Quiet Times

Break my heart for what breaks Yours!

Friends, I can’t even wait to tell you about what I just experienced.

Have you ever prayed, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks Yours?” Then, time goes on and you feel nothing? I have.

Today was different. Not only did the Lord break my heart for high school students in Reynoldsburg, I also have a renewed desire to share Jesus with the community. (In case you are a new reader to my blog- I lead Young Life in Reynoldsburg, Ohio!)

Last week, someone in the community reached out to my Young Life team, seeking volunteers for an event at the high school called Point Break. (Point Break is not associated with Young Life.) The program attempts to improve the behaviors, values and attitudes of high school students in their schools and communities, intervening before acts of hatred, violence or self-harm occur. Basically, kids sit around and share their feelings. As a result, relationships are forged and reconciliation begins. I really didn’t know what I was getting in to, but I agreed to volunteer.

On a side note, I am taking the easiest course-load of my life. I only have “real” class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Public Speaking (which I adore), Crisis Communication, Beer and Wine Tasting (online) and Chocolate Science make up my last semester at The Ohio State University. And yes, you read that correctly… I am taking a class about chocolate. Anyway, I have a lot of extra time on my hands; I knew the Lord could use this experience with Point Break to create relationships with kids.

And oh boy, did He.

I left campus at 7 a.m., nervous for the day ahead. I walked in to the school with the hope that I wouldn’t fall asleep during the presentations. After being mistaken for a high schooler three times, I found Matt (one of the guys in charge of the program). He explained my role was to join the high school students during the activities and lead a small group discussion. The students move through a variety of games (like Young Life Club games), small group discussions, teaching segments and times of personal reflection. It blew my mind what these kids shared.

I have never seen such obvious brokenness in my life. During the small group breakout session kids shared how they turned to drugs, alcohol, self-harm and bullying to numb the pain in their lives. Stories of murder, prison, rape, suicidal thoughts, death of family members, drug addictions and loss of  hope were shared during this time.

It took everything in me not to scream, “Y’ALL NEED JESUS!” Okay- so that may be a little bias…  but these kids need hope! They participated in an activity where students spread out on a “line” across the gym. The speaker would read a statement; if that applied to your life you were asked to “cross the line.” An example of this would be- “Cross the line if you have ever been a victim of cyber bullying.” The questions ranged from very serious to light-hearted. With every step a high schooler took, my heart broke a little more.

Here are some things I noticed:

1. Almost every girl crossed the line when asked if they feel they are not beautiful.

Do these girls know they are fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator? (Psalm 139:14) Most of them don’t; I can’t wait to tell them.

2. Almost every boy crossed the line when asked if they feel they are not masculine enough.

Do these boys know they don’t need to be strong on their own? They are made blameless and strong through the battle fought by Christ! (Ephesians 6:10)

3. More than 60 percent of kids crossed the line when asked if they are raised by a single parent/their parents are separated/they have never met one of their biological parents.

Do these kids know they have a loving Father in Heaven that will NEVER leave them? (Psalm 58:5-6)

4. The number of kids who were victims of sexual or domestic abuse was ASTOUNDING.

Do these students know they are meant for so much more in life?

The list could go on and on! I fell in love with these students today! I was so broken-hearted by what I heard that I actually sat, crying, in my car for about 30 minutes. Oh, how the Lord broke my heart for what breaks His. Finally, after a long prayer, I reached out to a friend who spoke Truth into my life. He reminded me that the world is full of broken people but their is great hope!

Students from my small group filled out this card at the end of the day!

Students from my small group filled out this card at the end of the day!

I feel incredibly blessed to pray for these kids. Would you care to join me?

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Quiet Times

Beloved, You Only Need Me

This morning, as I spent time with Jesus, the lyrics of a song caught my attention.

“Beloved, listen to me. Don’t believe all that you see. And don’t you ever let anyone tell you that there’s anything that you need but me.” (Source)

2013 was a year marked with many changes in my life. I started my senior year of college at The Ohio State University. After dating the same guy for 3.5 years, we broke up. I began the last days of living in the Treehouse (A Young Life house) with my eight beautiful housemates.

Treehouse Girls

Treehouse Girls: Some of my crazy roommates!

My father stopped drinking (GO DAD!). I started working with The PRactice as an Account Associate in public relations. I turned 21 and discovered the good ole’ Bier Stube. After three years, I stopped nannying the two most precious boys when their family moved. I started dating again. I discovered what true friendship and accountability mean. I started this blog. I watched my parents rediscover love. I met some great new friends. And finally, I fell in love with My Lord all over again.

I have spent the last few days reminiscing about 2013, coming to a single conclusion. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. 

In Mark 4, Jesus takes the disciples (his close friends) on a boat to escape the crowds that had been following him. Sometime during their trip a storm begins to threaten the lives of the disciples and shipwreck their boat. In an instant, Jesus calms the storm and saves his friends. Last year my parents threatened divorce, but the Lord answered prayers; they are learning to love  again. Today I am reminded that Christ fulfills his promises. I believe that Jesus was the same when he calmed the storm 2,000 years ago. I believe that Jesus was the same in 2013, when he calmed the storms in my life. I believe that Jesus is the same today. And, I am confident that Jesus will remain the same tomorrow and forever.

In 2014 I am looking forward to: cruising the caribbean with my friends, graduating from college, finding a job, moving to a new place, falling in love (maybe I already have!), discovering new places, trying new drinks, meeting new friends, keeping old friends, speaking Italian, sharing Jesus with my family, continuing to lead Young Life and growing closer with my Savior.

He calls me His Beloved; He really is all that I need.

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A Life of Communication

Inspired by Coty: A Whole New World

Last week, I attended OCALICON 2013. Boy, was I out of place. The conference is a national conference and exhibition on autism, assistive technology and low-incidence disabilities (including visual impairments, hearing impairments and more). I know next to nothing about autism. I was asked to attend the conference as a PR representative from the PRactice. The PRactice is a student-run public relations firm at The Ohio State University. I am an Account Associate at the firm. My job was to attend two guest speakers at the conference, writing blog posts for OCALI. A large group of students were also responsible for drafting tweets for Ohio Autism account.

This was my first “big girl” PR event. I dressed up, put on a smile and boarded the COTA bus to the Convention Center in downtown Columbus, Ohio.

I was surprised how much I learned in six short hours. More importantly, my eyes were opened to a world that I had never experienced. I love when the Lord blesses me with cool opportunities like this.

Here is one of the blog posts I wrote for OCALI. This experience was too amazing not to share.

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“Look at me now,” said Coty Marks, 22 year-old college student on the autism spectrum. “I enjoy long walks on the beach, playing video games and drinking with friends.”

On Nov. 20, Coty gave his first presentation to a group of 25 curious spectators at OCALICON 2013. With confidence, Coty told us his story.

Coty Marks

Coty Marks presenting at OCALICON 2013

Autism, according to Webster, is a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.

At a young age, Coty was placed on the autism spectrum. He was originally diagnosed as “severely retarded,” unable to verbally communicate to those around him. After hours of one-on-one attention, Coty spoke his first sentence at the age of 13.

His mother, Judy Marks was moved to tears. After years of IEPs and struggling to hear “I love you” from her only son, they had finally made progress. Judy remarked that Coty has spent more than 10,936 hours (and counting) working on communication and integrating into society.

For Coty, and many others on the autism spectrum, the key to successful communication is asking specific questions. His mother noted asking, “how was your day at school?” never elicited a response. Instead, she asked Coty what he did at school while eating pizza with his friends at lunch, would more likely get an answer.

From that moment on, Coty began to make remarkable improvements. His mother fought for Coty, attempting to give him the quality of life he deserved.

“You can’t really outgrow your disability,” said Coty, “you learn to adapt.”

Adapting is the hardest part of living with autism. From learning hidden curriculums in school to driving a car, Coty was determined to make improvements. In college, the hidden curriculum includes things like: what happens when I skip class, what is appropriate public behavior, who you tell about your disability, etc.

After an extra two years of high school, working on social skills, Coty was ready for college. When he began the the extra two years, he started at a new school. He attributed much of his success to this “fresh start.”

“The hardest part of living with autism is making friends,” said Coty.

With the ability to begin at a new school Coty was able to tell who he trusted about his diagnosis. He was no longer bullied; making friends became much easier. His male mentor also played a big role in his transition process. This gave him the confidence to transition into college.

“Guys relate to guys,” said Coty. “We like to fist bump, flirt with girls and talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

In college, he studies computer science engineering. His mother attributes his success in college thus far to “backward planning.” This is when a student begins with a goal, then works backward to figure out how to reach the goal.

“We take one step at a time,” Judy said. “Right now, we are focused on graduation.”

Coty frequently has friends stay over, enjoying the companionship he has desired his entire life. When he graduates, Coty envisions himself owning a house and starting a family. He hopes he can continue to present his story, encouraging other students and families who are affected by autism.

I asked him what he would tell people if he was able to relay one message to the world. A big smile spread across his face.

“Never give up,” said Coty, “no matter what the cost.”

Check out OCALI’s website for the PowerPoint the Marks used for their presentation and more information on Coty and Judy.

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What do you think? Did Coty’s story inspire you?

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Quiet Times

I Know The Ultimate Healer

For about two months I have been living the “Need Talk” every day. For all you Young Life Leaders out there, you will understand this reference. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, let me explain. Young Life presents a series of talks to high schoolers every semester. The order of the talks usually go something like this: Introduction to Christianity, characteristics of Jesus, our need for Jesus, our Sin, what Jesus did on the cross, the resurrection and how to live life with our Savior.

The “Need Talk” outlines our need for a Savior. We tell students (and ourselves) that, because of The Fall, we have turned our backs on the Living God of the Universe. But, because we were created to be in a perfect relationship with God, we have this “God shaped hole” in our hearts that needs to be filled. As sinful human beings, we are constantly trying to fill this hole with things that satisfy our soul. For example, I am always looking for the affirmation from my friends and family. I want to get perfect grades and be the best Young Life Leader, in an attempt to feel filled and satisfied. Often times I even find myself turning to the desires of my heat that I know are not glorifying to the Lord. But these things do not last. They ALL rust, spoil or fade. Even the “good” things in life are only a temporary fix for a deeper problem. Its like seeing a million doctors, and only treating the symptoms- when we need to treat the disease. Jesus is the only one who is able to do that, and He did (on the Cross).

And thats is what my life has been like the last few months. I have been passing out, which is kind of comical if you are ever around. But it is also very scary. I have been seeing doctor after doctor, attempting to figure out what the problem is! After seeing a general practitioner, a neurologist and a cardiologist… they still aren’t sure what the real problem is. Unfortunately, I am unable to drive and I have to wear a heart rate monitor for a month. But, through all this I am learning to seek the Lord and His love first and foremost.

Sometimes, I am creative. I made a new journal! Oh Deer.

Sometimes, I am creative. I made a new journal! Oh Deer.

I am confident that Jesus has the ability to heal my physical needs. He is, in fact, the Creator of this world. One of my favorite passages in the bible is John 5. The passage tells a story about this giant pool, called Bethesda. It was believed that this pool had the power to heal people with sickness. People from all over the town would gather around the pool and wait for an angel to magically appear and stir the water. When the water was stirred, the first person to make it into the water would be healed. Too bad this wasn’t true. It reminds me of all the things that we run to in our lives that we believe will heal us.

A man who wished to be healed was waiting by the pool. He was paralyzed, unable to walk. Jesus strolls up, and asks the man, “Do you want to get well?” I can only imagine the man’s reaction. OF COURSE he wants to get well! He is paralyzed, aching for a cure. I am experiencing much less pain than this man and I can’t wait for this trial in my life to be over. The man responds to Jesus, telling him that he wants to get well but he can never make it to the pool when the water is stirred.

Jesus, being THE MAN that He is, tells the paraplegic to get up and walk. And believe it or not, HE DOES. The once paralyzed man can now walk. And just like that, Jesus has healed the man’s physical needs. But, what is even greater is that Jesus not only healed the man’s inability to walk, He also healed his soul.

I am even more confident that the Lord is using this time in my life to draw me near to Him. He may not heal my physical needs, but He will heal my soul.

I know the Ultimate Healer, do you?

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A Life of Communication

How Blogging Can Help YOU Succeed

Yesterday, a guest speaker presented in my COMM 3163 (Industry Research Methods) class. He was a representative from Fahlgren Mortine. He gave a presentation about his job, his research and offered a few helpful tips for students entering the work force.

One of the things he said really stuck with me. He told us that, as a communication professional, writing is a critical skill that employers look for. He specifically mentioned blogging as a way to stand out in a group of interviewees. This got me thinking, how can blogging truly help you succeed? And, perhaps even land you a job?

I read a great article on Start-Up Resources, outlining a few ways that blogging can seriously help your business. I also participated in a Twitter Chat last week, discussing successful blogging techniques. The Twitter Chat is under the hashtag #AskAngel. The premise of the chat is to ask Angelique (a professional in blogging, social media, marketing communications, etc.) anything. Some of the people involved in the chat offered some great insight on blogging! I pulled a few key takeaways from the author of the article on Start-Up, the Twitter Chat and came up with some of my own to compile this handy list of successful blogging techniques.

1. Add fresh, quality content to your blog on a regular basis. You can do this by writing posts, something that search engines love. This has the potential to move your post closer to the top of a Google search for example.

Plus, no one wants to read the same old blog posts over and over. Stay relevant.

2. That being said, make sure that links within your blog are also relevant. If you are posting a link to an article that was written more than a year ago, make sure you have a valid reason. In the age of constant communication, news becomes old very quickly.

3. Purchase the dot com! I have not done this, and I probably should. But alannatoney.com looks a ton more professional than alannatoney.wordpress.com

4. Stay consistent with the topics on your blog, but do not post the same thing over and over. If your blog is about communication in society and quiet times with Jesus (like mine), stick with that. Blogs that are all over the place tend to lose readers and subscribers. People want to read relevant content.

As you can see, staying relevant is a pretty important part of blogging.

5. Pay special attention to the picture that Facebook and other social media sites will pick up when you post a link to your blog. Thank you, Angelique, for pointing this out!

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Twitter Chat #AskAngel

6. Headlines are important. A professor in the communications department  at Ohio State pointed this out to me, prompting me to go back and change some of the headlines of my previous posts. Give your readers a sneak peek!

What do you think? What would you add to this list?

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A Life of Communication

Finally, a Brand That is About More Than Just Profits.

I am really excited to talk about this. I was watching the news this morning and an anchor mentioned the new TOMS Marketplace. I love my TOMS shoes, so the mention of the brand grabbed my attention immediately. This may be the best PR I have seen this year!

TOMS has launched this online marketplace to showcase other socially conscious brands. TOMS is famous for their buy-one-give-one line of shoes and sunglasses. The new online marketplace features other brands and companies who are using their products to benefit others. The idea of the marketplace is to provide a one-stop shop for consumers to purchase goods that benefit the world.

What is unique is that the TOMS Marketplace is NOT about TOMS. The website features many different products and brands. Each product that can be purchased by the consumer gives back to the world in a different way. For example, some brands support education, fight hunger or fund reforestation.

TOMS is represented by Turner PR. According to the website, the PR team was brought on to help the brand get recognition on a global scale. This new marketplace will bring a ton of press coverage to the brand! Its a sneaky way to get your brand talked about without a bunch of meaningless advertising that consumers don’t pay attention to.

As a PR student, I looked up TOMS press releases. Believe it or not, what we are learning in class in actually useful in the real world! Check out this public relations plan for TOMS. The plan even includes a SWOT analysis. The campaigns class I am taking is actually going to come in handy!

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Gray Canvas Toms

And yes, I LOVE my TOMS. I get mine from the children’s section, which saves me some money and they fit better!

What do you think? Is this new marketplace a genius plan for TOMS? Or, do you believe that it could hurt TOMS?

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A Life of Communication

What Happened to Thanksgiving?

Trick or treat! Wait, I meant happy holidays! But where did Thanksgiving go? It seems that every year Christmas seems to come a bit sooner than it did the year before.

We are already seeing the first holiday commercials, airing just days after Halloween has ended. Toys R Us has already released their expectations for best sellers this year. Christmas is still two months away!

Has advertising taken over and rid our world of the joy of Thanksgiving? What do you think?

Here is a great article from Relevant Magazine that gave me the idea to write this blog post. According to the Relevant writers, Americans spend more than $400 billion every year on Christmas. YIKES! This makes our job as PR professionals a little bit harder. How do we break through the clutter and represent our clients best?

Why is Christmas coming early this year? I almost forgot to register to vote this year. Perhaps this year seems to be more advertising heavy because there is not a presidential election. There are few ads about voting this season, leaving even more room for media planners to snatch up advertising space for the latest products this holiday season.

Maybe Thanksgiving is being forgotten because people are more concerned with Black Friday than spending time with their family. Some stores even open on Thanksgiving night! I was always surprised to see people camping outside of retail stores to get the latest gadgets for a somewhat discounted price. Good job marketers and PR, this is your dream come true! When I was in high school I worked at Best Buy for three years. That means I was scheduled to work on three Black Fridays. This is the closest I will ever get to “shopping” on this crazy day of the year. When I was a junior in high school, a family set up a tent outside the store THREE days before Thanksgiving. They even brought a grill and cooked a turkey right in the parking lot.

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Life of a Best Buy Employee on Black Friday

This is a picture of how I felt after Black Friday at Best Buy. And yes, I am hiding in a box trying to sleep. Little did you know that after I sold you a computer I hid behind the counter in a giant box.

Even though I study communications, advertising, public relations and how to gain the consumer’s attention… I am not willing to sacrifice time with my family to save some money. It’s no wonder that, as Americans, we skip over a holiday focused on thankfulness, and focus on a holiday that has become an unfortunate expression of wanting to purchase anything we can get our hands on!

Finally, I think that Christmas is coming early this year because there is a focus on low-income shoppers. Many stores are offering free lay-away and payment plans for the holiday season. This is a brilliant idea from the marketers all over the world.

What do you think? Have we forgotten about Thanksgiving?

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