MY SECRET TO LAUNCHING A THRIVING BUSINESS

It took me almost a decade to get the guts up to finally launch my own business. I had the honor of working under some of the most prestigious luxury fashion brands in New York, including Barney’s New York and Ermenegildo Zegna. I would often revel at the stories of the Founders, inspired at how these men and women built empires out of nothing. I would watch from the sidelines and daydream about what it would look and feel like to transform a vision to reality.

However, my fantasy bubble of starting a business quickly bursted as the fear snuck in. You know the kind. The crippling thoughts that keep us from the bold version of ourselves. What if the world thinks my idea is stupid? Why if no one cares? What is my business potentially failing means I am also a failure as a human being?? I found that each time the possibility of being an entrepreneur began to resurface in my heart, soon thereafter a spiral of doubt would send me crashing back to reality. I became timid and insecure towards anything and everything outside of my comfort zone.

Then I met Lea. Lea became a dear friend who I soon found out had the same heart and burden as me for the fight against human trafficking. In the same way I was an advocate for awareness in my local community, Lea was also a voice for the marginalized. Not only that, she had single handedly raised over one million dollars as a warrior for positive change! The very first night we met we spent hours discussing the problem at large, convinced that together we could do our part to lead a generation towards healing.

That first meeting with Lea was the seed that later grew the brand we have now. Before we founded Láro, we defined a problem and a space for change, convinced that no one one could answer the call in the unique way we were equipped to. Having recently moved to The Philippines, I had access to groups of talented indigenous artisans in need of support for their livelihood. Lea had grown an extensive network of women in Houston, Texas dedicated to her cause. Joining our passion to empower women to rise above trafficking and our love for fashion and style, Láro - a collaborative celebration of artisans - was born.

You see, wanting to start a business venture for the sake of starting something wasn’t enough. What finally gave me the push I needed was a calling much higher than personal profit and gain through success. It was the desire to inspire significance over success. John Maxwell explained it best when he said that significance is knowing your purpose and planting seeds that benefit the community around you, whether local or global.





Success is about looking inward; significance is about looking outward.





Success means affecting one lifetime; significance means touching multiple lifetimes long after you’re gone.





I am so humbled and proud to announce that Láro is in full swing since launching last summer. Lea and I are so thrilled to stand behind a cause we believe in; all of our handbag sales contribute to worldwide efforts to end human trafficking. I can tell you that owning your own business is a journey full of hills and valleys. I can also tell you that in the uncertain moments and difficult times, Lea and I anchor our hope in the reason why we are doing all this in the first place. And our mission to play a part in the revelation of women everywhere is the fuel that keeps us going.

So if you are reading this and have also been secretly daydreaming about what it would look and feel like to start your own business, I have one simple piece of advice for you. My secret for building a thriving business is to seek significance over success. Dig deep into your calling. Define the problem and the space for change. Find out how YOU can make a UNIQUE difference that no one else can. And know that failure (which is inevitable) can be used to teach you more about yourself if you let it. And most importantly, know that your worth is not defined by your circumstance. Whether goals are met or not, your value is an inherent and intrinsic gift from God that cannot and will never be taken away.

So in this moment, I encourage you to take a pen and paper and spend some time in reflection. Create some space for stillness and give a voice to the innermost dreams in your heart. And finally, pray and seek God’s guidance above all.

You can do it girl boss. I’ve got your back!

To shop our newest FALL WINTER 2018 collection live now, visit shoplaro.com!

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FINDING HOME IN MANILA

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As I am typing this blog post, I look out the window of my condo onto the busy C-5 in Manila and still can’t quite believe that this is my new home. It’s been almost 6 months since my husband Emeka and I made the biggest move of our lives. It feels like such a long time in this new city and somehow, simultaneously feels like just yesterday when we were living in New York City. As I reflect and ponder on all the happenings in the last few months, I can’t help but acknowledge a deep sense of belonging in my new environment. After some reflection, I realize it is the people God has placed in my life and my desire to see His worldwide restoration keeping me rooted in this season.

The seemingly random occurrences in which I meet people in this new country reminds me that we serve an intentional God. The other week, a talented photographer named Killian reached out to encourage me about my new artisanal handbag line, Láro. When she offered to take a few photos for my fall campaign, I was thrilled! As I browsed through her work, I was in awe of her special ability to tell stories through each photograph. I immediately knew the perfect place to tell my story and showcase the unique heritage and elegance of Manila: The City Club Makati.

The City Club Makati is three hectares of leisure, entertainment and business options in Makati’s central business district, offering its members over 50 activities to choose from. Housing nine specialty restaurants, you can choose from a variety of international cuisines. There’s Sakura (Japanese), Mark’s Prime Rib (Steak House), Salathip (Thai), A Taste of France (French), Hai Shin Lou (Chinese), Mykonos (Greek), Toscana Ristorante Italiano (Italian), Costa del Sol (Spanish) and Balesin Islander (Filipino).

Before meeting Killian at The City Club, I was super nervous as I respect and value her craft so much so that I could barely contain my excitement! But as soon as Killian walked through the door with a huge smile and we began sharing our own stories, my nerves dissipated, and I felt as though I had found a long-lost sister. Killian explained that she taken a leap of faith to come to The Philippines with a heart to seek redemption for women survivors of human trafficking- same as me! We also happened to move to Manila from the States for advocacy work around the same time. I still smile now thinking back on how God affirmed my heart and calling through my first conversation with Killian that day.

It was such an honor to shoot at The City Club because I feel that it is the perfect backdrop to tell my story; to share this eternal ache within me to travel the world, spreading the message of empowerment… beginning with Manila. Shooting in the various areas of City Club representing the world, from Costa del Sol to Toscana, truly made me feel like I got to journey the globe in one day! I left the photoshoot reinforced in my hopes for the future and genuinely believe that through Láro, we will begin to see a generational shift towards freedom from chains. Together with my Co-Founder Lea Bodie, we are claiming radical redemption for survivors of human trafficking in the years to come.

I am so excited to share with you all Láro’s photos from our current Fall Trend Report // 40% off September Friends and Family Promo (see below for our 7 Fall Look Faves!). A portion of all sales go towards reclaiming celebration in supporting our artisans and the fight against human trafficking. To join the movement, please visit shoplaro.com.

Photography by Killian Rose Photography

Special thanks to The City Club!

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REBUILDING AFTER SUPER TYPHOON MANGKHUT

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Last Wednesday, I sat across the table from my Assistant Ken at an Indian Restaurant in Manila. It’s his first time to try Indian food and I figured, introducing him to my favourite Chicken Tikka Masala would be a fine way to celebrate. In the short time I have been blessed to work with Ken, I continue to be in awe of the vigor and authentic passion in which he conducts all tasks- both big and small. Curious to get to know more about this excellent human being, I ask about his childhood.

He shared about his late hardworking papa, an engineer known and respected in his village for integrity. His eyes lit up as he spoke about his mama, a woman who warmed her whole home with the fire in her spirit. There was a humble pride in his voice as he shared about how his siblings had gone on to pursue their dreams. Ken recounted how he loves his small province of Bicol, and how as children he and his friends would run through the mountains full of imagination, painting a vivid world of possibilities with the nature around them.

In reflection of the super typhoon schedule to hit over the weekend, I asked Ken if he has ever experienced a mega storm firsthand. “All the time,” he answered. He went on to describe how the house in which he grew up was crafted with wood by a family friend. That every few months a storm would hit, forcing them to evacuate to his aunt’s home. And that on more occasions than he could count, following the storm, he would return to his home to find it shattered to the ground. There were times when it would take days to rebuild only for another storm to pass by soon after, destroying all they owned.

I found myself in a dissonance of emotions as I fought back tears listening to the tragedy in his story and simultaneously was perplexed at Ken’s countenance as he spoke. As I searched his eyes I found not fear, but rather, joy. I was bewildered as he even laughed recounting the constant process of rebuilding what was lost. Then in a sudden moment of clarity, I understood. Ken’s deep anchoring in storms was that his heart was set on that which could never be destroyed: His faith and His family.

I asked Ken a final question before parting ways that evening. “With a storm of this magnitude, what is the possibility that lives will be lost?” His eyes turned solemn and he responded quietly but with a certain sureness, “It is certain.” I then asked, “How will those who survive rebuild?” The hope lit his eyes up once more as he whispered, “They will find a way.”

It has been a week since that life changing conversation in that Indian Restaurant. Since then, Super Typhoon Mangkhut triggered a massive landslide in the country's north, destroying hundreds of homes. Typhoon Mangkhut, the planet’s most intense storm this year, battered the northern Philippines with the strength of a Category 5 hurricane. Rescue operations are underway in the Philippines as 49 people remain missing. 54 people have been confirmed dead so far as a result of the typhoon. Dozens of the dead and missing are believed to be miners who were trapped inside a building buried by a landslide in the mining town of Itogon, in Benghuet province.

One story by CNN shared an account about a 23-year old woman named Adelfa Lunato. On Sunday, Adelfa and her family arrived back at their tiny fishing village. The scene was startling. The modest house that she shared with her parents and grandmother was in pieces. The walls had crumbled and only the thin wooden frame remained. "It was so devastating to see that our house was destroyed," said Adelfa. "We were all crying. Seeing this damage for the first time, it was like losing our will to live. In our mind, how do we start again? What do we do? We know we have to be strong... but it is so painful to see what happened here."

I sit here safe and sound in my typhoon-proof apartment in Manila, overwhelmed with grief as I read through account after account of the resulting devastation of the storm. I feel helpless and angry for the families struggling and out of options. And then I remember Ken’s words: “They will find a way.” In that moment, hope replaces despair. I realize that even though this typhoon isn’t my fault, I have seen and heard of the destruction befalling the communities hit by the storm. And if there is one thing I know, it is that once you’ve seen and once you’ve heard, although it may not be your fault, it is your responsibility.

It is our responsibility to stand in the gap. To stand united with our brothers and sisters across the world who are hurting, desolate, and in desperate need for restoration. It is no longer enough for me to read another terrible headline on the news or on Facebook, feel awful for a short time, maybe share the link, but ultimately do nothing about it. Because now, when I think of the resilience of Ken and his family, it becomes personal.

And I pray that when you read this story it becomes personal for you too. Let’s stand together and follow the lead of Ken and his family. Yes, homes and lives have been destroyed. But anchored in the unshakeable glory and redemption to come, it is time to rebuild.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” Genesis 50:20



To help raise funds for canned goods, water, and other supplies needed to provide relief for the victims of Typhoon Mangkhut in Itogon, Benguet, please contribute to me and Ken’s GoFundMe Page here (any amount is so deeply appreciated!). A special thanks to Ms. Baby Amor of the PCEC - PhilRads for coordinating with us. We are so grateful in advance for all your support- please share with everyone you know!

Photo Credit: CNN and New York Times

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#BEEMPOWERED AT SM AURA

I left my corporate fashion job in New York City at the height of promise for my career. Everyone I knew thought I was crazy for leaving, and in fairness, rightly so. My decision simply didn’t make sense to common logic and yet, it was a choice I felt called to make.

You see, working for top luxury fashion brands had given me an exclusive glimpse at what really went on behind the scenes. The elusive editorial world that bustles behind the pages of Vogue. And while to the consumer, the surface looked effortlessly flawless, the core was anything but.

Not always, but sometimes (and I am finding that sometimes is enough to do damage), the fashion industry capitalizes on the insecurities of women. Why? The straight answer is that if you can get a woman to truly believe that her worth will be realized in buying an $800 pair of Manolo Blahniks, then she will buy it. Famous fashionista Carrie Bradshaw once said, “When I first moved to New York and I was totally broke, sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more.” I used to chuckle and nod at that sentiment as I too, sat in my Upper East Side apartment surrounded by too many expensive shoes eating Ramen noodles. Fast forward a few years and I don’t think it’s so cute anymore.

When a woman shops, we assume she’s purely seeking to purchase a top or dress, or whatever particle of clothing. Wrong. She is seeking to be Affirmed. Seen. Validated. Whether consciously or subconsciously, I am finding as I study and speak to women of all walks of life that this is true. The innate human desire is to be known and found to be beautiful. This is why the Art of Dress is so precious; it provides an intimate opportunity for a woman to convey her message to the world without even uttering a word.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to partner with SM Aura and other incredible brands here in Manila to stand as one unit sharing this message of empowerment. We recently had an event where I broke down how to logistically achieve empowered style and confidence, no matter what your budget or body type; it was about style for ALL! With my brand partners, we were able to educate and inspire a crowd of women longing to understand self-love in a world that often preaches that they are not enough. From topics like sharing your message, shopping on a budget, and dressing for your body to fun contests, activities, and giveaways that reinforced everyday techniques and takeaways, we covered it all!

And this is just the beginning. I am hopeful as I stand at the forefront a generation ready and excited for positive change. I left the corporate fashion industry not because I am through with fashion. No, no. It is for my love for style that I have chosen to make it my personal mission to reclaim the heart of the matter. Through my consultancy, speaking, and styling projects, my goal is to empower women to feel excited about getting dressed in the morning. To honor their body type instead of trying to fit into impossible standards and unrealistic expectations.

To be free to be themselves. Perfectly Imperfect. Fearfully and wonderfully made.

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A special THANK YOU to my amazing partners!

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For any booking inquiries, please contact Business Works: aguila.monica@businessworks.com.ph.

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GIRLS COMPARE. WOMEN EMPOWER.

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My husband and I had just relocated to Houston and I was feeling more homesick than ever for my beloved New York City. When Emeka suggested we go to a wine tasting party I figured it would be a great opportunity to get out and shake myself out of my New York-coma. Within five minutes of walking into the party, the lovely hostess introduced me to a stunning woman with bright eyes and fierce style named Lea Bodie. Little did I know this new acquaintance of mine would become my dear friend and business partner a year later. 

Over the night there was a safety about each other's presence that led us into vulnerably sharing our individual stories; from the joys and triumphs, to the tears and heartaches. Within moments of discovering that we both were survivors of abuse, it was as if an eternal bond fused us in the deepest understanding. That's the beautiful thing about the hearts of women. When we make the choice to lay down comparison and take up the tools of encouragement and love, we are then able to nurture and unveil the fullness of true beauty bestowed upon us by the Creator. That evening with Lea, I was reminded that where two are gathered in authenticity, home never feels too far away. 

In the past year, Lea and I continued to grow closer in the same way our husbands conveniently became best buds; fostering friendship over homecooked meals, dance parties in the kitchen, late night laughs and deep conversations until 4 o'clock in the morning. Even after my husband and I relocated to The Philippines, we kept in close touch with the Bodies, already planning our next family vacation. 

I could have never imagined that the seeds of longing to lead a generation in fighting against human trafficking within me would be a holy burden simultaneously growing in Lea's heart. After much prayer and much leading in The Spirit, Lea and I decided to join together the desire of our hearts to see women step into a revelation of their worth. The brainchild, or rather, heart child of this prayer is Láro

For the past few months, every effort on both our ends has been done in love with one mission in mind: to reclaim celebration for those who have been robbed of their joy. "Laro" in the Philippine native language means: to play. There is something that happens to those who have suffered abuse; a paralysis in your ability to laugh, to love...to play. Láro seeks to leverage fashion and our support of those longing for more to inspire light in the midst of darkness. Our mission is to empower women while advocating for underprivileged and marginalized communities around the world, specifically through supporting indigenous artisans and joining the fight against human trafficking. 

I recently spent a week with Lea in Houston, Texas officially launching our brand. In reflection, I still cannot believe the power and passion that has sprung forth, already impacting more than we could have ever hoped for in such a short amount of time. All because two women decided not to compare but rather, to EMPOWER one another. Even as I type this, Lea is off running our very first fashion show collaboration and is no doubt, giving every moment no less than her very best. I couldn't be more proud to call her not only parter, but above all, friend. 

I wish I could say that all my relationships with women are rooted in mutual respect, love, and genuine desire to see one another succeed. The idea that celebrating another woman's milestones somehow hinders your own growth and success is a lie from the pits of hell. And yet, how many of us women fall to this deceit, crippling the friendships around us? Ladies, may we always be the biggest advocates for one another, seeking to build and never to tear down. And may the solid foundation on which we band together be our unshakeable worth and identity in The One who created us unlike any other; fearfully and wonderfully made. Without rival may we rise; for we are stronger together. 

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To learn more about Láro, click here.

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Featuring: Láro

www.shoplaro.com

Instagram: @shop.laro

Facebook: ShopLaroHandbags

 

Photography: Debbie Porter Photography

MY STORY: RECLAIMING CELEBRATION AFTER ABUSE

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I was 17 years old when I became a victim of sexual assault by a boy whom I trusted. A boy who claimed to love me. I will never forget the gut-wrenching, soul-suffocating feeling that I still, 11 years later, somehow can't find the words to adequately describe. How do you begin to articulate a pain so unfathomable that the very breath that gives you life becomes an unbearable reminder of the innocence that was mercilessly stolen from you by a monster in the dark? You see, there is something mysterious that happens to the abused. For when you are used for a purpose in which you were never intended, you are left devoid of the desire to laugh, to enjoy... to celebrate.

And yet. Here I am. Breathing. Laughing. Enjoying. Celebrating. Living proof that what the enemy meant for evil, God used for good. Good in that I, in and through my process of redemption and healing, now have an authority unlike any other in the face of someone else in pain desperate to be heard. Because when a woman opens up to me for the first time about the bruises under her shirt and I look her in the eyes saying "I know", she knows without a shadow of a doubt that I do. And when she witnesses me rise above the very thing that should have killed me, she knows that she too, can not only heal, but THRIVE. 

This is the power of our testimony. It is the lifeblood that heals broken hearts and restores the lost to become found. And first and foremost, it is the miracle in the matchless Name of Jesus that is the solid rock on which I stand. 

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When I felt God's calling tug in my heart to The Philippines I never could have guessed the way he would grow my heart towards distressed communities suffering due to circumstances beyond their control. Slowly but surely my passion for anti-human trafficking awareness and adoration for the dying culture of artisanal craftsmanship developed into the collaborative celebration of artisanal handbags that is Láro

Together with my partner Lea Bodie, we are seeking to be problem solvers in a world that demands change. The problem is an underprivileged and marginalized society fallen under social injustice; particularly indigenous artisans lacking a sustainable livelihood and women affected by human trafficking in need of awareness and/or active rehabilitation. The Láro solution is a 3-point cycle of change designed to support artisanal communities, leverage fashion as a means to educate and empower consumers, and join the fight against human trafficking. We do this by hosting empowerment workshops to raise awareness for our advocacies as well as donate a portion of all sales towards the fight against human trafficking. To learn more about Láro, click here.

Our collection is lovingly handcrafted by local artisans and drenched in the rich heritage and legacy of The Philippines. Láro integrates traditional signature techniques of weaving, embroidery, and beadwork from various indigenous groups. We are launching an inspired collaboration with Adante Leyesa, a local designer and artisan from The Philippines. Each handbag is an exclusive, one-of-a-kind creation, made of local materials in partnership with indigenous artisans. We seek to celebrate the vibrant handiwork of the Ifugao basket weavers, the embroidery of the Abra Tribe of Luzon, and the beadwork of the Gawad Kalinga communities; sharing their vision with the global market. To be the first to shop the collection, click here

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Our deepest desire is that every woman who comes across our brand would leave inspired by a revelation of her worth. That those who have survived pain in their life would no longer be enslaved but rather, be set FREE in the face of unconditional grace. For the hurting to know that they are not alone and there is a love bigger than their pain. Láro is our homage to those who have been robbed of their sacred purity; it is our way of reminding them that it is not only their privilege but their right to reclaim celebration once again. 

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Featuring: Láro 

www.shoplaro.com

Instagram: @shop.laro

Facebook: ShopLaroHandbags

 

Photography: Japhet Arcedera

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE "FEARFULLY" MADE?

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Fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderfully, sure I get, but isn't fearfully supposed to carry a negative connotation? And if so, how could God use that word to describe me? 

Growing up as a pastor's daughter, I had the propensity of memorizing bible verses for the sake of, well to be honest, just memorizing them. But as I have gotten older and as Jesus has continued to pursue me closer to His heart, I have become more curious as to the deeper meaning in Scripture. 

And as an advocate for the empowerment of women, I found myself puzzled as I stumbled through one of the "classics".

Psalm 139:14

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

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Fearfully. It made me cringe for a moment as I remembered all the ex-loves of my life that were never really loves at all. The string of men in my past, all of whom I had loved fearfully. I recall not a single day going by without that lingering feeling of apprehension; nervous as to whether or not he would like me today or not. Whether he would hurt me today or not. Desperately picking petals off a dying flower. He loves me. He loves me not. 

I was desperate to understand why in the world God would use fearfully in relation to me. For too long I had skimmed past this word and onto the lighter sounding, nicer sounding words in the Bible. I had become so used to overlooking the difficult stuff in my past relationships that repression and progression had become my default. 

But as I delved deeper into the heart behind the word I feared, I became astounded by what I found. 

Just 18 days after conception, the baby’s heart starts beating. 

Arms and legs form from a strategically placed cluster of cells that grow into themselves over the course of the 9 months.

It only takes 3 weeks for the growing fetus to start developing a brain, from cognitive process to motor reflexes as well as how we feel, see, and perceive the world around us. 

Apparently babies cry with an accent! A research team at the University of Wurzburg found that within three months, babies are heavily influenced by environmental language while inside the womb.

During the developmental stage, babies have 50% more bones than adults!

Touch is the first sense to develop in the womb at 8 weeks of pregnancy. 

(Source: BabyGaga)

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Fearfully made is essentially this. Fearfully made means you see something that is so overwhelming that you say, "Whoever made this, should not be messed with. Whoever made this should be worshipped."

Fearfully made doesn't mean anxiety that something bad is about to happen but rather, a holy fear that we are in the Presence of One too magnanimous, too marvellous for words. 

In light of my love for fashion, I liken this to the kind of jaw dropping awe I experience each time I witness the wonder of garments created by Christian Dior. When I observe the intricate craftsmanship and handiwork in and through each design, I cannot help but praise the original genius behind it all.

Such is the case with the Original Genius and Designer behind the creation of ME. And YOU. I mean WOW. Stop for a moment and let that sink in for a moment. What would happen if in the face of all the lies that told us we weren't good enough, we remembered who our Creator is? How would our confidence rise if we could fully comprehend the loving intention woven into the fabric of our whole being?

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Friends, let me tell you how this profound truth would forever change us. We would be UNRIVALED in the glory of God's love for us. Gone would be the false spirit of comparison and envy. One of the greatest things I have learned is that God does not love us equally, for equal would mean that we are replaceable. No beloved, you and I are are loved (and created!) uniquely meaning a one-of-a-kind, a blueprint unlike any other. 

I pray that as you read this the words would coax you out of darkness and into His marvellous light. That when the world around you witnesses the glory manifested within you, wondering where you source your beauty, that you would humbly peel back the Designer label reading:

FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE. 

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Photography: Lyda Ham Photography

A MESSAGE TO ALL WOMEN: WHY COMPARISON IS KILLING YOUR FRIENDSHIPS

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The fastest way to kill something special is to compare it to something else. Why? Because God created each of us with a one-of-a-kind blueprint to thrive in His unique purpose. The original design is a world full of variety; a kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, and sizes. Just as my DNA is embedded with a very specific order of nucleotides containing the personality, skills, and likes/dislikes that make up who I am, so are you born with a framework unlike any other. 

The issue with comparison is that it teaches us to shrink away from celebrating diversity, instead pitting us against one another and ultimately the illusive standard of perfection. This is all the more true in today's #filtered society; we live in an Instagram and Snapchat world with countless filters at our fingertips. These days even the most high tech versions of photoshop are available at the click of a button, making it altogether easy to nip and tuck every pic taken before posting a faux-version of ourselves to the world.

Before I move on, let's define what this illusive standard looks like. Take the "perfect" woman, for example. Historically, we would oohh and ahhh at the flawless celebrities on our movie and television screens. Today, we need not go further than our social media accounts to fall into the trap of comparison 24 hours, 7 days a week. We scroll endlessly down a string of impeccably curated pictures of that babe on the beach sans cellulite, a sculpted gal in a sports bra nibbling on an açai bowl, and don't forget that kissing couple with the wind blowing her hair just right and yup, you guessed it... they are underneath the freaking Eiffel Tower.

Let's be honest here. I will be the first to admit that I have fallen into this comparison trap many a time, choosing to self loathe in my sweatpants with a gallon of ice cream (after a break up if we wanna get specific) while living vicariously through @ohhcouture at Coachella. #GOALS, am I right?! But is it really? The goal I mean? Is the climax of our existence to be confined to a tiny square photograph? Is #living actually living when we spend more time editing on our phones at the beach while missing the actual sunset?

We have to WAKE UP, LADIES. Seriously. Put down your phone for a sec (unless you are reading this blogpost then maybe finish it first!) and level with me. Because this endless rabbit hole of chasing perfection to keep up with the Jones's is not only exhausting the self-love right out of you, it is also killing your friendships. When you train your mind to constantly measure your worth against women on social media, that toxic mindset seamlessly translates into the reality of the relationships you make day to day. 

How many times have you recalled walking into a party and feeling the urge to immediately size yourself up against the other women in the room? (Crazy fact: The psychological reason women wear painful heels is to literally stand above the others in a crowd. Bonus crazy fact: Generally, women dress up to impress each other. Men are just a casualty.) I KNOW a sister is reading this right now and nodding her head YES profusely!

Listen to me: This jungle cat, girl-eat-girl behaviour HAS. GOT. TO. STOP. 

Let me break down the process of comparison for you. When you match yourself up against another girl you are already setting yourself up to fail because God has purposely handcrafted each of you in a distinct and extraordinary way. And when you fail to see this precious truth you begin to self-doubt which turns to self-loathing which ultimately turns to self-hate. And the tragedy of hate is then the inability to spread love to those around you. Because you CANNOT be a light in darkness if your candle is snuffed out.

Comparison is a cruel trick that says putting down another will somehow elevate you when in reality, all it does is leave you with a bitter seed of resentment in your heart.

What is the remedy for comparison? I believe the antidote is a revelation of your own worth. I am going to tell you something vital to reclaiming your joy. Are you ready? Okay here it is:

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

From the day you were born God looked at you and called you the apple of His eye, not because you earned anything of merit, but rather because you are fashioned by the very form of Love itself. You are a chosen woman, a royal priesthood, from a holy lineage, a special work of art. You are called out of the darkness of anxiety, fear, and insecurity and into the marvellous light that declares that you have always been and will always be undeniably and forever ENOUGH. 

Filled with enough empathy to be a comfort for those who mourn.

Filled with enough joy to bring uncontrollable laughter to those who haven't smiled in too long.

Filled with enough beauty to inspire radiance out of a self-conscious friend.

Filled with enough love to shatter hate in a broken world. 

Beloved, it is not only your privilege; it is your divine RIGHT to reclaim a revelation of your worth not tomorrow but TODAY. To free yourself from the chains of perfection and begin a humble celebration over yourself that lasts a lifetime. Only when you are empowered in your worth can you then encourage others to do the same. And girlfriend, there is no force equal to a group of women determined to rise together. Can I get an AMEN?!

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** Shoutout to the real-life WonderWomen pictured above. You are the light for generations to come. **

@karabianca // @kaitness // @asisalmonte // @onyiiandco // @lydahamphotography// @bossagurl // @debrarapoport // @capturedbymgl // @ellapangilinanx // @strutwithsusan // @thepeachcobbler // @clairecannon

 

WHAT IF THERE'S MORE?

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What if this is it? Is life just a meaningless string of events where you are lost in translation?

What if you're right? And flirting with danger would only last a night and leave you unharmed in the long run?

What if it's true? They say "everyone is doing it" anyway so what's one more statistic?

What if no one notices? Because if you feel this insignificant, you can't be accounted for anyway.

What if this is it?

These are a few lies that we believe. The secret thoughts we struggle with in the deep recesses of our souls. The mess we try to photoshop and filter away into picture perfect faux-lawlessness. We internalize and reason and debate with ourselves on a loop that seems endless. What if... what if...

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But what if there's more? What if each day is ordained for a specific purpose and your role is to play an irreplaceable role in an epic journey?

What if you're wrong? What if taking even a tiny step into that lair of darkness pulls you in faster and harder than you are equipped to handle?

What if it's false? What if the cheap promises lead to a dead-end and a broken heart? 

What if you are seen? By a God who crafted you fearfully and wonderfully in His image, with a greater plan and purpose for your life? 

What if there's more?

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Your life is far too precious to gamble on a guessing game that belittles your innate value. Each day is a gift not promised, with an opportunity to maximize JOY to its fullest potential. I find that often we are our own biggest enemy; that we are most unforgiving with the past and unrelenting in comparison with ourselves. I'll be the first to admit that I am simultaneously my biggest advocate AND biggest bully. 

This is why I have found that the art of commanding truth over lies is one of the most crucial tools in a fruitful and fulfilled life! That most often, it isn't actually my circumstances that need to change but rather, my mindset. So how does one begin to combat the inexplicable maze of self-doubt?

"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8)

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I find that a sure-fire way towards victory over the battlefield of the mind is focusing your entire being - heart, soul, and mind - only on that which edifies you. This is the checklist I run through during a personal "heart check" as I like to call it:

Is this true about what God says about me as chosen, special, royal, holy, and light-filled?

Does this act honor the woman of value I know I am?

Is this just and an example of fairness I can be proud of?

Are my actions a result of pure intentions and an honest heart?

Are these words lovely and contributing to an encouraging environment?

Is this step commendable in regards to the integrity and dignity I strive to uphold?

Does this thought contribute to the excellent character I desire to embody?

Even if I am alone, are these thoughts and actions praiseworthy?

Full disclaimer: I am by no means rattling off a  of self-righteous rules saying that if you miss a mark on this list then "shame on you!" If anything, let me go ahead and burst your worry bubble / give you relief in sharing the spoiler alert that you will 100% fail on checking off multiple items (more realistically every single item) on this list at one time or another. AND THAT'S OKAY. 

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The point is that raising your standard and  actively choosing to think on things that are empowering to heart, soul, and mind should always ADD to your confidence and never take away from your dignity. And in the many times I have been caught up in the what if's of life, measuring against whether or not my inherent value is reinforced and celebrated has proven to always be a wise idea. 

Why do I advocate in believing for more? Because life is not a string of random events and empty encounters; but rather a journey with a unique purpose to your existence. Because a revelation of your worth is worth fighting for and protecting.

Because not only is there so much more.

YOU, Beloved, are so much more.

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**All photography is owned by MEGA MAGAZINE per the January 2018 Spirit of Success Feature with Nika Diwa.

Sprit of Success by MEGA MAGAZINE // Written by Trina Epilepsia Boutain // Photography by Yukie Sarto of Studio 100

WELCOME HOME TO MANILA

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A month before our official move to the Philippines, I traveled to Manila to do a test run so to speak on how life would be like if we chose to relocate. If you had told me last year that transitioning my life across the world would be my reality, I would have laughed and brushed it off as a really great joke in light of my hard preference for comfort and stability. 

But God's ways are higher than our ways. And every single day of that test run proved to be one big affirmation that His will for us was to take the biggest leap of faith and trust that He would see us through. My last week in Manila, a friend invited me to a church called Favor. I hadn't even entered the building yet when I was greeted "Welcome home!" by a cheerful Australian named James who I would later find out was the Senior Pastor. 

The rest was history. Not only was the sermon about FAITH in action, but I was blessed to meet the most authentic and welcoming group of people. Barely even knowing me, they rallied in prayer over the next steps of my journey with Emeka, fully believing in the power of God to move and make miracles happen. I kept texting my husband the whole evening, blown away with excitement at God's orchestration of the best kind of comfort one could ask for: Himself.

You see, no matter where your road leads in life, there is no need to fear because home is not so much a place as much as it is His Presence. Although moving across the world felt like a trillion miles away, to God who spoke the entire Universe into existence, it is but a single step forward. No calling is too big for Him. And the only ticket required is a mustard seed of faith. 

"Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20)

I have a strong inkling that someone out there needed to read this today; to be encouraged that despite your circumstances, God is not only able but passionately eager to make a way for you. This doesn't mean that your journey won't be marked with its own unique challenges. But rest assured that God will affirm you every step of the way, revealing more of Himself in the intimate ways that speak most to your heart. For me, it was a group of friends I am thrilled to now call family. 

Last week, a group of us decided to plan a spontaneous canyoneering trip to Cebu! The day before, we rallied together to schedule the festivities from flight to accommodations to must-see attractions. Truly the ultimate YOLO! And by God's grace, everything fell together so seamlessly. And while watching the golden sunset on the beach and jumping off a 40 meter cliff (YUP. 40. Freaking. Meters. So much for comfort and stability, eh?) was exhilarating, I must say that nothing was more wonderful than the enriching and personal time spent together in community. 

Welcome home. Indeed I am. 

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**Special thanks to @KawasanFalls for the FUNventures and our new home @Favor.Church

Photography: @LizetteClaudio

MANILA'S BEST IN FASHION, BEAUTY AND FOOD: L'OREAL, FILA, AND MANILA POLO CLUB

As most of you know, Emeka and I officially moved to Manila last month to establish and grow our respective careers and begin a brand new adventure as newlyweds! When we boarded that plane on February 17th, I had no idea what to expect. In many ways, it felt very similar to my plane ride from Texas to New York City: full of expectation, a bit of fear, but most prominently, hope in that the best was yet to come.

And indeed, Manila has been all-around the BEST. Each day Emeka and I are astounded by the heart of The Philippines; each person we have been blessed to encounter has been a breath of fresh air and it is safe to say, we are ready to call this place Home. My desire is to transport you through these pages to join me in the journey of a lifetime as I highlight all things fashion, travel, and food in Manila. I’d like to start with a few of my favorite events last week. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

When I received an invite for the L’Oreal Wake Up in Paradise event, I was giddy with excitement. Back when I worked in buying for Barneys New York on 5th Avenue, we shared a building with the corporate headquarters of L’Oreal. I fondly remember sharing the elevator with the L’Oreal girls and noticing how confidently beautiful they were; I thought to myself, “Surely, this is a wonderful and empowering environment to work in!”

Upon reading the dress code was “chic resort wear”, I rushed into my closet to find my freshest dress of the season and chose a floral tassel earring with a cascading braid to finish off my look. I decided to keep my makeup to a minimum, secretly hoping to get a chance to try out the new mascara everyone was raving about!

Upon stepping off the elevator doors, I was greeted with a group of smiling ladies in silky pink robes and before I could ask where I could buy my own, to my pleasant surprise, not only was I handed a robe of my own, but pink bubbly champagne to match as well! (Talk about Insta-worthy right?!) The program, while short, was very sweet; L’Oreal experts introduced the Voluminous Lash Paradise mascara as a must-have in the beauty market. A few guests came forward to show off the long-lasting product. After trying it myself, I couldn’t believe how fresh the mascara had lasted through the heat and humidity! (Did I mention it’s waterproof?!)

For the rest of the evening, guests were welcome to an evening of pampering! You could get a massage of your choice out on the roof overlooking Metro Manila while sipping on a cocktail and/or choose an indoor makeover by a professional L’Oreal makeup artist! All this beauty goodness at your fingertips while munching on a Poké Poké Shoya bowl with hand crafted cotton candy for dessert. Beauty Heaven, am I right?! I never wanted the experience to end and made sure to snag my very own Voluminous Lash Paradise mascara to keep the beauty party going... you can grab your very own here too here!

Fast forward a few days and when Emeka and I recieved our invite to the 2018 Summer Polo Cup hosted by FILA X Manila Polo Club, we could hardly contain our excitement! In cooperation with Philippine Tatler, FILA would be showcasing their latest summer collection. One of the many things I love about my husband include his passion for refined style, so you can imagine how much fun we had choosing our "summer chic" outfits to honour the dress code. I chose a ruffled multi-coloured stripe maxi dress with statement earrings while Emeka chose a white ensemble with a light grey blazer, yellow pocket square, and alligator dress shoes to tie in the whole look. We had no idea what to expect but we had heard many times that Manila Polo Club was THE premier location in the area so we came dressed to impress!

Upon arrival, we were greeted with chilled cocktails and handed the newest addition of Philippine Tatler featuring fashion's finest: Kim Jones, Heart Evangelista, and Liz Uy; perfectly setting the tone of excellence for the evening. Soon after entering the main space showcasing the latest FILA collection, we spotted the ever-fabulous President and CEO of FILA Philippines, Cris Albert. Ms. Albert gracefully led the style parade wearing a white peplum dress with cascading florals. While there were many guests, I marvelled at her ability to still find the time to greet us with a genuine smile and welcoming hug.

A very accommodating server led us to a front table overlooking the polo game, offering us another round of cocktails. For the next hour I was amazed as I watched my very first polo game, the highlight being a 17 year old scoring the most points of the entire game! In between the program Tim Yap, premiere eventologist, and Tessa Vades, fashion icon and extraordinaire, seamlessly hosted the event. The lineup included a game on the field and finally a major giveaway to drive a Mazerati for a day! While enjoying the FILA-festivities, we were served beautiful hors d'oeuvres (my favourite was the wagyu sliders!). Once the award ceremony concluded, to our sheer joy, a giant truck in the middle of the field opened up to reveal a full reggae band called Chocolate Factory. 

As if that wasn't enough to entice a party, the servers began to parade onto the field with trays upon trays of main courses and desserts to a beat reminiscient of "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast (except in this case, only Beauties present!). On queue, my husband jumped up towards the feast (food is his love language!) and I swiftly followed with the intention of observing the Manila fashion scene. The first thing I noticed was the celebration of color (I would like to specifically call out "color-queen" Tessa Valdes in her opulent yellow ensemble for setting the standard for celebrating style!) . Pinks, yellows, reds, and greens lit up the whole space and perfectly complimented the laughter and fun-filled conversations. Secondly I appreciated the bold style choices from exaggerated ruffles to expertly curated combinations of prints. Finally, I was inspired by the confidence that exuded from the men and women alike. It reminded me once again that fashion, more than anything else, is indeed YOUR message to the world. Style can speak the contents of your heart and soul without a word! And just when we thought the soirée couldn't get any better, fireworks lit up the sky as we danced the rest of the night away. 

We have officially passed our first month in Manila and cannot believe how much we have fallen in love with this city in such a short amount of time! Oh am I ever so glad that I chose to push past fear in pursuit of the mission to empower all through beauty and style. The road towards excellence is by no means always easy and it is a sure guarantee that discomfort will meet you time and time again, BUT the confidence in the plan and purpose put before you is a light worth fixing your eyes (and hope!) upon. So if you are reading this and have a passion burning within you longing to burst into reality, I encourage you to let go and take the leap! I dare you to dream bigger. Remember: If you reach for the stars all you'll get are the stars. If you reach for the Heavens, you'll get the stars thrown in.

A special THANK YOU to L'Oreal, EON, FILA, Philippine Tatler, and Manila Polo Club for being such gracious and wonderful hosts! And disclaimer:  Nothing in this post in sponsored; just wanted to share genuine excitement for some amazing experiences!

 

Love + Light, Nika

 

Photo credit:

Jose Caculitan // Facebook // Website // Instagram: @jmcaculitan & @jmcaculitanphotography

Hoppie Polla // Website // Instagram: @hoppiepolla

WE ARE MOVING TO MANILA!!!

"Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters. Wherever you may call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander. That my faith would be made stronger. In the Presence of my Savior." -Oceans, Hillsong

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I officially broke up with Fear in 2017. Said goodbye to the crippling string of lies hindering me from taking the final leap and launching my business. You see, fear is nothing but stories we tell ourselves; often psyching ourselves out as we imagine a pain far more complex and greater than reality. I mean, can you imagine what you could and would accomplish if you said no to this imaginary monster?

The mission to empower through style has been in my heart for quite some time, and slowly but surely I was beginning to realize tangible channels to share that message. As a speaker. As a consultant. As a stylist. To leverage my valuable experience as a luxury fashion executive to stimulate positive change in the industry. To pivot mindsets one by one, elevating awareness and choice for self love that would like a ripple effect course through the generations to come.

It's a bizarre and incredible thing when a plan that has been in your heart for so long finally manifests into a tangible business. A service people not only like but actually passionately NEED. A wise mentor once told me that the best entrepreneurs excel not because they desire more power, more money. No; they are successful because this inexhaustible passion, an everlasting NEED to impact the world supersedes all reason. They see a problem and know without a shadow of a doubt that no one can solve it better than them.

When I heard this incredible advice, it hit me like a Voice from Heaven. I knew.. as deeply as I know I am saved by Grace, that this type of fierce conviction was as close to me as the very blood running through my veins. So began the process from building my business plan to the final launch of the Nika Diwa brand.

The Nika Diwa brand offers a three-tier service of speaking, consulting, and styling with an underlying mission to empower and inspire a revelation of worth.

It. Has. Been. WILD.

From booking my first clients, to growing new relationships and exploring collaborations and pivoting... I can tell you never is one day boring! A newfound patience and humility has also been birthed through the extreme trials and challenges I've faced getting this enterprise up and running. I've learned an insane amount in the last few months; one of the most important being learning how to set up boundaries to avoid exhaustion and burnout.

I am realizing that nothing of real, lasting value is achieved without resistance. Resistance from the enemy infiltrating your mind with lies, external logistics that block forward movement, and even friends who aren't able to celebrate and support this new transition. This season has been one of triumph laced with hardship, tears, and frustration. A holy command to let go of idols and unapologetically strive for the glory God created in me, that the world would see and know His Great Name.

And yet, the calling remains. And my ultimate response is to my Lord, my God; who called me out of darkness and into His marvelous Light. "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."‭‭ (Philippians‬ ‭3:12-14‬)

And with this, dear friends, comes my long awaited announcement. It is with all the joy in my bursting heart that I share with you my and Emeka's next step of our journey - and oooo-weee is it quite the leap! Beginning February we are officially hopping on a plane to Manila... for the foreseeable future. Oh my goodness as I type this I cannot believe it myself!!! If it were on my own volition, my fear would undoubtedly swallow me up and eat me alive. And yet, with His supreme Comfort and Presence establishing each step I take, I continue to move onward and upward. In His perfect strength and steadfast confidence. Thank you Jesus.

 

XOXO, N

 

Romper: SaraBoo // Earrings: Gorjana

HOW I PUSHED PAST FEAR AND ((FINALLY!)) LAUNCHED MY OWN BUSINESS

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I said goodbye to control and stability in 2016 when I left my corporate fashion job to pursue passion and purpose. Because life is too short to live in fear. I believe that at the root of all human anxiety, stress, and frustration is simply

fear. 


Dread over imaginary ghosts and bad guys; villains we have self-created to sabotage the glory God created within us. For as long as I could remember, creating extraordinary disruptions within ordinary moments was the unseen electricity behind my motivation and drive.

To be outrageously different.

Perhaps this outside of the box mentality was the reason I got on that plane to New York City with nothing more, nothing less than a dwindling bank account, a worn-out suitcase, and most importantly a calling in my heart for more.

It was that same calling, the pulsating da-dum-da-dum in my veins, that pushed me over the ledge of fear and into the great chasm of the Unknown. I, a creature of habit and comfort, finally put in my two-week notice after years of negotiating against my own self-doubt. My goal was a tiny but nonetheless vivid light leading me towards my mission: to empower through beauty and style.

In my years of experience as an executive for leading luxury fashion companies, I could no longer ignore the blatant disorder and chaos resulting in a convoluted string of lies damaging the truth of self worth for men and women everywhere, all ages alike. 

I began by writing my first series in empowerment called The Theology of Fashion, with a heart set on dissecting, uncovering, and reclaiming the redemptive message of God’s love and relentless pursuit towards us in and through the beauty and fashion industries. My goal became to help inspire a revelation of worth; to release the value inherently created within each and every being, regardless of past, body type, or status. 

Thus began my journey to challenge those at a top level in the beauty and fashion industries to be the change makers impacting a complete shift and breaking ground towards a more positive future founded in love and empowerment. 

Almost simultaneously throughout my one year process of building my business plan came a familiar voice of darkness, mocking my desire for more. “You small, stupid girl,” it said, “What makes you think you are qualified to create an empire based on nothing more than a notion to make people feel good? What is empowerment and worth but an attempt to write happy songs and movies? But to create a business?! You went to school and excelled in a career of buying and merchandising under the best leaders in your industry. Don’t be wasteful of your resources. Stick to what you know.” 

Every time this dark voice whispered, the foggy cloud of fear blurred my vision. Sometimes only for a brief moment of confusion; sometimes for long, drawn out moments of deep despair.  And yet, a Voice louder and brighter than even the bleakest lies had already decided victory over my future long before I was born. And His Name was Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. Jesus. 

And when the Voice told fear to flee it crumbled back into the earth like a worm without a home. Day by day, second by second, the still, Small Whisper continued to lead me towards more.

More joy,

more fruition,

more of Him.

Slowly but surely, He drew me out of the darkness fear had created around me, coaxing me into His marvelous light and into my destiny. What would happen next would leave me forever changed...

To be continued...

((Stay tuned for next week's post. I am FINALLY announcing some pretty major news and I want you to be the first to know!))

 

With Love + Light,

Nika
 

Featuring Nha Khanh

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE GETTING MARRIED

Emeka and I are officially over our first year of marriage and boy ohh boy have we learned a heck of a lot! Prior to tying the knot, I honestly had no idea how challenging the actual trenches, meaning day to day life, with another person would turn out to be. It is so easy to get blinded by the fog that is love at first sight during the dating phase, and forget the crucial fundamentals that sustain a relationship for the long haul. 

After much discussion and reflection, Emeka and I have a few crucial points that we strongly believe must be on every couple's checklist, especially if marriage is in sight. Under God's design for marriage, my husband and I are committed to nurturing our union come what may;  in sickness and in health, til death do us part. We are talking unconditional and relentless pursuit; the kind where you see one another to the depths (ugly past, bad habits and all) and yet love to the skies. 

Therefore, taking the careful and intentional steps in assessing realistic compatibility is so crucial between two people seeking marriage. Slowing down and thinking long term is a necessary way to love your partner well. After all, I think we can all agree that the last thing we want is to end up 50 years down the road deciding divorce is the only solution. 

We pray that after watching this video you are encouraged to take seriously the heart of the one you choose for life. That through our short but meaningful experience as newlyweds, you are inspired to love deeply and care seriously. Ultimately, we hope that your own relationship would illuminate such profound resilience and authenticity, drawing  countless souls to the perfect and ever glorious ultimate love in Christ.

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JUST REMEMBER: YOU'RE NOT MY EX

"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind." -C.S. Lewis

Up until meeting my husband, I had been enslaved in a mindset of disordered love resulting from a string of abusive relationships starting from my early teens. I immediately assumed Emeka's kindness was an act; half expecting the monster to reveal his true form and half hoping to God to be proven wrong. On our honeymoon I found myself overcome with an inexplicable fear, realizing I had grown calloused over the years and incapable of receiving love in it's truest form.

My love for my husband ran deep but my propensity for walls of self-protection and weapons to guard my battered heart paralyzed me beyond reason. But like a fearless warrior he broke down each wall; dismantling each stubborn brick and exposing the lie that it was. He called out the darkness in me and spoke out light. He rebuked the weakness in me and spoke out strength. And I will never forget the fragile moment when my husband leaned in to surround me with his arms like a blazing fortification of protection. Through muffled tears and a desperate heart his words pierced a truth so potent to my painful past:

"I am not your ex."

By the grace of God, my marriage continues to stoke a deep desire within me and Emeka to love a little more like Jesus each day. To forgive quickly and claim salvation honestly. We remain resolved, for better or for worse, to stand in the promises of the newness in Christ. Pressing forward little by little, until our baby steps become glorious strides towards a future of marvelous light.

I reached out to 8 dear friends who continue to serve as living, breathing reminders of the promise Love brings to all who will just humbly receive it. Each face you witness in this video bears a precious story of redemption; beauty from ashes. While we are all marked on various walks and seasons of life, one thing reigns true in common thread. We seek the renewal of worth in women through the unconditional love, hope, and joy in Christ.

Christ Alone.

NOTHING, I repeat, NOTHING can separate you from His love. His affections for you are a hurricane; you are a tree. No broken relationship, no prince charming, no drug addiction, no perfect career or any other fleeting worldly pleasure can offer the type of all consuming, all encompassing SOUL NURTURE that Jesus longs to pour over you. You are His Beloved. Worthy of the most relentless pursuit.

He is not your ex.

Will you receive Him?

 

We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

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MY HAUNTING TRUTH BEHIND #METOO

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I wonder how many times i'll attempt to type this story before I press delete and start over. 

I wonder if in some twist of reality, it will help me to re-write what has been lost.

I wonder how words can ever do justice for 1 in 3 women who hide behind exhausted smiles.

It has been 10 years since my first encounter with sexual assault. And still I wonder. By the grace of God I have found the strength to exchange pain for redemption. And still I wonder. 

It has been a long and rugged road towards healing and it is only now that I realize that the journey never ends. Rather, God continues to unfold new mercies each day to help me face the questions embedded within the deepest parts of my pain. 

Oh my sisters, if I could shout it from the rooftops would you believe me when I say that YOU ARE NOT ALONE? That every strained breath I take with every fragmented memory is for you and the countless souls desperate for freedom? No one can dictate if and when you should share your story. But perhaps, if another just like you bears her scars, you'll begin to believe. 

You are not alone.

Me too.

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

**CAUTION: The following content contains sensitive depictions of sexual assault and harassment.**

At 18 years old I was labeled as a goody two shoes; an inexperienced prude. In a high school society where drinking was the ticket and sex the prize, I was an outcast; reminded every day of my inadequacy to fit in. I barely understood the awkward transformation of my own body. How in the world could I bare to grasp the maze that is the mind of boys? It was towards the end of my senior year of high school when he began to notice me. He was my window into acceptance and I couldn't resist climbing in to take a peek. Just a glance of what it would feel like to be loved by the most loved boy in my grade. When he led me into his room I followed blindly, a fool to what was about to happen. 

When he pushed me onto his bed I glanced in the corner of the room and saw his brother fast asleep. I pointed him to the direction of the sleeping form under the covers sure it would spur him to quit his advances. To my confusion, it seemed to entice him further, as if the thrill was sexy. He spun me around so fast the vertigo overtook my senses and I didn't have time to process the underwear he had ripped off me. 

I wonder if he's done this before, I thought to myself. I squeezed my eyes shut to try and pray but the words were lodged like sticky glue in the back of my throat. The word “No” felt like a foreign language I wasn’t equipped to translate. A flash of my father giving me a hug goodbye and saying I love you that very morning crossed my mind like a shooting star disappearing in a vast, dark universe. I was always my daddy's princess. I remember thinking what a dark contrast I was in; being thrashed around as my body lay limp. If my soul could make a sound the shriek could surely wake the whole neighborhood. I prayed for my soul to cry out the words I could not.

As I gasped for air with every forced thrust, his heart beat against my body like a lash more severe than the first. His sweat was toxic poison to my virgin skin, melting away every ounce of dignity within me. After his pleasure was appeased, he rolled over to leave me. A woman turned to ashes. I remained paralyzed in my own skin, sick of my own body as if it had betrayed me. The sun rose and I quietly left with my prize; I had done it. And yet, why did I feel so utterly bankrupt? 

Weeks passed and he made it clear that I was his property. If he could have branded me with a scarlet "S", he would have. And yet, it was an unspoken mandate that he would never be mine, even though he eventually called himself my boyfriend. He was an expert at withholding affection unless I paid him his currency in intimate favors, calling me a "good girlfriend" when he was satisfied; like a master training a dog. 

I thought, surely it can't be sexual harassment or assault or rape if he is your boyfriend.

Eventually he tired of me and moved on to the next victim. Thus began a downward spiral of damaging choices leading to new predators. With each humiliating act against my soul and towards my body, the terms sexual harassment and assault began to dissipate until no longer tangible in my brainwashed mind. I would make excuse after excuse.

Maybe if my skirt wasn't so short he wouldn't have come after me.

If I hadn't been drinking, I wouldn't be in this position. 

I should have been more forceful in turning him down.

Relax, it's just words; they're strangers anyway. 

With every wave of conscience I willingly entered into reckless situations completely neglectful of my personal safety. What I failed to realize was that every time I chose to stay silent in my own prison of pain, I subconsciously gave over power to evil. I eventually found myself in a daze on my bathroom floor captured by the possibility of ending it all. I thought to myself, If men won't stop taking from me, I no longer want to be an option. I was in a hole of suffering so deep I could barely see the light when I tried to look up.

It was there, in the darkest recesses of my pain, that I felt a Presence climb down, down, down, to find me. If Love had a form it was Him. And for the first time in years, I knew what it meant to be held; how it felt to have the sacred torn from my life and still survive. It was in that quiet place of assurance where I finally gave myself permission to call it out for what it is. 

SEXUAL HARASSMENT.

SEXUAL ASSAULT.

 RAPE.

And while they had names, they did not define mine. My name is Nika Diwa. I am a daughter of The Most High King. I am ROYAL; CHOSEN; HOLY; SPECIAL. Called out of darkness and into MARVELOUS LIGHT. Oh the freedom to learn that He could turn me into a beauty from ashes. I began to sing a new song as Jesus began to do a new thing, springing up from deep inside me into the sweetest liberation I had ever known. As the tears mixed with regret and revelation began to flow, God caught each one, naming and recognizing every hurt I had endured. Jewels in crystallized tears. It was in this eternal space of safety and all knowing comfort that I took my first breath of healing. And I haven't stopped breathing since. 

Oh my dear friends, I do not claim to have the ultimate solution. While I would give anything to reach out and in an instant cure your heartache, I cannot offer a quick fix. But what I can declare is there is GOOD NEWS:

YOU ARE KNOWN TO THE BOTTOM YET LOVED TO THE SKIES.

God knows your Name. He sees your every thought. He sees each tear that falls, and He hears you when you call.

No, your pain will never be any less significant in your journey and NO, those who robbed you will never be justified. In fact, I believe God has a special fury for those who harm his daughters. And yet, could it be that the insurmountable, all-encompassing glory of Jesus is enough to make you feel hope again? For faith to begin the delicate yet empowering journey towards redemption? Oh Beloved, as far as the Heavens roll on and on forever, YES, YES, YES... it is enough!!! Starting NOW, in the mighty Name of JESUS, may your healing begin.

I stand with you, my sister, in saying "Me Too"; whether your heart is whispering or shouting. I confidently speak for countless women around the world and all the angels in Heaven when I say that there is power on the other side of your pain. This is true wherever you are in your road towards the light; and whether or not you choose to tell your story is YOUR PRECIOUS CHOICE. And I promise you, while there will be many times of wondering in this lifelong narrative we face, one thing you can remain assured of is YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

ME TOO.

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ONLINE DATING: HOW TO FIND THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE

Hey friends and fam... I'M BAAAAAACK!!!

I know I've been super MIA for a while now. I am about to leap off the edge of my seat in sheer excitement to finally announce a big project my husband and I have been working on. My blog Diwa Dollhouse was born out of a desire to empower women, primarily through fashion. It has been a great honor to engage with you in shared encouragement and inspiration. As a newlywed, it has been on my heart for some time now to leverage this platform as a channel to speak on my personal experiences - in trials and triumphs - in relation to dating and marriage. Emeka and I are so pleased to finally introduce our YouTube Channel: Mekk & Niks! Every week we will be rolling out a new video based on our personal journey in love and life, the first one being about how we met online! We hope you enjoy!

Ahh, the complex jungle that is online dating. But let's be honest, between a busy work schedule, personal errands, and catching up with friends throughout the week, who has time to intentionally meet people to potentially date?! It seems that while it is easier to meet people in quantity, it is increasingly rare to make connections of quality (CAN I GET AN AMEN?!). Years ago, online dating used to be super taboo; only for creepy weirdos who lived with their cats or for the bored and bold who didn't mind suffering through an awkward cup of coffee for a good story to share with their friends. Alas, in 2017 online dating is much more accepted and is a widely used method to find a romantic partner. This is an account of two strangers living in New York City who found Cupid, err, OKCupid that is. 

 

Xoxo,

Mekk & Niks

 

DEAR MEAN GIRLS...

You step into the doorway clutching the veggie assortment you brought for the potluck meal. It's a brand new city and you figured the best way to make new friends was to dive into community. As you round the corner and see a group of new faces, you gulp down nerves and take each forward step in the hopes of making at least one friend before you leave. After a round of "hello's", you reach the last girl in the corner of the room. As you extend a smile, your greeting is abruptly shut down with a grim expression as her eyes scale your outfit from top to bottom. You feel stripped naked; like the object of a 90's pop band poster that one may roll their eyes at in personal distaste. You try your best to shrug off the ice cold interaction and pick at your dinner, but can't help but notice the girl actively avoiding any engagement with you. Fear of isolation shrinks down the initial hope that inspired you to attend the event in the first place. The girl figures you aren't aware of the frequent side eye thrown your way in between bites of salad. But you can see. And it's not a pretty sight to be judged without being known.

Ladies, can we talk seriously for a minute? Because the above narrative, while a true story, isn't an anomaly. The comparison game started sometime in middle school and seems to have never ended. The result? Girls who look like women. While outwardly we swear we have matured, the childish propensity to put down others as a means of elevating ourselves suggests otherwise. We SnapChat stories and post Facebook pictures of #GirlsNight and #Sisterhood only to promote gossip and slander behind the backs of the very women we claim to love. Walking hypocrites in high heels.

This damaging behavior is so the norm that it is often reflected in mainstream reality shows like The Bachelor and The Real Housewives of [every city]. When did it become socially acceptable to pile twenty five women in a room to desperately vie for their chance to make out with one spoiled man? When did the scale of one's lavish lifestyle become an accurate measure of joy and fulfillment? We excuse the shocking performances and chalk it up to social entertainment. But I find that the most poisonous lies are often the most subtle ones that slowly creep in, ultimately destroying your own self awareness.

It is a dangerous lie to believe that by putting down other women, you are somehow elevating yourself. If anything, this juvenile behavior proves the perpetrator's little to no regard for her own value as a daughter of The King. The truth is that each one of us is "fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:14) God says that "you are altogether beautiful; there is no flaw in you." (Song of Songs 4:7) This is true for EVERY WOMAN; regardless of cultural background, social status, or physical appearance.

You see, when you belittle another woman, you belittle the innate treasure you are. To judge or cast out another creation of God is to say that you yourself as an invaluable part of creation is undeserving of basic respect and honor.

Girls vs. Women; there is a BIG difference:

Girls judge; Women encourage.
Girls exclude; Women embrace.
Girls compare; Women empower.

Which one are you?

 

Xoxo, Diwa Doll

 

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A TRAGIC STORM AND THE PILOT WHO SAVED ME

We had been circling the gray clouds for half an hour waiting for clearance from the airport to land. I was instantly reminded of the year Hurricane Sandy hit New York City several years ago. My roommate Shelby and I were stoked for the additional day off and stocked up on Netflix movies instead of food. We thought that surely this was yet another formality. 

The sky was dark the night the storm hit our corner of the Upper East Side. I completely missed the steady crescendo of turbulence building outside our windows, distracted with whatever chick flick was playing on the television. 

Then Sandy hit. 

Shelby screamed for me from downstairs. I ran over to the top of the stairs half expecting an unwelcome guest, perhaps a mouse seeking shelter from the rain. My eyes widened and I had to catch my breath as I witnessed a relentless current of gushing water invading our home through a shattered window. Through tears, I begged my frantic friend to let go of her possessions and run upstairs lest any wires electrocute her. 

In less than 20 minutes, the power had shut off and an aggressive flood had crept to the top of our stairs, completely submerging the first floor of Shelby's room. Suddenly neighbors emerged from the black hallway to assist. Some offered strength to quickly move our valuables to safety while others offered light with whatever candles they could find. 

As the horrors of the night subsided and the morning flickered back into our home I sat at the top of the stairs. I remember watching the happy rays dance across the walls and growing resentful that the same sky could bring both utter darkness and sublime light. It seemed like a cruel trick; an abusive relationship. 

As I watched the water slowly drain back down, I shook my head in frustration for not foreseeing this monster of a storm. I played back the past events of the last 24 hours, pinpointing all of the opportunities I could have done something, anything to prevent the loss I now faced. I felt reckless for ignoring all the persistent weather advisories; maybe I could have nailed the window shut somehow had I been more prepared. I was a fool drowned in debris and regret. 

And though the years since have past, the cycle of storms continues. 

The foreshadowing.

The hit. 

The regret. 

I can't help but recall and reflect on this reality as I am faced with yet another reckless storm. And before I fall back into my usual cycle of attempting to pin point how I could have prevented this unfortunate outcome, I am comforted when I remember God's consoling answer in response to my despair as I sat on the top of the stairs post Sandy. 

I am not qualified to be in control. Rather, I am called to stillness and trust in the hands of The One who holds the whole Universe in the palm of hands. A flashback from my childhood comes to mind. I gripped my dad's hand while a storm rocked our plane spontaneously to and fro. My dad met my terrified gaze and held out his hand with an imaginary plane floating above, assuring me that amidst the turbulence, God would personally carefully carry the plane through.

My eyes widened as I realized that the real pilot on the plane was The One who created and set all things into motion according to His perfect plan. I held onto this precious knowledge and as the peace that surpassed all understanding washed over my anxiety, I loosened the grip on my dad's arm and let the plane rock me to sleep. 

And so it goes with the unpredictable and often vicious life we are called to. Even the best weatherman simply cannot predict all of the little and big tragedies that plague our day to day. And yet; we continue to press forward, trusting the Pilot to carry us through from glory to glory come what may. 

 

Xoxo, Diwa Doll

 

Featuring Metisu

 

THE EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY BLOG POST

Do you ever feel like you have a million things on your to do list and yet, you just can't find the passion or strength to cross off a single one? I'm going to level with you here because I'm too exhausted to lie. I've been sitting in front of this blank computer screen simultaneously fighting the urge to doze off and willing any inspiration to hit. I wish I could honestly tell you mine is a charmed life of thrilling stories and colorful words to share. And while I have been blessed to experience wild goodness in my 27 years, the truth is that most days are filled with mundane tasks. That the climax of 24 hours can be challenging to identify. 

I am a dreamer and this makes the humdrum reality very challenging for me. My way would mean being swept up every day in a new chapter of a wonderland adventures. Perhaps this is why I get the dreaded "vacation blues"; I feel so dreary once the delightful high of frolicking on the sandy beach wears off and I'm left fidgeting in front of a computer screen on a blog post deadline.  

And yet this is the story we are called to. So I ask God how in the world to move through what feels like stagnant stillness. Is there even a point to the dragging monotony? And before I even complete the whisper in my heart I remember Paul when he said:

 "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14)

Press.  

The Webster's Dictionary defines "press" as "to move or cause to move into a position of contact with something by exerting continuous force." The prize is not found in even the best earthly adventure or vacation but rather heavenward in Christ Jesus. And through His power given to us, we are equipped to influence movement and cause change, both in ourselves and the people around us.

By exerting the continuous force of love and light within us in the ordinary, we are able to impact the extraordinary. 

No one ever built anything great without routine faithfulness. And we are the GREATEST creation at the hands of God. So why in the world would we think to be exempt from this daily strain? Ohh, that God would grant us eyes to see the miracles woven into the greater tapestry of our lives. I pray that in even the most common tasks we would lift up our hearts in gratitude; aware of the everlasting prize ahead of us. 

"Her greatest confidence is not what she has done, but what God has done in her."  -Unknown Author 

 

 

Xoxo, Diwa Doll

 

Featuring Sachin & Babi

 

Photography by Luke Polihrom