Whole Spotlight: Vanessa Shepherd (Living Head Over Heels)
This month’s Whole Spotlight is, Vanessa Shepherd a grace-filled sweetheart that through her ministry LHOH (Living Head Over Heels) is equipping young girls to live above the worlds standards and ideas of what a girl/woman should be. She is helping a new generation see their true potential through God as well as raising a beautiful family of her own.
WM: Will you share a little of your testimony and how you come to know Christ?
VS: As a blossoming preteen I struggled with depression, anorexia, thoughts of suicide, and self harm up until my parents (in a last ditch effort after medication and counseling seemed to no effect) brought me to a new youth group praying that the Lord could help. I was given a scholarship to attend their Easter Camp the day before they left (only a few short weeks after arriving there) and at the altar of that camp God changed my life. I was able to forgive, grieve, and leave everything that had stolen the joy and purpose for my life from me. I returned home smiling for the first time I had in years. My mother cried as I held her close. She told me that she knew "God had changed me". I left that camp a new person, a new creation if you will, and I haven't looked back since.
WM: Can you tell us about your ministry, LHOH? And how did it come about?
VS: As a newly graduated Master's Commission student, first time youth pastor, and newlywed all at the tender age of 20, I continued a long time tradition of my home church in hosting a girl's only weekend in February of 2009. After much deliberation as to what this weekend could be called (trying to stay away from the typical "True Love Waits" titles), I stumbled upon the idea of "living head over heels". At the time it was just a great saying, but the idea behind it held so much more meaning than even I could have known back then.
I could sense the girls were thrilled to have something for themselves so I began to dream. A small group was formed, "girl's only" events were held, and a few years later the official blog was created. When deciding upon what to call the beginning of this dream, God took me back to that first weekend with the girls and thus LHOH was birthed. In March of 2013 the dream took on a new platform as the first official girl's conference was held in Stockton, CA and in the years following the Lord has added to the LHOH team (that now consists of seven beautiful women all over California- and even one in Nevada!) and the dream continues to grow. We host training retreats, write blogs, research great teen girl resources, hold conferences, and that is just the beginning of what I feel God leading us into.
At the heart of it we want to be as Aaron was to Moses, a support for all of the women and young women who surround our teen girls so that they can effectively do as God has called them to do- lead girls.
WM: Have you always had a passion and desire to minister to young girls? Why do you believe God entrusted you with that desire?
VS: I wanted to be a Math Professor. Yes, people actually want to do this. It wasn't until I had seen such a change in my own life that my goals started to shift. While tutoring at a local jr high my senior year of high school, my attention was stolen by a young teen who had entered the room crying. I pushed everything academic to the side that day and talked with this student about what was going on in their life. My heart broke that day. I didn't care much about teaching them math if I couldn't teach them how to live this "abundant life" that I had found.
I often wonder why God chose me; the girl who would hide behind her mother rather than speak to someone new. The answer is still, I don't know. I don't know why He thinks I am worthy enough to live a life of any significance. But whatever the reason, I pray I continue to see how He sees and love how He loves. I fail often at this whole being-an-example-of-Christ thing (aka being a Christian) but it is my life's pursuit to grow closer and closer to His image so that when girl's see me, they are really just seeing Him.
WM: What advice might you give a young girl reading this right down that may be struggling with her looks, her confidence and her identity?
VS: I as a woman still have days where these three things are still issues but this is what I say to myself, so maybe it will help you too. Looks fade. Seriously. There is no such thing as a hot grandma. I have met some beautiful women in their 80's and 90's but they will never walk a runway with the models of our day. Because looks fade. Proverbs 31:30 says that "charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." So seek to live a life that is pretty and not just one that looks pretty.
As far as confidence and identity, just understand that you are not at this present moment everything God has intended you to be. You are still growing in your purpose and in your salvation, so you shouldn't judge yourself for what you are not. You are a work in progress. You possess gifts and talents even you don't know you have yet. So keep your head up, looking right at the Father, and take it one day at a time. He is your biggest fan.
WM: I absolutely love that LHOH is not just for the young woman it ministers to, but that it is also to, “encourage women who lead, parents who raise, and teenagers who impact this generation for the truth only found in Christ until the Lord calls us all home.” Why do you think this is so important?
VS: I am one woman. If I were to even count my team we are only 7 women amidst millions of girls. It would be barbaric to think that we could change the mindset of every one of them. But if we, were to instead focus our efforts into helping the community surrounding them then in a way we can help shape what our daughters will come to know as truth for years to come. It is the idea of "Paying It Forward". If we help one mom or leader who has two teen girls, those two girls one day will have daughters of their own or friends that they will impact, and before you know it we can- together- reach the millions. Do I think it'll get that far? Probably not, but even if it changed one it would be worth it. So that is our goal every time we host any event or write a new blog, to help the one.
WM: You openly shared your struggles with the insatiable heart’s desire to be a mother to daughter and how you and your husband are trying to adopt and have her “join our family through a less traditional route.” Can you share with us some of the ways you have found to help you through these challenges?
VS: Comparison is a dream killer, let's just start there. We have watched as over half a dozen families have adopted while we have been on the waiting list to foster adopt these last two years. Keeping my eyes focused on what others were getting took my attention away from what I already had. I have two amazing sons who drive me bonkers most days, but bring me such immense joy. I am honored to be their mother. I also have had the privilege to mentor many girls through the years that I hold near and dear to my heart. They are truly my daughters. I have cried with them, fought for them, and even prayed over them. They may not call me mom, but they are mine and I claim them. So while waiting for our little Shepherd girl is hard, not seeing the daughters I do have in my life would be worse.
WM: What is your go to Bible verse in hard times? Why is this your go to verse?
VS: Micah 6:8 But what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.
This may sound like a strange scripture to find comfort in, but it is such a great reminder of what God is asking of me, even (and most times especially) in hard times. To do right even when it hurts, to forgive often even when I feel it's not deserved, and to remember how great our Father is that we have the honor to walk these hard roads with.
WM: What do you think is one way we as sisters in Christ can help the young girls around us?
VS: There are so many things we can do, but the most important thing in my opinion is to lead by example. We as women or young women should show these girls what it looks like to trust God and rely on Him, to have a sincere relationship with Him that includes reading (and living out) the Word, to practice forgiveness and humility, to put character over reputation, and to love God and others well. If we can show them with our own lives that we can support other women dreamers and leaders, that we can cheer each other on, that we can walk with our loving Father even if it means picking ourselves back up when we've fallen, then these girls will have a chance to do the same.
WM: You wrote this incredibly sincere statement, “We live in a culture that doesn't just celebrate beauty but forces one to believe that it is all women were created for. To be looked at. Gawked at. Won as a trophy. And for awhile we believe this. We believe that all we are is what we look like and all of our drastic efforts to change our very DNA to be something different are never enough. They never will be enough. Because the problem is not our bodies, the problem is that we believed the lie that if we had beauty (whatever they decide that to be this year) we would have everything.” Why do you believe many women have come to believe the lie that beauty is everything? Do you believe it is solely because of our culture or more?
VS: It is not wrong to find things beautiful, but our society is one of mirages and good makeup. We take incredible pictures and present them to the world as a representation of our whole selves, but this is simply not true. We are words and character and personalities... and hurts and pains and failures. We are a million different things that a picture simply cannot process but it is simpler to just share an image of ourselves with the world rather than our whole self.
This is not a new issue. It is bigger than our culture and it spans throughout all time. These lies we believe are crafted from the mind of a very mutual enemy that would love nothing more than for us all to waste our money, time, peace, and joy on the image we decide to share with the world. The Word says that "we do not fight against flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6:12) and this is where we find the real problem. Our fight isn't against acne or wrinkles; our fight is a spiritual one. Because we believed the lie that Satan has been whispering into our ears since the beginning of time, "did God really say..." Every truth God has spoken to us about our beauty and our importance has been met with insurmountable doubt from those four little words. So no, it is not our cultures fault... but it sure isn't helping!
WM: If someone would like to get involved with your ministry what do they need to do?
VS: We are always looking for women with a passion for seeing teen girl's ministry! If someone has a passion for photography, researching new resources, writing, graphic design, or video editing and would want to get involved with any of our branches of ministry (students, parents, or leaders) they can go to our website DearLHOH.com and contact us!
Now for some fun questions!
WM: Most overused word you use?
VS: "So", I have probably used it a hundred times in this interview!
WM: Coffee or tea?
VS: Coffee. Black delicious coffee.
WM: Who would you cast to play you in a movie about your life?
VS: Jennifer Lawrence. Mainly because I think she is hilarious and I would like to think that I am hilarious too. And because she is clumsy and I too have kissed the floor a time or two unexpectedly.
WM: Morning or night person?
VS: Night. Mornings are only for children. And coffee with Jesus.
WM: Something you can’t leave home without?
VS: My phone. Because it is also a bible, a camera, a way of communicating with friends, and so much more. They are like tiny computer assistants.
WM: Favorite “guilty pleasure?”
VS: Baking super fatty delicious things... like maple pecan coffee cake. With some black coffee.
WM: What is a time period you would travel to if possible?
VS: When Jesus walked the earth. I would love to see firsthand the healing of the woman, or His encounter with the woman at the well. I want to see how He empowered women in their places of life. Also, I would like to hear a Jesus joke. I wish they would have recorded some of those. I'm sure they were epic.