There have been a lot of titles used to describe Sarah D. Jakes, during her lifetime and during the launch of her first book, a memoir, Lost and Found: Finding Hope in the Detours of Life. Almost all of them go something like this: Preachers’ daughter; T.D. Jakes’s daughter; prodigal daughter; pastor’s daughter; teen mother; divorcee; spoiled; or privileged.
But the reality is this: Sarah D. Jakes is very much a trailblazing young woman on the move, with a powerful identity all her own. She may be T.D. Jakes’s daughter, but she is so much more than just that. If I were to describe her in a few words, I would say this: “Sarah is her mother’s daughter. She is kind. She has an infectious personality. She is brave. She is a truth teller. And she wins you with her smile the moment you meet her.”
Sarah’s beloved mother Lady Serita Jakes is someone we all admire. I have had the pleasure of interviewing and getting to know Lady Jakes twice in my career as a journalist and columnist. But meeting 25-year-old Sarah caused me to see the entire Jakes family in a different light—beyond the cameras, “mega church” status, movies, and magazine covers. I see a family that is just like yours and mine—parents who have worked hard, struggled through hard times, made a success of their lives, and love their kids. I see kids who were raised right, but who rebelled nevertheless. They get lost and find their way home. I see in Bishop and Lady Jakes two parents who like the father in the famous “prodigal son” story in the Bible, ran out to meet their daughter when she came home filthy from living amongst the pig pens of life.
I had a chance to sit with Sarah in Washington, DC two weeks ago at the Georgetown Ritz Carlton for a few hours and just talk to her about why she wrote her book, Lost and Found, and why she exposed so much of her life in a deeply revealing memoir about getting pregnant at 13 years old, working in a strip club, dropping out of college, and her tumultuous relationship and marriage with former Redskin’s football player Robert Henson. She talks about what she wants the world to know about her, her message, and her ministry for women of a new generation both in and out of church.
Nelson: Tell me about “dreams” and why they matter so much in our lives? You are only in your 20s and already life has challenged and dealt you some blows. How did you keep your dreams alive despite such a rocky start?
Jakes: Dreams are everything. But as you go through life you will learn that you may have to adjust your dreams, if you take unexpected detours. I started to fit my dreams to adjust to what my reality was after I made some mistakes. I felt “limited” that I had lost myself and that I wasn’t worthy of living up to my dreams. I felt that I needed to be behind the scenes. But that was wrong. I was operating from a place of shame and not from a place of purpose. That is when I started to write my blog is what helped me to come out of my shell and back to the fore front. I felt that maybe hope is gone for me but that if I share my story, maybe I can help someone else to not to go through what I did. I wanted to help people embrace their truth. So, I took a risk, started to share, and my dreams started to come back into focus. I realized my dreams were not lost. That is something we all need to believe after we face a difficult challenge, loss or life storm. You can still have dreams.
Nelson: Sarah, let’s talk about gossip and how you endured what must have been difficult. How can we help women understand that gossip is so damaging and hurtful to other women?
Jakes: The most painful thing about gossip is when it’s true. When it’s true, it’s your deepest insecurity being realized in others thoughts and minds. Gossip when “true” reaffirms the negative of what I may feel about myself. And on the flipside, gossip reinforces what you may feel about someone else. Gossip does untold damage. I started to ask myself: If everyone thinks I am not good enough maybe I am not? Gossip is a confidence killer. It also turns others away from you, who may not even know you. But the upside to gossip is that once it has happened to you, it allows you to meet people where they are. I have been demeaned and spoken ill of, a lot. So I can find empathy and compassion for other women who are experiencing the same thing.
I would ask women to remember this: Your one negative whisper can affect someone forever. What are you speaking over other people? Gossip keeps people from having an honest relationship with God. Pastoral suicides are up—because these men felt shame. They couldn’t talk. We don’t allow people to make mistakes, without crushing them and they suffer as a result. We need to stop the gossip when we hear it. Find points of commonality with people instead of condemning them. Pray for people who are struggling. See yourself in someone’s suffering. Women need to be very careful because of perceptions. If we really want to break the cycle and create a sisterhood we must stop gossiping about and tearing down other women.
Nelson: Talk to me about self-forgiveness and what you learned about it on your journey.
Jakes: How we forgive ourselves is when we come to a moment when we accept what has happened and what it means in our lives. Acceptance is key. We have to be brave enough to learn the lesson. The cover-up is always worse than the crime. We need to look to the source of the problem. We have to learn to forgive ourselves. Our greatest mistake with forgiving ourselves is that we believe shame is what will help us to recover and it does not. We have to focus not on what we did but on where we are supposed to go.
Nelson: Everyone likes to talk about your dad, Bishop T.D. Jakes. He has a hit movie in America right now, Heaven is for Real and has appeared Oprah’s Lifeclass. But let’s talk about your mom, Serita Jakes. Who is she to you? What is she like as a mom?
Jakes: Thank you for asking that question. The thing that I love the most about my mother is that she is dedicated to always being who she is. She doesn’t do nasty or mean. She doesn’t tear people down. She is fiercely loyal. She is authentic. It is who she is. She keeps it so real. Her family is what matters to her the most, above any platform, or material thing. Anytime we [her kids] go through something she goes through it with us.
I learned the action part of love from her. She loves unapologetically. She lives out being vulnerable without being weak. She has no walls. And the love between my parents is inspiring: They trust one another and they protect one another. They are committed to protecting each other completely. Marriage has a lot to with covering. I like the way my dad talks about my mom. They still flirt with each other, after 33 years. That is what I want in my next marriage.
Nelson: A little birdie told us that you are a fashion and style buff? Is this true and if so, how does it fit in with what you teach young women about self-esteem?
Jakes: Honestly, I want to present the best version of myself. We try to minimize it, but exterior beauty matters. It’s your presentation to the world. You want to feel confident in what you do. I wanted to reflect who I really am in my look. So, I linked up with Jason Bolin, a celebrity fashion stylist from Mississippi. I saw Jason’s work on social media and asked him to help me with my book cover. Being a Christian woman does not mean you have to be boring—you can wear bright colors. You need to be relatable. If I dress nicely and relatable, women connect with me. We only get one first impression, so it allows you to then draw people in, to help them and even win souls.
Nelson: Let close the interview with some nuggets of wisdom. Give women out there who may not know your story some “life tools” that they can use during the challenging times of their lives. What about social media? Are we using it too much is it bad for us? What about wearing a “mask” versus living authentically? Fire away.
Jakes: That’s a lot (she laughs) but here are my thoughts. Social media as a whole is not bad. Social media allows us to connect with people of different points of view. But it has made some people courageous and insensitive in what they think they can say to people. Sowing and reaping works on social media. You cannot just log off and think all is well. It’s who you are in the world. So use it wisely.
Focus on looking at what you love about yourself, not what you dislike. Don’t become isolated when you make a mistake in life. Be okay with “being under construction.” Be flexible with yourself. Be okay with getting “it” wrong in life. You will survive. Find the courage to tell your story. Be courageous. Courageous women come together. We are nurturers by nature and we don’t do a good job of nurturing ourselves. Ask for the help you need. Lastly, remove your “mask” to the world. You don’t have to wear a mask and have to pretend to have it all together. You are participating in the cover up—if you make the decision to unveil yourself then you will grow. You will give strength to others.
Sophia A. Nelson is an award winning author and an award winning journalist. She is a frequent commentator on MSNBC, CNN, FOXNEWS & TvOne. She is the author of the forthcoming book, The Woman Code: 20 Powerful Keys to Unlock Your Life. (Revell, October 2014)