FINDING GOD IN THE HOLLYWOOD HILLS

The past year has been such an incredible whirlwind. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what God had in store for me. I went from almost throwing in the towel on my life’s biggest dream to turning it around for the betterment of the Kingdom. God showed me that anything is possible, as long as you set out to do it for Him. I touched on my testimony in an earlier blog {1000 words} but I wanted to share with you all what this past year has been like for me and how God has started me on what’s turning out to be an incredible journey…
Back in September of 2013, I had just returned from visiting some of my favorite friends in Charleston, SC. I had been doing some TV and commercial work in the surrounding Baltimore area, but I wasn’t satisfied with the type of work I’d been getting, so I had decided to give up on my lifelong dream of acting because it wasn’t going my way. As I was driving home from the airport, I heard an ad on the Christian radio station {which I didn’t normally listen to} for an audition with an organization called AMTC (Actors Models and Talent for Christ). Normally, ads like this would have had red flags all over them, but I felt something different about this particular commercial, something I couldn’t describe. The ad stated that they were having auditions in Baltimore that coming Saturday. After prayer and talking it over with Morgan, I decided to give it a shot.
I showed up at the Baltimore Convention Center that Saturday along with about 400 other people. I kept trying to force uneasiness on the situation because that’s what I thought I should have been feeling, but there was a weird sense of peace about it as the day went on. The audition began with an hour-long introduction of what AMTC was about, which ended up confirming for me that I was in the right place. AMTC’s mission is to bring light into the entertainment industry by training Christian actors, models, singers, dancers, comedians, musicians, etc. to enter the industry as not just talent, but as missionaries. They explained that they would teach you not only how to polish your craft, but they give you the tools to use it for the Lord’s glory in the midst of such a dark industry.
Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
Psalm 94:16

By the end of the introduction, my heart was racing, but God didn’t let the excitement end there…

As I approached the coach for my audition, I didn’t even get my name out before he said something so amazing and incredibly reassuring. He said, “I don’t know your name or how you found out about AMTC, but the Lord pointed you out to me as I was speaking, and amazing things are coming your way. You are in the right place.”
What..
Me?
Needless to say, I fought back tears through my entire audition and couldn’t stop shaking before I could get back to Morgan and tell him what had just happened to me. We both agreed this was no coincidence that I had shown up that day. The next morning I got a phone call from that same coach telling me I had a callback and was to come back to the Convention Center to sign the papers. Morgan came along as well. We asked all the questions we had and decided this was something I needed to do.
Over the next four months, I continued to train with AMTC and audition in the Baltimore/DC/Philly area. Our AMTC training took place in northern NJ, just over the bridge from NYC. My first day there, I met so many talented people with such a strong love for the Lord. It was amazing. Usually in a setting with this many ‘artists’, it tends to be a little overwhelming and intimidating–not at AMTC. There was not a competitive spirit to be found. Everyone was so loving and encouraging, and the coaches were incredibly helpful. I felt at home right away; however, I was to discover later that the enemy also had an agenda amongst all of this..
The CEO of AMTC, Carey Lewis, emails us daily devotionals. These devotionals have been my lifeline through this process. She applies Biblical concepts to our mission as entertainers and reminds us constantly that our work is for the Lord, not for ourselves. Fame and fortune are temporary, but our work for Him is eternal, and in an industry like this one, the devil holds true to his calling and prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

As I progressed in my training and got closer to Shine (the event put on by AMTC in Orlando, FL, where we perform in showcases for agents and casting directors from all over the country), I could feel constant attacks from the devil. Some days I questioned why I agreed to go through with the process and doubted that it was really from God. The enemy convinced me that I would get lost in the shuffle of the event and that no real success would come of it. But even though I was buried in self-doubt at times, the Lord sent me constant reminders that this was His plan for me and that by remaining patient and faithful, there would be no room left for failure.The first day at Shine, I had my photo shoot and was able to work with a few coaches on my song and monologue. Everyone there was so happy and inspiring; I met a ton of new friends right off the bat. The days grew long and exhausting, but the atmosphere was wonderful. I didn’t grow tired of being there at all. At least, that is, until I started feeling the enemy again..

The Bible warns us what Satan is capable of. He comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), and he was not about to make this journey easy for me. Finally realizing that I could fulfill my life’s passion WHILE serving God??? Nope, not cool with him.

After the first two days of Pre-Shine rehearsals, the agents and casting directors showed up to watch all 800 of us in our many showcases. Something else that showed up just in time for me was a fever, a sore throat, a cough, and a lot more self-doubt. How are you going to get through these showcases while you’re so sick? The song you picked is all wrong, your monologue is stupid, your clothes are ugly… Everyone else here is better than you. None of the agents and casting directors are even going to notice you, you should just go home. You’re only going to embarrass yourself up there. Plus, you’re not really in this for God. You just want to get famous. Isn’t that what this is all about? It was unbearable, not just physically, but mentally as well. I can remember going back to my room each night and crying myself to sleep because the feeling of uncertainty in this process was too overwhelming for me to handle. I was terrified of being alone in my hotel room knowing how challenging the next day was going to be. However, I had made a promise to myself that for those 9 days, I had to answer YES to every opportunity presented to me, and thank God I did.

The days went on and the sickness began to subside. Every time I felt the enemy’s fiery darts, I turned to the Lord, for the Bible tells us to take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). So take up the shield of faith I did! I prayed more that week than I probably have in my entire life, and the relationship I developed with Him those days in Orlando became indescribable. I had never felt the Lord’s presence like this, nor had I known Him this intimately before. And by being faithful in my YES attitude, things started to happen..

My first YES was to pay for extra pictures during my photo shoot. At first I wasn’t sure it would be worth the money, but the set of pictures I ended up adding on turned out to be my best ones taken that day. My second YES was to take part in the flash mob. The practices usually ran from about 9-11 pm, which made having to wake up at 5:30 pretty rough. However, I met a lot more people through that commitment, some of which I was able to turn to throughout the week when I wasn’t feeling well. My third YES was to attend every seminar possible instead of sneaking up to my room for a mid afternoon nap. These seminars were incredible; they were given by people working in the entertainment industry, as well as, some of AMTC’s past successes. We heard their stories, got great advice, and were shown how things are done in this line of work– information I would have never received had I skipped out. My fourth YES was to add on the Improv showcase last minute. I should have been finished with showcases for the week, but I felt the Lord pushing me to enter into one more category. This resulted in extra exposure to the agents and casting directors. They got to see my fun side, and I was able to prove that I could be quick on my feet. My fifth YES was attending auditions that the New York Film Academy was holding for partial scholarships. I had to perform two different monologues, one comedic and one dramatic. I left not really knowing how well it had gone, but glad that I got a little bit more auditioning practice in.The last day there was when we got to interview with the agents and casting directors that had watched us all week long. I ended up getting seven callbacks, which was the most callbacks you could receive that allowed you to attend the flash interviews as well {long story short, God had my back yet again}. The callbacks and interviews went really well, and I walked away with some amazing contacts {that I indeed used later on}.

Later that night came the awards ceremony. I was not only excited for the banquet itself, but Morgan was able to fly in and be a part of it. The week without him being there was challenging, and it felt so good to have him there to share my last night at Shine and meet the friends I had made. As we began the dinner, they started the awards. I had told myself not to expect much. Being 1 out of about 800, it was going to be tough to come home with anything, and the callbacks I had received earlier that day were more than enough. Well, first, my name was called for being granted the partial scholarship for the NYFA. Holy cow! I was so excited to get to go up on stage and accept that, that I didn’t hear my name called for the second award.. I was a finalist in the singing category! I was shocked because the night I had to sing was the night I was the most ill– and the most insecure. Then, I was called up for being a finalist in the lifestyle modeling category, a showcase I entered just because I thought it would be fun. I was so wrapped up in those three awards that I didn’t hear my name called for the fourth and final category: acting. Morgan looks at me and says, “They just called your name again but I don’t know what it was for.” I ran up on stage to accept my fourth award. While standing up there alongside the other finalists in that category, they go to announce Best Overall Female Adult Actress, and the name that follows is Lauren Cox.

WHAT?? Do you mean to tell me that of ALL the people in that room and after ALL the turmoil the enemy had put me through, I was awarded Best Female Adult Actress?? I was stunned. God is so good. We can sit here all we want and try to convince ourselves we aren’t worthy or good enough for Him to use us, and all He does is prove us wrong. Think about the circumstances of your call brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position. But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:26-27). The Lord showed me that what He thinks of me is greater than what I think of myself. I can’t let the devil convince me I’m useless because God has a profound plan for me.

After Shine, we zipped back up to Baltimore, packed up our things, and drove home to Memphis for the offseason. I kept in touch with the contacts I had made in Orlando, sure that I’d get work while I had all this free time on my hands. Little did I know, acting for me would be idle for a while. At first I was really frustrated that I wasn’t getting calls for auditions. Lord, why put me through AMTC and allow me to be so successful just for me to come home and sit around without any calls? I was so irritated and again started to doubt. Then I remembered what God uses time for: trust. But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things surely will come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day! (Habakkuk 2:3Quiet time gives opportunity to learn the will of God. He didn’t forget about me, He was giving me an opportunity to trust His timing.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter or purpose under heaven. 
Ecclesiastes 3:1

Throughout the offseason, I used this spare time to continue to grow closer to Him. AMTC taught us to show the Lord to those in Hollywood, but how could I do that if I didn’t have knowledge on what I was supposed to share? I began reading my Bible more, doing daily devotionals, and even started blogging {which brings you here now :) }. Through this study time, God began revealing new concepts to me, and I enjoyed learning more and more about the Word. One thing I took away was that you don’t truly know how devoted you are to God until you face a trial of faith. Knowing how tough LA was going to be for me, I began asking for God to test me in preparation for what was to come. Ask and it will be given to you (Luke 11:9), right? Well.. it was given to me.

In July, I went through a trial that I never want to relive again in my life. I was given a chance to stand firm in my faith, even though I was persecuted for it. Though at times the pain was unbearable, God surrounded me with brothers and sisters in Christ that got me through it. Even though I wish to never experience that again, I know that as a Christian entering the world of Hollywood, it is unavoidable. All I can do is trust that God will be with me.

He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Deuteronomy 31:6

Following weeks of preparation, it was finally time to head to the west coast and fulfill my lifelong dream of visiting LA! My first day in Hollywood was amazing. I was able to drive around and explore the city, audit a friend’s acting class, and later that night went to a rooftop BBQ in Hollywood. I was having so much fun.

After a few days of doing the touristy fun stuff, I started classes with the New York Film Academy. There were twelve of us in class together for the four weeks, only three of which were from the US. We got really close really fast, and it was such a blessing getting to explore the lives of people from other countries. I was so jealous of the places they had been and all the languages they spoke. We literally spent every minute of every day together, a time I will always cherish.

In class, we rehearsed scenes together, became familiar with how the industry worked, and learned different techniques to apply to our acting. We also had the opportunity to shoot a few short films at the Universal Studios lot, which was incredible. I couldn’t believe that after all this time, I was finally in LA, but the coaches at AMTC were right–trying to find other believers was like looking for a needle in a haystack. I had plenty of opportunities to share my faith, and those that I did speak with were fairly receptive. Even though I was the minority, God still placed people in my path that I could connect with on that spiritual level. My roommate was a wonderful lady I had met while at AMTC, and having her to go home to each day was so refreshing. I also met up with a friend from Orange County that I had met at AMTC and was able to visit a church with her. There, she introduced me to a few others living in LA that I could build relationships with. There was also a really incredible girl in my class from Brazil that was a believer, and we became friends over the course of the program. She spoke about God without hesitation, and her story was really inspiring.

The third week of class was the hardest for me. I had already been apart from Morgan for four weeks and still had two more to go. Classes and filming were getting intense, and I wore myself out trying to spend as much time with my new friends as I could. Again, in that time of stress and fatigue, I could feel the enemy trying his best to reach me. So, I turned to God. I set aside time with Him every day no matter how busy or tired I was, and every time I opened my Bible, I was shown exactly what I needed to get through that day. Isn’t that amazing? He promises us over and over again that He will be there for us, and He always is. Even in LA.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9

The time finally came to say by to my new best friends –no, my new family– and the beautiful city of LA. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to shedding a tear, or ten thousand, on my way out. I realized that I may never see some of these people again, and that tore me apart. I hate goodbyes. Literally. I’m the worst. I had a tremendously hard time leaving everyone from my class, instructors included. They all taught me so much, and I believe my life is better now because I know each of them. I think one thing the Lord is working on with me is realizing that I’m not constantly saying goodbye, it’s more like I’m meeting people throughout my life that add a piece of me I didn’t know I was waiting to discover. And that’s what these eleven wonderful people did. They showed me God even though they may not have known Him themselves.

My trip home was anything but pleasant. My first flight got held up, causing me to miss my connection home, and I stayed the night in Houston, TX. By the time I had left LA and arrived in Baltimore, I had spent 2 days flying, and 2 days driving. Woof. During my drive back to Baltimore, I was contemplating whether or not I would be able to find work in the area in order to keep up my resume for the following spring in LA {yes, I get to return!}. Once again, God proved to me that I was exactly where I needed to be when I needed to be there. On the drive home, I received an audition notification from one of the casting director’s I had done work for previously. I attended the audition my first day back. Two days later, I booked a local pilot that I began shooting the following week. Just more confirmation that this is all in the Lord’s hands.

Thy will be done…
Matthew 6:10

Thinking back on my time in Orlando for AMTC, I remember asking one of the AMTC grads if she had ever experienced the spiritual warfare I was feeling when she went through, and her response was, “If you’re feeling attack from the enemy then you’re in the right place. What do you think he’s trying to keep you from doing?” It’s funny, even when I started to feel alone and doubt if I was strong enough to do any of this, God gave me exactly what I needed when I needed it. His timing is perfect. His plan is perfect. He is perfect. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who has called us by His glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3). I truly believe that fulfilling God’s work comes as simple as asking Him for the knowledge of it. We just have to get out of our own way. Once we rid ourselves of all selfishness and offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1), the purpose He gives each of us will pour out of our daily lives.

 

God is everywhere. There is not a square inch of this earth that He isn’t touching and moving for His purpose and His glory. I used to look at other believers, jealous of what they claimed the Lord was doing in their life. For a long time, I was upset at the fact that I wasn’t overseas, living in a tent, ridding myself of all my worldly possessions. That’s what I thought Christian sacrifice was. I now know that there are many forms of sacrifice and many ways/ places to share the Gospel. Hollywood produces 90% of the world’s entertainment.. There is just as much urgency to spread the Good News there as any other place. There may be more temptations to deal with while working in a city like that, but I’m up for the challenge. I know that the Lord is willing to use me, and He’s willing to use you. You must simply ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7). The Lord has made a path for all of us. Remain faithful and be patient. The reward is great, and the trials that get you there are worth it.

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