball and decided that I wanted to start playing a contact sport. Back then I thought I was too old to start playing football, which now that I’m older I realize that was silly and that I could have easily done it. Not that I would have been a star or any good, but it wasn’t too late to get into it after all. But, I decided I was going to try rugby because most people didn’t start to play rugby before HS or even before college. I was lucky that my HS had a team. So, when the announcement was made to try out I did. For the last fourteen years I’ve been playing rugby in the States and four years in Australia. Rugby is a brotherhood and though we may be crazy on the field, for the most part we are pretty disciplined and respectful. I’ve been able to apply that discipline to other areas of my life.

Now let’s get personal on a whole new level. I wouldn’t be a good journalist if I didn’t touch on your dating life. So, give me all the juicy details. Are you single? What’s your type?  I don’t have a girlfriend, but I’ve been trying to date lately. I’ve even tried out some dating sites. In terms of the type of girl I’m looking for, I like smart girls. I’ve never understood the joke that you see on TV shows and movies about guys that like dumb girls, I don’t understand it! I like smart girls and I like girls to be pretty, I think everybody does. Though not necessarily, model pretty just pretty in their own way. I’m not going to be a model forever and I don’t know if I have much time left at this at all. None of us are going to be looking the same for any long duration in our lives. I think the biggest thing is just finding the right personality match, which is difficult to find. Someone you can just instantly click with. It’s one of those things that you can’t necessarily describe, but you’ll know it when you see it. I really don’t have any other specifics except have a good personality that matches mine, intelligence, witty, a bit sarcastic but in a positive way & in the right environment, and as long as we get along you could be anything, do anything.

  

 Photo Credit: @dmfphotoworks

 Is it difficult to meet and date girls because of being a model and a public figure or is it easier?  Maybe a little harder but not by much. I don’t think I’m a big enough public figure for it to matter. I think if they get to know me, they realize I’m a nice normal guy. I have had girls tell me they think they’re being catfished by me because they don’t think I’m real and because of that they refuse to meet me, but that’s rare.

What are your future goals in life, love, business, etc.? Pretty basic, I want to get married and have kids. Never really thought about how many kids, probably more than one. I wouldn’t want the one little one to be all lonely but maybe two or three.

So, what’s next for you after graduating this month with your MBA? I have quite a few paid gigs coming up. Currently I’m filming the first season of a TV pilot. Within the next month or two I have some voice over work I’m going to be doing in Las Vegas. I’m in the process of working with a Director out in LA on a potential miniseries/movie project.  Meeting with other agencies, I just signed with an agency out in Indiana and another in Iowa. I’m also going to be looking for jobs, though I’m going to be very selective about where I want to go and what I want to do because I can sustain myself for the time being with everything else I have going on.

What do you want to be the biggest take away for others from this interview? The most important thing to take away is that there are people out there with autism and in hospitals. They need help and we should do something to help them.

 

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Autism Awareness Month

Meet Michael Scanlon

Photo credit: @elenacue11ar

Bio:

Michael’s resume is both multifaceted as well as impressive. He is a world traveler, photographer, speaker, fitness & fashion model, and has worked as a Behavioral Analyst in the field of Autism. Yet that does not even cover his volunteer work nor his Criminology and Psychology degrees from the University of Miami. Along with currently finishing up his MBA in Finance, from Governors State University, he’s also a contributor/writer for Seeking Alpha, an online financial and stock market publication. For the past fourteen years, he’s played competitive rugby. He’s sweet as can be and very humble and don’t even get me started on how he’s not too bad to look at as well. Though, we will go more into that in a second interview that will be published on May 7th – So check back for part 2 to learn more about Mr. Michael Scanlon.

As the month of April finishes up Michael and I wanted to spread awareness on Autism since April is Autism Awareness Month. We have both been touched by Autism in different ways. I had worked with a boy in a child care center years ago, named Aubrey who has forever left a mark on my heart. While Michael has experienced it first hand with his sister and also with working one on one at an Autism center as a Behavioral Analyst, making a difference one day, one life at a time. Here is our interview.

Would you share why Autism Awareness is important to you? Growing up with an older sister with autism, I became interested in it. It wasn’t until years later I would come to understand it and decided to study it as it was intriguing to me. When I started working with the kids I saw how cool the kids are and how big of a difference you could make. That is when it started to become really important to me, especially when I got to know the kids and form personal connections with them and their families. You see how difficult this makes their lives and witness the amount of divorces that result from this because it is so stressful on families. So, you want to do as much as you can to help. As a result, it becomes more personal the more you become invested. Autism involves developmental delays, though that does not necessarily mean that the kids aren’t going to develop or won’t have the chance to develop, it’s just a developmental delay. So, I witnessed how vital early intervention can be for these kids who were developmentally delayed. With intervention they could grow up and have a typical life and without it they could possibly end up in a group home, intellectually impaired.

How is your sister doing with her Autism? What is her progress?        My sister is higher functioning now. She works as a computer programmer and her skills are always improving.

Do you feel your schooling prepared you for working in the Autism field?  Yes, I majored Psychology geared towards intellectual and developmental delays with an emphasis on studying child development and what happens when things go wrong. I even took preconception health and prenatal development to have a better understanding of all the potential risks a child could develop before being born.

What did you implement while working at the Autism Center in Australia that changed the way the programs were structured moving forward?   We had switched to evidence-based practices/model rather than using an eclectic approach. There a was a collection of studies reviewed in 2015 by Dr. Wong and her colleagues and they looked at every study ever conducted. From that they compiled a list of what is evidence based, what seems to be emerging, and what does not have good evidence. We in turn took that list and used it as a guide as to what we would use. If it wasn’t evidence based, we weren’t going to use it as we wanted to stand behind what we were using. In 2015 myself, the senior team, and company psychologist all sat down and planned our curriculum, which was based mostly on the work by B.F. Skinner and Dr. Mark Sundberg. Dr. Sundberg is the leading researcher in verbal behavior.  So, we implemented everything that was evidence based and coincided with the verbal behavior model of applied behavioral analysis.  

What do you want people to know about Autism and those that have it?    I think one of the biggest things is people seem to think that those with autism have a savant genius skill, which is not the case. A lot of them are intellectually impaired. Most of them early on are very developmentally delayed. It takes a lot of work early on to help them towards typical development but with early intervention most kids can be helped and even change their IQ. I used to give talks on the neuroscience of early intervention. The brain from 2-5 years of age is easily malleable. Even if you are not talking by 4 or 5 there is a good chance I can get you speaking. There is so much that can be done for these kids even if they are initially diagnosed as intellectually impaired. They are really cool kids and all very unique. Every kid is different, the main thing is they are good kids, they just need a little help and they can be helped.

What does changing their IQ entail?
How they perceive their environment will determine how they adapt. There are skills and social cues that they will need to learn how to imitate. For instance, in order for them to learn language they have to be able to imitate language. All these things come naturally to a typical developing child. One of the reasons all of this is so important is the reinforcement aspect comes into play. One of the most universal reinforcements I’ve ever come cross is M&M’s. I used to say that M&M’s can change a child’s IQ, because they can perceive something like an M&M as something very important to them. If that’s their favorite snack in the whole world than they will want to figure out how to obtain that. If every single time you teach them a skill, they get an M&M, that is teaching their neuropathways that this is something they will want in the future. To start, you’d want to begin with a physical prompting. For example, when I clap my hands they need to imitate by clapping theirs. You may need to show them by having someone sit behind them and clap their hands for them after they have watched you clap yours. This is hand to hand prompting and you will slowly fade it back showing them this is their response when you say do this and if they show you what you are asking, they will get an M&M. This will help their brain to start to develop those areas that are important for developing that skill because it leads to something that they somewhat perceive as important for survival. It is a weird way of breaking it down but that’s the way it works with early intervention. So, learn what is important to that child and assign them a task they need to learn tied to that reward to make up for the gaps in their learning. In terms of upping their IQ you need to get them into some sort of early intervention where someone can assess them on paper. You will be able to see all the skills that a typical developing child would have at this age and also know the skills that your child has as well as any gaps in development. Tasks will help you in filling in those gaps and reinforcements will help teach the importance of that skill to that child.

Explain the learning process that those with Autism go through or experience?    First you need to identify what their gaps are and once you find out their gaps, you can figure out the skills they do not have and use discrete trial training to try to teach them whatever that skill is over and over again until they have mastered it, using different mastering criteria. They will need to master at least three days of being at least 80% of these responses correctly in order to show that they have mastered that skill and they can move on to a higher order or skill. For some kids to get to the point of 80% that can take months. So really honing it down and doing 10-20 trials a day may be needed in order to help them if they keep confusing their responses because of not initially understanding the cue.  Some kids may master a skill in a week. Others may take a year. It’s just a matter of the way their brains are developing in terms of that specific skill. Some kids may not do well with imitation but may have great listening skills and understand a lot of commands. There are some kids who can understand a lot of commands but can’t speak. And kids who can speak full sentences but don’t understand when you say something to them. The different areas of the brain develop in different ways. The process is just repeated trials until they get it but usually reinforcement is helpful in getting the correct responses.

What have you found to be most effective in the advancement of autism?  The research to me is the most important thing. All money that goes into research is definitely needed. There’s so much research that goes into different aspects of it. Dr. Mark Sundberg’s work into verbal behavior is incredible. He has a good understanding of how all of that works and how B.F. Skinners work should be furthered. Also, there are researchers that are trying to figure out the causes of autism and what can happen. Even how to better understand it, finding ways to implement early intervention and earlier detection in analyzing kids before they even show signs. I think the mixture of both Sundberg and Skinner’s work aids in this research.

Would you ever consider starting a foundation for Autism?
There is so much more awareness in US but in Australia there was only nine Board Certified Behavioral Analysts (BCBA). There are other parts of the world that need more awareness and education on Autism.

Is your work with Autism your life’s legacy?
I always want to continue to help kids with autism as much as I can. Through the curriculum that the team implemented while I was there, I believe these kids are further ahead of where they would have been if changes had not been made. I’d like to emphasize the legacy I leave behind in Australia.

To learn more about the Autism Center Michael worked at, for resources,  or to donate please click on the link here: AEIOU – For Children with Autism.

IG: @Michaelscanlonfitness & @aeioufoundation

 

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The Reason for Resigning from Freedom House Church

Giving your resignation from your church is not an easy decision. My resignation comes with a heavy heart but is necessary due to concerning circumstancesI  On Sunday, Feb 11, 2018 while attending Freedom House Church (which is under the Pastoral guidance of Troy Maxwell and his wife Penny Maxwell), I asked Pastoral staff and leadership about the church theology regarding how the church comes around those who have suffered trauma, like domestic violence. I also had some questions about that days message. The response I received from the church was anything but Christ like – it was shocking! I was told to go somewhere else – to literally find another church. I was verbally attacked, and made to feel like I wasn’t wanted there or accepted because of being a survivor of domestic violence. One of the leaders and staff employees (Jenny Houseknecht) even got in my face – I hadn’t even met her before that conversation. That day I witnessed that the church leadership was saying one thing but their actions showed the opposite of what they were preaching and it would only  get worse.

At this point I had already been feeling out of place due to earlier treatment I had received after a girls dinner and our first life group lead by church leader, Diana Henderson on the book  “Without Rival” by Lisa Bevere. In which I had shared I was a survivor of domestic violence. Yet from day one I had been assured by the church leadership that there were other women who were also survivors of domestic violence and that this church embraced and came along side survivors, and supported the. That this church was all about fellowshipping and connecting fellow christians (see picture above). I had finally felt like I was finally home, that I had found my church home.

Though those Sunday conversations on 2/11/18, really made me question some things about the church. So,  I decided to reach out to the Head of Church operations, Milan Ford that Monday, for clarity. Though I wouldn’t hear from him or even receive an email or return phone call. The first contact from him(on his behalf) would be when I arrived to the next Life group meeting on 2/15 – that night things would turn grim.  Once I arrived I went to use the restroom and upon leaving the restroom,  Ben Whitley and Adam Mulchi (church staff/leaders – sent there by Milan Ford) were there waiting for me outside the bathroom to escort me to a pitch dark room where they approached me – especially Adam got in my personal space and issued warnings – messages to be relayed to me on Milan’s behalf.  Now church leadership knows I’m a survivor of violence, yet there was no female presence there to protect my interests or make sure I felt safe. That night Ben and Adam were there to physically remove me from group, without an explanation as to why. Force was not necessary as I left willingly and without any issues! The entire situation is still very confusing and made me feel unsafe, intimidated, and threatened.  So that night I reached out again to Milan, as advised by Ben and Adam and sent the below email with his response above it.

Milan and I did speak on the phone. Though he wouldn’t explain why Diana Henderson had me removed from life group, he told me it didn’t matter and that I would never know and that he didn’t even know nor did he care. I spoke about Matthew 18:15-17 (below) and that if an offense had been committed that the biblical protocol as stated in scripture was to follow Matthew 18:15-17 and seek resolution, yet that was not happening.

Dealing With Sin in the Church

15 “If your brother or sister[b] sins,[c] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[d] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 

He made it clear that Diana Henderson and he mentioned others (Madison Buzzeo , Jenneane Tillman, and Jenny Houseknecht) were not interested in resolution. Yet he still would not explain what offense I had committed (so  I could avoid committing it in the future – as I wanted to avoid any confrontation going forward). He made it clear through several warnings that if I needed to know what I did there would be a different and more difficult conversation that would take place including my permanent removal from church, ex-communication from Freedom House Church.

What had I done to warrant and even justify this harsh treatment?  I asked that this be kept only between those involved. He told me he wouldn’t promise that and that if the others wanted to talk/gossip (slander and character assassinate me) that they could. But if I told any of my church friends what was happening or spoke of this to anyone, he firmly warned me again that he would seek action, force would be used, and I would find out what happens next! He also told me that going forward I was not able to attend ANY life groups and I was forbidden to be at any public place where a life group was taking place like public restaurants etc. Completely disconnecting me from getting connected within the church and being able to fellowship, grow in my faith, and cultivate relationships with other christians. Preventing me from getting involved in the church was the complete opposite of what Freedom House Church promotes, and what the purpose of fellowshipping within the church body is in general.

He made it clear that it didn’t matter to him about what I had originally reached out to him on Monday, regarding the matter that had taken place that previous church Sunday. Church members were being protected  and he made me feel inconsequential and like I was not part of the church community. I also expressed feeling unsafe with the intimidating way he had sent Ben Whitley and Adam Mulchi to deal with me (actions unwarranted) by their actions jeopardizing my safety. Milan didn’t care nor did he really apologize.  Through out the phone conversation Milan issued a lot of intimidating and terrifying warnings! As a representative of the church he refused to work towards resolution and peace regarding this matter, whatever ‘this matter’ is. It was clear there was a disconnect within the leadership as no one knew the reason  for threats to be issued against my well being but were just following orders from Diana Henderson (without just cause) because of the leadership position she held. Milan made it clear that verbal warnings could and would turn to physical ones. Considering it’s called Freedom House, the terrorizing and intimidating warnings were another clear sign that their words and actions did not match the content on their website, social media posts,  or that of their Sunday Church messages. Milan also stated that I was forbidden to talk to ANYONE about church theology moving forward and that I was strongly encouraged by him on behalf of Freedom House Church leadership  to stop any talk about my ministry and the fact that I am a survivor of domestic violence. I was told If he heard that I did the opposite of anything he warned me not to do that Freedom House Church would take legal action, ex-communicate me, and use force if necessary! Below is a follow up email from Milan following our phone conversation.

Following these disturbing incidents with Freedom House Church, I sought   help and guidance from organizations like The Wartburg Watch   and GRACE.  I was advised to completely remove myself from Freedom House Church, because their non-biblical actions and words had proven to be unsafe and had created a hostile church environment. I was also told to send the formal letter (below) of my church resignation to Freedom House Church. Removing myself from their discipline (mistreatment/warnings/intimidation, etc.) and also to stop any further slander or shunning of me by their church staff, leadership, members, etc, due to Milan having already stated this would take place. Unfortunately, slander and shunning took place and my reputation and ministry have been impacted!

This post is to share the mistreatment I’ve suffered, to publicly declare what really happened to restore the unjustified damage done to my reputation and ministry. To speak out against their attempt to silence my voice through their warnings, force, and intimidation. Also to be a voice for others going through a similar experience. Here is the certified  letter I sent to Freedom House Church.

Here is the Return receipt showing it has been received and since April 7, 2018 they have needed to abide by the resignation notice and what it states.

 

Sometimes we don’t know why the words and actions of christians are the opposite of the christian walk they publicly proclaim. But if you are struggling with church misconduct or abuse click on the links above for help. If you are struggling with your faith due to church mistreatment, please know that the church, that christians who are not blameless like Jesus, and we are not always the best representation of Our Heavenly Father. So, please do not let the church and christian communities keep you from having a relationship with Jesus Christ. We are not the best example of His non-judgmental love and never ending grace. Do not judge Him for what others do to you and how they treat you, they are not Jesus. He loves you and will always accept you. Just run to Him, He is waiting for you with open arms. You’re not alone!

 

 

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Our Journey To Finding Love

Say Bonjour to Meghan Ashley Sokolowski & Brice Sokolowski

Bios:

Meghan Ashley Sokolowski is a Blogger, Fashion Stylist, and World Traveler based in the beautiful South of France. She’s also Brice’s better half. You can connect with her via instagram, facebook and her website.

Brice Sokolowski is  the founder of Catholic Fundraiser Which started from a initiative at trying to help his own Catholic Diocese in London with a fundraising campaign. The campaign went on to raise over $50 million, the largest sum ever raised for the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom. Brice’s mission is to help build Catholic charities, parishes, religious orders, and lay apostolates that change the culture and bring people to Our Blessed Lord. His organization reaches over 30,000 Catholics each month through his website. He is the author of  Alms: The Definitive Guide to the Ins and Outs of Catholic Fundraising and The 10 Commandments of Catholic Fundraising. You can connect with him via Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Brice and Meghan met through mutual friends. While Meghan was living in San Fransisco and Brice was living in London. Around Christmas time they were married in New York City. Since their wedding, they’ve been building a life in the South of France amidst historic churches and breathtaking lavender fields. This is their journey to finding love…

What was your courtship like?
Direct. We both walked in with a clear understanding that this would lead either to marriage or being friends.

What was the planning process for your wedding?
Just get it done! We found a checklist and just followed it week by week.

How did you know each other was the one?
Through prayer. Each week the answer to the question, “Do I want to spend the rest of my life with the person?” was yes

Did you ever pray that you would find each other?
Daily.

Questions for Meghan:

Share those final moments as a single women as you’re getting ready for your wedding?
I was just really happy and peaceful! It felt very freeing those moments.

What was the thing you were looking forward to most on your wedding day?
Everyone just massively praying and celebrating together.

Describe that moment when you walked down the aisle toward Brice?
Oh gosh. So many things overriding each other. First, it’s the fact that I’m walking towards my almost husband. Secondly, that I’m seeing SO many amazing people I want to say hi to. And thirdly, when I get super emotional it’s hard for me to stand- so basically just trying to practically make it to the altar.

Describe your wedding dress?
Oooooh! It’s a silk sweetheart, with a cape made out of crystals layered over like a necklace. It was exactly my style- simple and and classic with a unique, fun pop. I then added a long sleeve topper and panels to cover the back. It was fun to make the dress my own. I wish we could all dress like that every day!

Questions for Brice:

How would you sum up the best day of your life?
Prayerful and happiness.

What has been the biggest blessing to come out of marriage?
To have someone beside me who prays for me, listens to me, helps me, and makes me laugh.

What are you looking most forward to as you begin this marital journey, after the wedding?
Building a life with Meghan and allowing the Holy Spirit plenty of space to guide us.

Any words of encouragement for all the single people?
Don’t lower your standards. Follow Church teaching. Pray. And go out and meet people. If you believe God is calling you to marriage, go out and meet people and keep your eyes and ears open.

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Forever His Girl

Memorial Tribute

The thought that someday you would no longer be here, has always saddened me. I knew there were so many milestones, celebrations, and events you’d miss once you left this side of heaven. As much as I knew your final days were near, I wasn’t prepared for your passing, I’m still processing that you’re gone. After your passing, It just seemed so wrong to be seeing Grandma without seeing you too. Your absence has left me with an unsettling feeling, because  the world just doesn’t seem right now that you’re gone. There’s a struggle going on between my heart, mind, and soul.  My soul is at peace knowing you are in a better place, you are finally at home in heaven. But as my mind tries to process your passing, my heart isn’t ready to say goodbye, because through your passing our family has suffered a great loss. Your passing has left a void in my heart.

I still miss you so much!   I’m so grateful for all the time I had with you, though it would never be enough. The health scare a few years ago was a blessing in disguise because though I never thought that I would end up being your care taker, it was one of the greatest honors of my life and acts of love that I could ever give you, next to being one of your pallbearers. From the moment I entered this world you carried me, looked after me, and cared for me. Who knew but God, that later in life I would have the pleasure of looking after you, caring for you,  and the greatest honor of carrying your body to your earthly resting place (stiletto heels in all).  I am thankful that you are finally at peace, healed, and whole..despite wishing you had instead been healed on this side of heaven, as it’s too difficult to say goodbye to you. I think I said everything I could to you while you were here. But I don’t know if everyone knew exactly how incredible you are (I can’t bare to talk about you in past tense yet). Though it was evident at your funeral service that you are even more incredible than I had already known you to be. Your life touched so many lives!

So, here are some of the memories I want to share with the world and what I want everyone to know about you…You are the most patient man, so full of grace, a gentle giant (in fact a big teddy bear) who would give the best bear hugs. You always had a smile that would light up a room and your smile touched your eyes, making them twinkle. I’m grateful that I have your smile/ dimples and am named after you! We both have a love for coffee and I still drink coffee just the way we used to make it together. As much as I had you wrapped around my finger, you’ve always had me wrapped around yours, I just adore you! You are oh so wise. When teaching me and anyone else things you always had the patience of a saint. I also appreciated your business advice later in life. You are a great story teller, I loved to spend hours listening to you talk, you always knew how to capture my attention. Even as a little girl you treated me as a big girl, letting me help you build things, though you always prefaced “safety above all”,  you never did anything that would jeopardize my safety or put me in harms way – very much my protector! I loved building the railing with you for the front porch of you and Grandma’s historic home and even more loved the white dollhouse with pink trim that you had handmade for me. I just loved spending time with you! Searching for Easter eggs in the back yard and riding bikes on the sidewalk were some of my favorite things to do when visiting you. I loved counting the the train cars as we ate frozen custard. My trips around town in your old red truck (in pristine condition, might I add) was always such a delight. I loved to hear you talk about old cars, fishing, hunting, and all your hobbies you were passionate about. It is because of your passion that I fell in love with things that hadn’t interested me before. 

Did you know how much I looked up to you? How you are the greatest man I’ve ever known! No one can fill your shoes. You always have been the perfect gentleman and treated everyone especially women and children with the utmost respect and I admire you so much because of that! You are a man of great character and have character qualities that few man exemplify these days! You leave behind an incredible legacy. You have always been well respected. You took well care of your family. Your marriage of 60+ years with Grandma has been a beautiful christian example and has set the bar high for all of us. Though meeting a Godly man like you is near impossible, God must have broken the mold when He made you, as there are none who come close to you! No one can hold a candle to you!

Your children say you are a Dad above all Dad’s. You are also a proud Grandpa, one deserving of so much praise. Your faith was a Godly example to us all, helping to mold our own faith and spiritual foundation. You didn’t drink, you didn’t swear, and you wouldn’t even watch movies that promoted violence or even movies with actors or actresses that promoted things that went against your faith, beliefs, or your love for your country. You are loyal, trustworthy, ethical, and my hero! You have always been so involved in your community and a talented jack of all trades. There wasn’t a single thing you couldn’t accomplish or do. I’ve only ever had one Grandpa, but I understand why now. No others could ever compare to you! It wouldn’t have been fair to another grandpa, he would have always fallen short next to you! God gave me the best! I am beyond blessed that He saved the best one for me! You may be gone, but you will never ever be forgotten. You truly did, “Live Each Day With Purpose” and I am grateful to be called your Granddaughter! May we all follow your example and choose in our own lives to inspire others and be impactful in the world by “Making a difference one day, one life at a time”, just like you did!

I am, have always been, and will forever be your girl!

Love you Always and Forever xoxoxo

 

 

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Dynamic Opportunities vs. Dangerous Ones

For those of us, especially women whom are public figures. When men reach out to us after seeing an interview we’ve given,  it could be for a business collaboration. Yet, often times it can be more sinister along the lines of him reaching out because he has dishonorable intentions or an agenda! Recently this happened to me! Within an hour of my interview airing on the News, a man who travels around the country raising funds for his outreach ministry had reached out to me via email (see picture below) with a dynamic opportunity. Only for it to become apparent pretty quickly that his intentions were for something other than business.

We spoke about business via phone, email, and texts and below is one of the texts he sent me right after our first business call, the content of his text completely out of left field (see below) and caught me off guard. He would mention dating a few times during our communication. He even asked me out on a date during our first business call. I would quickly realize that he didn’t know the boundaries of a business relationship, but at the same time it seemed he was not interested in business but of an intimate relationship as he would just start discussing sex and making numerous comments on my physical appearance and what he thought about my looks and how he felt an instant connection with me. His inappropriate behavior would only escalate and progress through any and all communication (email, phone calls, and texts). Making me feel very uncomfortable and sick regarding the situation. He would claim we would discuss business, yet divert the conversation to off topic and inappropriate talk. He came across as creepy with stalker like tendencies and the nature of his conversations were that of sexual harassment.

I write about this as a warning to other women because some opportunities, regardless  of as dynamic as they may seem are really dangerous ones when the opportunity is presented from someone of the opposite sex. His advances were unwanted! The comments he made about my body and the references to sex were beyond inappropriate! His behavior not only made me sick to my stomach but extremely uncomfortable. I know I am not alone in this! That I am not the only woman, men have used a business opportunity as a way to build a connection with, to get close to, to cross lines with , and exert control over through fear, intimidation, or through trying to build an emotional connection with. I know Im not the first victim he has preyed on and probably won’t be the last one. I have concerns as he has access to young females through his outreach ministry. His behavior is unpredictable and I don’t know what he is capable of and may do next.

I realize he very well may read this – as he has mentioned to me that he reads my blog. He knows who he is and my message to him is that his behavior and unwanted advances are not ok and I will not stay silent regarding what he did and no other woman, none of his other victims should have to either! So, to the women out their going through a similar situation – know you’re not alone! Take note of the red flags, take necessary safety precautions, be mindful of your intuition,  and seek help if necessary. If you want to reach out to talk or share your stories, I can listen – here is my email for that. Witlee.Ethan@outlook.com

 

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Life After Loss

 Jessica Janzen Olstad

Jessica is the founder of the Love for Lewiston Olstad Foundation, based out of  Calgary, AB. The Foundation was established after Jessica suffered the loss of her infant son, Lewiston to Spinal Muscle Atrophy  – Type 1 (SMA). This interview is not just about loss but about  “Love After Loss”. Through the interview and video links (below), you will experience the beautiful love story between Jessica and her husband, Ronnie. A story of how loss impacts the family dynamic, especially within marriage. You will be touched at how through their love and faith they not only overcame inconceivable tragedy but they have also come out stronger because of it. Their story is an amazing example to all of us of what unwavering faith and true unconditional love looks like. God was and is in every touchingly beautiful detail of their inspiring story. They truly inspire others to “Live Each Day With Purpose” and they are “Making a difference one day, one life at a time.” Jessica, Ronnie, and their daughter, Swayzie have created their Foundation to carry on Lewiston’s legacy by raising awareness and working towards finding  a cure to fight SMA.To learn more about the incredible work they are doing,  please click on their Foundation’s link here:  loveforlewiston.ca 

Also to get a better glimpse into the life and legacy of Lewiston, click  on the video links below:

Lewiston:
 https://player.vimeo.com/video/192960931/

Lewiston’s Celebration of Life:          
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ry_850wD8I&feature=youtu.be

I hope after reading my interview with Jessica you will be inspired to:

Choose Movement.         Bring Joy.          Spread Love.

You have a Foundation called, “Love for Lewiston”. Can you tell me about that it, how it came to be, and it’s mission?

The Love for Lewiston Foundation was born of a position the Olstads embraced to spend their son Lewiston’s first birthday not as a pity party, but a celebration of his short but influential life and the life lessons they desired to pass on to others. They felt the community surround them in their darkest moments and encountered so much light and strength in sharing their burden that they wanted to keep spreading joy and love to others like it was so generously offered to them. They believe to their core that Lewiston’s message of “squeezing a little tighter, loving a little deeper and dancing a little longer”, is meant to be extended to the world.

With 7 weeks to the date, they rallied their close friends, organized and hosted their first official Lewiston Event on May 25, 2017 – it raised just over $42,000 in one night. To make everything legit as a foundation, the paperwork was prepared during the planning phases but not expected to be completed for months. Jessica received a call the morning of the party, Lewiston’s first birthday, declaring the paperwork had been processed, approved and certified. This was all thanks to an amazing accounting team at Pinnacle Accounting and Finance to help push through the paperwork and ensure every “t” was crossed and every “i” was dotted. The Love for Lewiston Foundation is now officially a non-profit currently working to achieve its registered charitable status.  Please ask us about tax-deductible receipts for your donations.

The Love for Lewiston Foundation exists to create awareness, bring joyful experiences spreading love and directing money to local families, and ultimately raising funds focused on treatments and finding a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy through SMA Research and The Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.

 In an instagram post, that you wrote in honor of your son, Lewiston  – you thanked him by saying, “Thank you for giving me the gift of life, In losing yours I found mine”. Can you share with the readers how you found life in the midst of losing your infant son?                          In losing my son it gave me new perspective. The days are precious and I don’t want to look back and say I wish I would have. He gave me the courage to be bold, use my voice and speak up for what I want and dream of. You really have to fight for what you need in the hospital and I realize that is true with life. I believe I am fully alive chasing my dreams knowing that they will come true.

What is life after loss like?                                                                                              It’s tough, it sucks, and it hurts. There are empty dark days, but there are also days that you slow down and hold onto the moments more. You long for what should have been.  But you also make the most of what is given to you! It shifts your view and we choose the attitude that it is a blessing. It has deepened friendships and weeded out people who aren’t pouring into our life.

What impact has the lose of Lewiston had on your family dynamic, on your marriage? How has it helped your family to grow closer?         Honestly a loss like this could totally rock you, destroy, and tear you apart. But Ronnie and I set a pact at the beginning of our journey saying that no matter what, we would stay together! I won’t lie, it has been hard. We have fought, and sometimes we let the hurt creep in and it wants to push you apart but we choose to stay connected. We have allowed it to bring us closer. It has had its challenges, but we keep fighting for our marriage. You have to put in the effort. We have slowed down. We set time aside and we pay more attention to others who need help.

What did Lewiston’s short life teach you?                                                                Where do you start. So many lessons. To slow down, to not doubt, to listen to the nudges of your heart, to choose joy, to run towards the roar (the things that scare you the most.) To be bold, to live fully alive and that having a hope in Heaven will be what saves you on the dark days.

What is the legacy you hope Lewiston’s life will leave for generations to come?                                                                                                            Our prayer for Lewiston’s Legacy is that we inspire everyone to choose movement, bring joy, and spread love. We also believe that he will be part of finding a cure and getting treatment for those that are in need.

 You also talk about your faith on instagram, how has faith been influential in carrying you through your loss? In helping you to cope, survive, and even heal?
I don’t know how you do it without a belief in God. There is hope in heaven.

After experiencing first hand how precious and fleeting life is, how do you make each day count and live life to the fullest? Making the most out of life?
Focusing on the things that really matter. Focusing on what I actually want to say yes to, saying no to things that won’t get us closer to our goals and continuing to dream big. Loving deep, squeezing tighter.

Any final thoughts or message you would like to leave the readers with?
Regardless of where things are at you get a choice. WE always say event plus response will equal your outcome. Our event – fighting for our sons life with his terminal diagnosis, plus us choosing joy and to make it count & matter. Equalled a life well lived, beautiful family memories, and now an opportunity to pour into others & help those in need. The average person gets about 30,000 days, Lewiston had 179.  I don’t know my number but I do know I want to live them well.

 

 

 

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Does He Make The List?

 

Have you ever made a list of all the character qualities and things you’re looking for in the right guy? I did, and I’ve used this list to guide me in dating. This list has also helped me to know what I really want. Though over the years it has changed, I’ve gone from a broader list to one thats more specific.

Below are some of mine and why.

1). He shares the same morals and values:

Why: Because when two people do not share the same morals and values it can create a rift in the relationship since your very core and foundation are based on those. Also if this person doesn’t share your morals and values, they may not understand why you have them, nor respect them. They also may try to get you to compromise them.

2). He acknowledges your worth.

Why: Often times our worth can be taken for granted and if we feel under appreciated, it can cause issues within the relationship. Those issues may cause us to be bitter and even impact our self image, because we are not getting the acceptance we long for. Know your worth! If you do, you will have the courage to get out of bad and unhealthy relationships sooner. Also a guy worthy of you will never give you reasons to question your worth, because he will constantly be reminding  you how amazing you’re and how much you mean to him!

3.) The relationship is not built on conditions.

Why: Too often control is exercised in relationships and demands are issued, especially by guys. At that point the relationship can become unhealthy, even hostile depending on  the type of demands and control issued. No one should ever control who you are. They shouldn’t threaten dissolution of the relationship if you don’t bow to their demands. Love should be unconditional, not conditional and not based on what you will or won’t do for them.

4.) He has a servants heart.

Why: How he treats others says a lot about his character and speaks volumes to how he will treat you. Someone who is giving back, cares about others, sees a need and meets that…shows he is respectful. This also shows that he is not arrogant and does not feel he is above helping others. If he is willing to be there for others, think how much more he will be willing to be there for you.

5.) Makes your relationship a priority and puts you first.

Why: Relationships take work and if you want to be in one you both need to make it a priority and learn to put each other first. That does not mean that you’re catering to each others every whim or that he has the right to control you and vice versa. What this means is you make time for each other. You listen more than you talk. If one expresses concern over something you take that into consideration. You do things for the other just to put a smile on their face. In fact when you put the other first you’re being selfless not selfish.

 

So does he make the list? If not, don’t settle! You are valuable. You deserve to be loved unconditionally. You are worth so much more….

 

 

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Happy New Year!!

With the beginning of a new year, comes a new found hope, a  new sense of self awareness & confidence, a renewed belief that anything is possible, and that the year ahead is full of promise & greater things to come.

I’m excited to announce that over the next two months, the blog’s focus will be  on the topic of “Dating, Relationships, and Finding Love”  and the posts will be comprised of the following sub-topics:

  • Self-worth
  • True love
  • Dating Dos and Donts
  • Setting Boundaries
  • Sexual Immorality
  • Morals and Values
  • Healthy Relationships
  • Marriage

The context of the posts will be written from personal experience, biblical perspective, hope found in God’s promises, and Godly advice & counsel.  There will even be some guest blog posts, featuring guests from around the world.

Don’t forget to check back next Monday, Jan 8th for the next blog post.

 

 

 

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Faith On And Off The Field

 

AUSTIN JOHNSON 

He’s a professional athlete in the NFL, having been a Fullback with the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Originally starting out as a Linebacker at the University of Tennessee. He’s a true southern gentleman, born and raised in North Carolina. He’s family oriented and one of four sons, all who have played sports. Most importantly he is a God fearing Christian man and uses his platform to share the gospel, every chance he gets.

 Throughout the interview I not only got a glimpse of the camaraderie within the football league, but also learned what it means to have “Faith On and Off the Field”. We covered Faith, Family, Football, and for my ladies, even Finding Love. On this in depth interview we got real and he got vulnerable while we talked about hardships, dreams, and what he is looking for in a future wife. Despite asking him some very personal and hard questions. I found Austin to be gracious, accommodating, humble, and very transparent. I hope you’re inspired, encouraged, and more on fire for God after reading through my interview with Austin Johnson.

How did you come to know Christ?                                                                            Gave my life to Christ, my Jr. year of college while attending a camp in Colorado, called Athletes in Action, which would change my life for the better. The camp teaches athletes to integrate Christ within the sport you play.  Through this camp, “God shook my whole life upside down and showed me what life is really all about, I was broken and he striped me of my pride – I was very prideful back then. He showed me that life is so much bigger than sports & more than myself.”

You share your faith a lot on social media and have expressed wanting to use your platform to spread the gospel.  What ways are you doing that?                                                                                                                         One way is by using social media to let people know that I am a man of God. I do speaking engagements and anytime I get the chance to share my faith, I try to do it.

What topics do you speak on for your speaking engagements?               If I’m speaking for FCA I share my testimony, about not giving up, to keep pushing forward, and that the Lord’s leading you on a certain path. With schools, that can be tough but I make sure the kids know that I wouldn’t be where I am without my Lord and Savior. When I sign autographs I always write a scripture down. Every chance I get, I try to share.

 What scripture verses do you include with your autograph?            Ephesians 6:11, (HCSB)Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics[a] of the Devil.” This is the first verse I ever memorized and have always thought it was a cool verse, just so cool to put on the armor of God. That verse meant so much then and is what helped start my walk with the Lord.

What are some of your favorite verses?                                                        Ephesians 6:11, (HCSB)Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics[a] of the Devil.” I love the Psalms, like Psalm 119:105, (HCSB) “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” Colossians 3:20, (HCSB) “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Galatians 2:20, (HCSB) “And I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body,[a] I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

 What’s the overall message you want to convey?                                             My career has been rocky and has not gone how I wanted, pretty much my whole career. In college, I went through a bunch of coaches and have been cut a lot in the NFL. My message is to never give up. I love to share whenever I’m doing evangelistic speaking, that when you get knocked done the Lord’s path for you is so much greater than what you can see and He has a plan. Especially when things go bad in life I want to get across to people that bad things are going to happen in life and that’s just the way it is and it’s so easy, just to give up or so easy to just say woe is me when you can’t see what the Lord has for you. When we get to Heaven we can look back at those moments and the first thing we will say to the Lord is, “Oh that’s why this happened, that led me here.’ It’s not only with your work but with relationships and certain circumstances in your life. So, I definitely try to get across the message that bad things are going to happen but the Lord has a plan for you. Better than you could ever imagine and you just have to trust that. People ask me a lot, “Why would He cause this suffering?” The best answer I can give them is that the Lord allows these sufferings for a reason. An example I give is when you have a sick child, you take them to the Dr. to get shots, which causes them pain, to make them better. Yet they wonder, “Why would you do this to me?” That’s the same thing we’re doing when we’re going through all this suffering, we’re asking the Lord, “Why are you doing this to me?” Little do we know that He is saving us from something that’s going to probably, ultimately take us away from being with him in Heaven. He’s making sure we’re going to have eternal life and that’s definitely a message I try to get across.

Having a platform comes with a lot of responsibility. What example do you hope to set for your fans, for those watching you?                           A lot of that is on other people. If you’re going to talk the talk, you need to walk the walk. If I’m going to put pictures out there and tell people I’m a Christian, they better see that in my life and the way I do that is I try to be as genuine and graceful to everyone I meet, that’s tough for me. My brothers are unbelievable and their so graceful. Sometimes I wish I was like them because for some reason I got the personality, that probably because I’m a Fullback in the NFL, I’m supposed to be mean and tough. I’m quiet at times and I get kind of moody sometimes and these are my flaws, but its definitely a fault of mine.  I have to really remind myself that someone could be having a terrible day and just a simple gesture could make their day way better. I think at the end of the day you just have to walk the walk and show people who you’re and be graceful. Especially in our work when you lose a game it’s a terrible time and everyone’s upset and everyone’s mad but no one really knows what’s going on back at home, so asking someone how their day is can go a long way.

 How does faith play into sports, on and off the field?                                      I try to make faith the #1 thing in my life. One of the hardest things about the NFL is football is a very selfish game! When I say that, I mean you have to be selfish in that you have to look out for yourself if you want to stick around, if you want to play in the game a long time. You have to be competitive! You have to know that the person across from you is trying to take money away from you and from your family. Money that’s going to feed you and ultimately bring you success in your career, it’s a selfish game. The biggest mistake guys make and I try not to let it happen to me, is it becomes our identity. I think football is definitely a huge idol in a lot of people’s lives and that’s why you hear stories of guys who can’t get over when footballs over.  It’s such an idol in their life and they feel lost. So, I try to remind myself all the time that God is first, then football.  If football was taken from me right now would that be my identity or is my identity in Christ and I’m enough! I try to remind myself of that. It’s definitely hard because you get so caught up in the game, camp, and the season, you’re just surrounded by it all the time. It’s definitely a tough thing to do and I’m at fault a lot of the times. I might go a few days, and be like, “Oh my Gosh I haven’t been in the word enough.” I spend time in the Word by reading devotions on a Bible app sometimes but I like book in hand better. If I’m doing a Bible study then I’ll read from Bible in hand.

Can faith exist within football, does it exist within the team?                    We have a good core group of guys who are believers and everyone tries to rally around each other and bring each other closer to Christ. We have chapels and small groups. It’s a normal job. When I was in Tampa I went to a Wednesday service and small groups within the church. It’s hard to go on Sundays. Though I try to plug myself into the community just as if I was a sales man there in the city. But yes, faith is a huge part especially in my football career. Obviously, we pray before games and memorize scripture together and certain guys hold each other accountable. I’m surrounded with these guys so much and you have to surround yourself with good guys because obviously there will be temptations and things that will try to bring you down or take you away from what’s important in your life. You have to be aware of those and remind yourself what’s important and have accountability within that group.

You’ve played football all your life, and with guys there’s a lot of locker room talk. Is it difficult to only be a player on the field and not off the field?  
 Yeah, it’s difficult. That’s what I was kind of saying earlier about having accountability partners, cause conversations at lunch or in the locker room can go in directions that you don’t want to be a part of and that’s when you just got to walk away. It’s going to happen that’s just the way it is. I don’t want there to be a time where I leave a locker room and someone says, “Hey what do you know about Austin Johnson?” If I walk out of that room and they don’t know I’m a Christian then I failed that locker room! So, I want to make sure, because it’s important to me, that people know that. Now do they not talk about stuff because I’m in there? No! It’s a bunch of cocky guys that, you know, they talk about what they want to talk about. That kind of stuff is going to happen in locker rooms but I mean ultimately the whole locker room in general is a mix group of good guys and a bunch of guys that are curious, the guys that aren’t Christians. There’s probably more Christians on the team then you would think. It’s just a chance for the guys who are Christian, to spread the gospel and bring the curious ones to bible studies and just kind of work in their lives.

So how do you handle temptations and opportunities that you’re faced with that could compromise your beliefs?                                          Having accountability partners, staying in the word, and walking away. Obviously, we’re all sinners and we all fall short. I just try to make sure I’m doing everything I can to make sure that I’m living the way the Lord has called me to live. By living out the path He has out for me and not my own selfish desires.

What are some of your Christian values and beliefs?                              Basically Galatians 2:20, (HCSB) “And I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body,[a] I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” That’s kind of my Christian values. I think that’s the most important thing. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe He died for my sins.

How do you and other Christian football players help each other stay true to your Christian values?                                                                          Loving on each other, getting to know each other, and spending time together. A lot of my buddies in the NFL are married with kids, so I go and spend time with their kids and show them that I care for them. I think that holding each other accountable is definitely an important thing.

Recently you were released, so what does that mean for your career?    What’s next for you?                                                                                 Yeah, I got fired! That’s what it means. I’m a free agent right now, so technically I’m unemployed and looking for another team to call. Any team can call me now and sign me to their team. So, I just wait by my phone and hopefully I get called. If I don’t, then looks like I got to move on. Yeah, it’s not a good thing.

How has your faith impacted how you’ve handled being released? What do you do in the meantime?                                                                    Yeah, it’s tough. When you get released its very tough because when you’re released after a few weeks you kind of start wondering what’s next.  You’re definitely tested because like I said earlier, it kind of shows you how you’re making this an idol. When that’s something I try not to do. So, I just try to keep my mind busy and just know that the suffering, if you want to call it suffering, I mean it’s not legitimately suffering. I know people are suffering a lot more than that, but the hardships I’m going through currently, is for a reason. I’m not supposed to be in Tampa right at this moment. Now if I go back there I will get immediately plugged back in and do what I have to do no matter where I go. But the Lord doesn’t see that for me right now. He wants me to be here and that’s given me time to spend with my family, with my grandma who is 90 and she’s been in the hospital every month. I’m getting to be at home and spend time with her and who knows if that’s the reason. Even if I played another 5 years after this moment. Would I look back ten years from now and be able to say, that I now know the Lord had released me specifically at that time so I could spend those couple months with my grandma. You just got to keep the faith and know that it’s for a reason. You were talking about values earlier and that’s one of the biggest things I preach to people is that everything happens for a reason. I truly believe that and I’ll stand by it forever.

Regarding relationships with the opposite sex, do you set boundaries within those relationships that reflect your values?         Do I set boundaries, yeah! If she doesn’t know who I am and I don’t know who she is I’ll ask the questions like, “So do you believe?”, “Are you a Christian”, or I’ll ask, “Do you believe Jesus died for your sins?” I’ll be blunt about that and once that conversation gets going there’s obviously things said and discussed based off that. I wouldn’t date someone that wasn’t a believer. I think that’s extremely important in a relationship. My thing with relationships is that I definitely want to get married one day and I want to have kids and I want to do all that, I mean I’m getting older. Through out my career, I’ve asked God why haven’t I found the person to share my life with! For a while, I thought maybe it was because I wasn’t strong enough. I thought maybe I’d be too weak, you know, or I’d fail her or whatever that might be. During my career, I was solid to the Saints for four years, I didn’t get cut really that much. Then like these past two years I’ve been kind of cut and signed back on a bunch of teams, been living in and out of my suitcase.  I just realized if I was married with kids right now it would not be a good time. They would have been through a lot with me going through selfish problems that I go through with being cut and trying to find my way in this league. With being signed back, then getting cut, moving to Tampa, and then moving back home. You know, I had a bunch of work outs last year and I was kind of like flying all around and it’s just not a steady family life. I would have felt terrible and maybe would have had to retire because I wouldn’t have wanted to put them through that.

 As a Christian man what are some things you look for or desire in relationships with the opposite sex, in a future wife?  
I think God puts certain people, in our lives. Whenever I meet certain people or I’m in a relationship or dating someone I look for someone who is a Christian, solid in her faith, she’s independent, she’s family oriented, that’s she’s just a graceful, and loving person. I want someone that challenges me. I want someone that makes me a better person and makes me want to be a better person and I want to be able to challenge her. And make her want to be a better person. So, I think those are huge qualities in a relationship and something that I definitely look for.

How pivotal is your faith within relationships and overall in life?        Number one.

As a Christian what advice would you give other athletes regarding the pressures, rejection, disappointments, and temptations they may face?                                                                                            
I mean the biggest piece of advice I’m going to give is you’re going to fail, you’re going to get rejected, and someone’s going to tell you you’re not good enough and that’s fine. At that moment in your life you have a choice to make, you can either accept that and go move on to something else in your life or say ok. Keep trying, keep pushing forward, and know that the Lord is leading you in that direction, if He wants you to do that. I’m not going to lie to you, I’m not the best athlete or the best football player in the world. The Lord knew what He was doing. He put me in the right situations and He has given me a platform to share that faith and that’s what I try to do. So, I would just tell them to keep pushing on and don’t give up! You don’t know when you’re going to have that break through or when the Lord’s going to push you through a moment. Whenever I talk to schools I bring a picture and its of two guys hammering rocks. There’s one guy that looks like he’s hammering the rocks really hard and the other guy you see him walking away because he was done hammering but what both of them don’t know is that when they knock down those rocks, there’s gold. So, I tell people to, “Keep hammering because you don’t know when you’re going to get a break through or when that golds going to come.  But, I promise you, if your living your life the right way and you’re a Christian and you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. He is leading you the way you should go!”

**UPDATE: In the time since our interview, I was able to catch up with Austin and he informed me that he has been  re-signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, joining them for the rest of the season. This answer to prayer solidifies the message that Austin shared in the interview, always trust God and never give up. In Austin’s own words he said, “God knows what He’s doing. Patience and faith!”  

We wish Austin a safe and successful football season. Go Bucs!!

 

 

 

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