Before I was born the Lord’s hand was on my life. My grandmother still reminds me that when I was old enough to put a sentence together I said, “Grammy, let’s just praise the Lord.” Life has always been a song for me. I have always had a “glow”. I smile all the time… but the light in me is not me. It is the Holy Spirit. I didn’t always know that; in fact it wasn’t until my mid-30s that I realized the Holy Spirit had been alive in me always.
I grew up in the church and knew all about God and Jesus. I was a Christian. We attended church every Sunday. I went to parochial day school. I had good models surrounding me. My grandparents were Methodist ministers so I saw the works of the Lord all my life. But I never understood the Holy Spirit until I surrendered – truly surrendered- my life to Him. That changed everything. But more on that in a bit.
As a child of divorce, I grew up a people-pleaser, go-getter, and always working to prove myself in every way possible. I believed that my worth had to be earned continually, and in some relationships that love had to be earned and re-earned continually as well. I obtained a great high school education through Bolles, where the opportunities and challenges I took advantage of were tremendous, I had a very healthy level self-confidence, and a can-do attitude. Singing came naturally to me, and with voice lessons as early as 12 years old I was focused and hard-working. I sang in every choir available, with many solos I excelled and continued my vocal studies through college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Through my schooling I was awarded a post-college internship in Los Angeles which I took. Why not? It was something else for me to conquer. I moved to LA; the internship soon turned into a full-time job working in children’s television, while still pursuing life as a vocalist but to a much lesser degree. During that time I moved further away from the Lord, involving myself in the things of this world and the allure of Hollywood. I am eternally grateful that I was protected from so many of the dangers we all hear about out in LaLa Land. I became part of a wonderful family out there who watched over me and who I still love dearly; a good Christian family with whom I am still very close. The events of 9/11, however, caused me to take a real hard look at my life. What was I doing? Did I want to continue a lonely, empty life? What was life going to look like for me there in 10 years if I stayed?
I moved back to Jacksonville in 2002 with a great job in non-profit that had been founded by the church, Episcopal Children’s Services, where I stayed 12 years. Again I pushed myself at work all day and then by pursuing an MBA at night. At about that time, wine and cheese became my dinner of choice. I met my husband Matt Serlo, a physical therapist, through a charity event benefiting cystic fibrosis and we fell in love over a trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley. We married in 2005 and soon after I obtained my degree. I continued working through the births of my children, Jack in 2007 and Charlotte in 2009. I sang in the church choir for four years until Charlotte was born when it just became too much for me. I couldn’t keep up all the juggling. So we stopped going to church for some time.
I joined a cover band; during the week I worked, was a wife and mom, and exercised religiously. I read my Bible and “did it all.” I was a triathlete on Saturday mornings and a rock star Saturday nights. The band performed at weddings, corporate events, and sometimes bars and clubs. The hours spent with the band went into the wee hours and often I wouldn’t come home until 3 in the morning. I was so tired the next day it would be hard to be wife and mom again. But I kept it all up. And I dealt with the stress and duties of life by drinking. Drinking allowed me to be present in body but numb in mind and emotion. There was much I hadn’t dealt with. All my life I had been the person to do it all, and do it well. I was always running. Running to accomplish the next thing. To jump the next hurdle. To push myself further than I thought I could. But there was always a hole. I believed that drinking filled it. That worked. For a moment. But the feelings always came back, and I was worse off than I had been before. Even so, I’d look forward to the hour I could taste that first glass of wine. Which inevitably turned into two, three, or more.
I quit the cover band; I cut off toxic relationships. I joined a band that was more healthy for me – a jazz band. We performed early in the evenings and in family-friendly locales. But I still was missing something and drinking alcohol wasn’t helping. Why was I feeling this way? I had a wonderful husband and kids. I prayed for help. Suddenly the scriptures I was reading all related to abstaining from alcohol. I knew what this meant but I still wasn’t ready. What would I do if I wasn’t drinking? How would I socialize? What would I do with my time? The final straws came soon. After a night of drinking I tried to read a book to my daughter to put her to sleep. I was slurring my words and losing my place in the book. “Mama,” she said. “Please stop drinking wine.” My 6 year old. Pleading me. I decided I could take control of the situation. I had tried it before to no avail, but I now had to do this for my daughter. I could do anything for her, right? Well that lasted a week until I found myself one more time “out of it”. Actually, my husband found me that way. I knew then that my willpower was not enough. It was going to take something supernatural to deliver me. And there was only one power with that ability. I realized I was powerless over alcohol and I begged the Lord to take away this addiction. Then and there, He did. I had surrendered. I finally realized that I couldn’t control everything. The person I had worked so hard my entire life to become would never be enough. Because there is only one way, through Jesus Christ, and the salvation he provides for me, that I AM enough. I always have been. He has always loved me as I am, in good times and bad, and His love never fails. He loves me uniquely and eternally.
Spending time with the Lord has led me to forgiveness and opened my heart. Reading the Bible every day in the early morning hours led me to journaling, the journaling became poetry, and the poetry became lyrics. Now that I had surrendered and was ready to be obedient to His will, He was using me as a vessel. The Holy Spirit was alive and well in me, and I finally recognized this. I recorded the songs for which I had written the lyrics on an EP titled Live the Calling. The EP was released on my newly created website www.leightonserlo.com, on CD, Amazon and iTunes in January 2017 and the music has brought blessings to others.
Since joining Lifework Leadership, I have become even more intentional in my daily obedience to the Lord. The friends I have made and the people I have met have encouraged me greatly. Never before had I been surrounded by so many people who openly love Jesus and proclaim their love for and dependence on Him for all. Lifework Leadership has given me strength to do the same. I live for Jesus. I live to share His promises with all. I want everyone to know His love and the power of His redemption.
There is no greater freedom than in surrender and obedience. No one can understand that unless they have walked the road. There is no peace like the peace provided by our Lord. The peace that passes all understanding. The peace I so craved my entire life I now have. I have His peace in the midst of all storms. I want to share that with everyone!
Through Lifework Leadership I have found additional opportunities to serve…. through Jimbo Stockton’s mission house open mic night, Tony Nasrallah and the Murray Hill Theatre, sharing my voice as Worship Leader to LLJ, David Davis’ introduction to the worship team at Beach Church where I will be singing with the team, to continuing my service singing at Clara’s at the Cathedral, I just want live my life to praise the Lord!
Lifework Leadership is unique in its mission of transforming cities and transforming leaders. It is only through the unconditional love and light of Christ that hate and darkness will be defeated. We need to share His love with the world and Lifework Leadership helps us grow to do just that.