pancakes on plate
Daily Life, Discover Your Dream

Pancakes Are Sweeter When You Add Syrup

Every January, I celebrate the new year with a stack of homemade pancakes and round tables filled with friends. Blueberry, chocolate chip, even old-fashioned original pancakes—the baked scents reminds me life is good. The year is new. And I have people to share it with.

This year was different. There was only one person at my table.

Instead of celebrating within the walls of a welcoming church I’ve grown to love in Reno, I ate my pancakes on the back patio of well-worn restaurant joint in Southern California.

pancakes on plate

You see, last year on March 4th, Anthony and I moved from our Nevada home to pursue our dreams. I’d chosen “Dream” as my defining theme for 2013, and we reached the pinnacle rather unexpectedly early. In Los Angeles, I joined a creative team of exceptionally talented individuals in the bustling city, and Anthony began to write and revise his fantasy novels, the Shade of Silver trilogy.

What I didn’t know at last year’s start is that to “dream” is to accept change.

In Reno, we had grown deep roots. We had developed friendships, built careers. 

In Los Angeles, we were uprooted. Take a plant out of its pot, and place it on the dinner table. See how long it lasts. Plants need soil. They must have roots, or they will die.

I had been grieving the loss of my Reno roots for a while. But when we ordered pancakes on a Sunday morning, far from the church where we first experienced the New Year tradition, we memorialized. It was a good kind of remembering. We laughed, and we joked, and we reminisced. 

Then we looked across the metal bar that separated us from the sidewalk in this warm “winter” weather, and we knew: We need roots here.

Earlier that morning, at a different church located in Burbank, a pastor named Billy spoke from a slightly raised stage. “If you had a plant that wanted to bear fruit, but it never saw the sun, it wouldn’t grow any fruit.”

I’ve stayed away from the sun lately. It’s a poor effort to keep the thoughts at bay—in which I wonder about my decision to dream.

“Every good renovation starts with some demolition,” the pastor spoke, and for the first time in a long time, I listened. “God is not afraid of the toxic places in your life.”

This year, I want to remember where I’ve come from without wishing for the past. I need this plant to be pruned. I need mildewed leaves removed, and I want to see the sun. I want to make peace with this city, to find the soil and grow deep roots.

As Anthony and I talked about this, the waitress with dark hair and thick black eyeliner delivered our dishes. The golden pancakes on my plate were dashed with powdered sugar and a thick helping of whipped cream. Beside them, a tin cup of warm syrup waited.

Across the table, Anthony grinned at his berry-laden breakfast, and the waitress walked through the diner’s back doorway.

“Hey, Anthony,” I said and poured syrup on my pancakes. “Can we use your phone to take a picture?”

He agreed, held out his hand and aimed the camera. We both leaned in. Click.

A&A with pancakes

I won’t stand amid the demolition rubble any more.

This year, I’m choosing to rebuild.


Pans and Pickpockets Challenge: What theme will you pursue this year? What’s one word you’d choose for 2014?

Words and photos: Ally Siwajian © 2014

Discover Your Dream, Influential Interviews

Musician Liam Kyle Cahill Shares “The Key To Happiness”

One autumn evening, I sat at a wooden cocktail table in a humble coffeehouse, and I listened to my friend Liam Kyle Cahill play his acoustic guitar to a small crowd of coffee drinkers and hopeful poets for Open Mic Night. Even with a short set, he garnered applause, and a song called “One Spark” particularly resonated with me that night. Now several years later, I still remember the chorus and its arresting guitar riffs.

Meet Liam Kyle Cahill.

Meet Liam Kyle Cahill, the musician with “The Key to Happiness.”

But Liam Kyle Cahill isn’t playing coffeehouses to build confidence these days. Rather, with his Ode to Wisconsin EP  under his belt and his first full-length album on the way, he’s taken stages across the country to play small shows with a gang of friends and a conglomeration of instruments: guitar, harmonica, drums, bass, mandolin, violin, piano, and even a string quartet.

As an artist, he’s evolved from a singer/songwriter into a man with the mentality of a full-blown producer. And his sound—it’s just as bold. (Think “Mumford & Sons in a bar room brawl with Bob Dylan at a punk rock concert,” as he’d say.) To polish it up, Liam Kyle Cahill’s lyrics stay true to his personable nature and big heart.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview my friend. Today we’re talking about life, his music, and his encouragement to fellow dreamers. So listen up, friends, and learn how to live it well!

(1) You’ve got a new album called The Key To Happiness. So what is the key to happiness?

LKC: Making music really—that’s what makes me as happy as anything! As far as the title, I think it was more about my pursuit of happiness and the lessons I’ve learned along the way…. When you make the choice to be happy, you are! That’s what I’ve found.

Liam Kyle Cahill on stage

Liam Kyle Cahill performs with friends at his “Ode to Wisconsin” EP release party.

(2) You’re following your dream, working in geology by day and writing songs at night. Congrats! Tell us a little more about your journey to pursue your passion for music—not to mention, rocks—and what it’s taken to get there.

Liam Kyle Cahill on stageLKC: Well, I graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, with a bachelor’s degree in Hydrogeology, and have spent the last three years doing exploration geology in different parts of Nevada and Utah. I have always connected with the outdoors, and was immediately drawn to that kind of lifestyle before I even knew how to hold a guitar.

But by the end of my senior year, I started writing my own songs and performing around town. The passion for music had always been there my whole life, but I finally had the outlet to create something that was uniquely me. Once I got a taste of that, I never stopped! Now I’m working to find the right balance, advancing both of these loves simultaneously.

(3) In your new song “Life Before Death,” you talk about that tension between nature and technology—that idea to slow down, “cut your chains and breathe life deep,” and really “live it, folks.” What inspired you to share this awesome message?

LKC: “Life Before Death” is a song based on a poem by John Muir, where he ponders these same ideas and what it means to be grateful for the lives we have. I took that idea one step further, challenging our dependency on technology and the control it has on our ability to be content in each moment that we live. Then I started reading Charles Dickens, and the basis for the song thickened. Dickens urges us to live with purpose and embrace the people around us by opening up our hearts and being vulnerable. And when it all comes down to it, that’s what I think music is really about.

(4) As we pursue our dreams, we need people to encourage us. Who’s been with you every step of the way for this project?

LKC_3LKC: There are a two people who fit that description, the first being my good friend and co-producer Dan Ruben. I met Dan at a show almost two years ago and we clicked instantly. When I first started to envision the scope of this record, Dan was able to bring those ideas right to life with bass, mandolin, and drum parts—and the rest is history!

Then there’s Tom Gordon: sound recording engineer, mixing engineer, co-producer, and friend. Nobody has pushed me to grow as a musician more than Tom during the recording sessions we’ve had this year, where he challenged my guitar playing and singing to become tighter than ever. Tom is like the quality control for the album, making sure we get just the right take before we move on to the next step.

(5) What advice do you have for your fellow dream-followers and friends?

LKC: In one of the last conversations that I had with my grandfather before he passed, I asked him what he felt was the most important advice that he could share about following my dreams, and I must admit his answer surprised me: “Don’t let the bastards get you down!” He lived his life by that rule and explained to me it doesn’t matter what other people think of you or your endeavor—if it’s your dream, then go for it!

One Spark cover art

Buy a pre-release copy of Liam Kyle Cahill’s album, and you’ll receive an immediate download of his single, “One Spark.”

Liam Kyle Cahill is currently raising funds to complete his 2014 album, The Key to Happiness. If you resonated with his story and his advice to fellow dreamers, then stop by Liam Kyle Cahill’s Indiegogo page to hear his music and buy a pre-release copy of his album. November 25, 2013, is the last day of this fundraising campaign, and LKC is giving all contributors an immediate download of the single, “One Spark.” As someone who’s been looking forward to a digital recording of this song since I first heard it in a coffeehouse, trust me: This music is worth the listen.

Words by: Ally Siwajian © 2013

Photo credit: Gary Micander and Alex Fleiner (All photos used by permission of Liam Kyle Cahill.)  

Ally in Reno snow
Daily Life, Discover Your Dream, Stunted World Changers

Birthing the Dream

Dreams are easy to talk about, but they’re more difficult to do.

A dream must be birthed, then cultivated, cared for. Like a seed in the ground, it needs nourishment—from multiple sources—to break free of the tough dirt and sprout above the earth. A dream needs roots, roots that reach deep and anchor it, no matter the storms. It needs a caretaker, a gardener—someone who will take proactive measures to ensure it doesn’t die, but rather buds, grows, and flourishes.

Deciding to Dream

Ally in Reno snow

Northern Nevada: in my element

In January, I chose “Dream” to be my theme for the year. I’d tossed around ideas like Move, Simplify, and Hope. But Dream was the most daunting. That would require work, and through it, all other ideas would be achieved.

So I decided to dream.

Pretty soon, life began to change. Anthony and I felt our time as residents of Reno, Nevada, would be ending soon. I’d been in that town for seven years. We were involved in volunteer activities, loved our church family and local friends, and even considered buying a house.

But something in the back of our minds—rather in the corners of our hearts—rustled. We prayed and prayed and prayed. And we felt it—we are going to leave Reno.

Succumbing to Fear

Anthony and I debated our initial inklings. I continued to write articles about everything from cocktails to curtain designs to bring in money for bills and keep my freelance writing clients. Anthony continued to come home from his biomedical lab work distraught and drained.

Walden's latteOne Sunday afternoon, we sat across the table from a good friend, Ronnie, in one of our favorite Reno spots, Walden’s Coffeehouse. We’re not moving, we told him. There’s just too much on the line. Anthony has a stable job with good benefits. I can just keep flying to Las Vegas on weekends for work. We like it here. We’ll be fine.

Eyes wide, Ronnie missed his mouth and caught his chin in the milky foam of his tea. He plunked the ceramic mug to the tabletop.

“What I’m hearing right now is just a lot of fear.” He paused, wiped the edge of his short beard, then continued. Wherever you go, he said, whether you stay in Reno or move someplace else, God exists and He’s with you.

Discerning Safety Versus Security

Good friends’ words have a way of sticking with you. It was the challenge we needed. Several Sundays later, confirmation came.

4x4 trip with friends

To follow your dreams, be in community. Here’s part of ours: Ronnie, Colby, Anthony, me, and Claire. Snowballs help too.

An artistic fellow and friend, Colby, spoke with us after church. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between safety and security,” he said. Sometimes we choose what’s safe over what we’re intended to do and who we’re designed to become. That sets us upon a trajectory in a certain direction. When you choose safety over security, where does that path lead you?

Anthony and I thought about these words long and hard. It was time to go big or go home, we decided. We’d been going home for far too long. We opted to stop playing it safe.

Dreams Rewritten and Realized

When we chose to dream and we knew it was time for that dream to be realized, we discovered dreams pursued are not easy. They often don’t resemble the dynamics you expected. The framework shifts. The details are rewritten. But the core remains the same.

Los Angeles downtown skyline

Welcome to the downtown LA city skyline.

We dreamt of a place where I could work for a magazine and be surrounded by people to encourage. We wanted an opportunity that also would extract Anthony from a job that was killing him, to instead be in a place that would let him claim his dreams of being a writer—a fantasy novelist, to be exact.

We have found that place. Through a zany series of events, we pit-stopped in my hometown Las Vegas for three weeks, then landed full-time in Los Angeles, California.

It’s different, and sometimes it’s difficult when I think of the people we left behind in Nevada. But as my friend Natalie Rose wrote to me: “Change is hard. God is good.”

Now It’s Your Turn: Pans and Pickpockets Challenge

marigold sprouting

A dream must be birthed, then cultivated, cared for. Then, like a seed in the ground, it will bud, grow, and flourish.

Our dreams are becoming reality. I’d like to encourage you to determine your dreams too.

Start by seeking God with your whole heart. Determine your natural talents, and weigh if your dream is supported by these skills. Become prepared: in your emotional state, your developed talents, and amid a supportive community.

Then, be willing to wait for the right moment when God tells you it’s time at last.

Because the right dream, friends, it’s worth waiting for.

Leave a Comment: Scroll down and leave me a comment below.  I’d like to hear your dream. 

Words: Ally Siwajian

Photos: Ally Siwajian; group photo by Claire Stephens  © 2013

Dream: One Word 2013
Advocacy Tips, Daily Life, Discover Your Dream, Scripture Study, Stunted World Changers

Running forward toward Redemption

This year I dedicate to dreams.

Dream: One Word 2013

I am finished with the belief that

“this” is all there is. I am no longer ascribing to a

school of thought that tells you all your hard work was all

for naught, so just get used to normal.

I am through with beating the drum

black and blue to walk to a professional tune

I think will lead me to my destiny.


We create our own soundtracks. We

determine our own steps. The cannon

fires. Pick up your feet. Reach out when

you feel weak, and raise a hand to

help a fallen brother when your paths collide

in a shower of sparks from a flare he sent up

long ago in whispered words of a prayer.


When will you step off the street that’s

paved with concrete and feel the

weight of the dirt-stained rocks that

seep into your shoes and

find those crevices that form calluses and

let you know you’re alive?


Today I choose to live big, bold and beautiful. I

embrace what the world has for me, and I

promise to stop being an absentee on

my own life. I tied these laces, and I’m picking up the

pace as I clench my teeth and pray to

see the path markers God set after

He paid my admission fee to

bring vitality to this

circuit of my race.


Today I make a choice:

Deny apathy.

Choose action.

Then start a chain-reaction to change

patterns in your brain that scream, “You can’t!”

You can and you will, if you’ll only

stop standing still and determine

this is the day of redemption.


(Inspired by Isaiah 40:27-31 and Philippians 3:13-14.)


Special thanks to Melanie at Only a Breath for creating my One Word Button. 

Lauren with sun glasses
Discover Your Dream, Influential Interviews, Stunted World Changers

Warning: Not Your Typical Missionary: An Interview with Lauren in Las Vegas

Lauren with sun glasses

Meet Lauren from Las Vegas!

This summer, I had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with Lauren Patton.

She’s 22 years old, loves a creamy cup of coffee, and brings new volume to the term “Laugh Out Loud.” Behind her long, blonde hair and favorite plastic shades, Lauren loves Jesus.

Today I want to bring you a look into her life as a less-than-typical missionary to Las Vegas, Nevada—a city I love and a place Lauren has decided to devote her time, passion, and energy.

Ally: You’ve traveled to the Philippines. You’ve lived in India, and you’ve even spent time in Canada. Why did you choose your hometown Las Vegas, Nevada, as the place for you to be a missionary-in-the-making?

Lauren:  “Funny story actually. I was in Youth With A Mission (YWAM)’s Discipleship Training School and I actually was in India, and I felt like the LORD told me in October 2010 that I was supposed to go back home to Las Vegas by January.

“I said, ‘You know, that sounds all fun and good. But I want to go to the nations, and I want to go all over the place. I don’t want to go back to Vegas.’

“I finished up the last two months in India. I prayed about it again, and I was like: ‘Okay, LORD, where do you want me to go?’ And He said: ‘I want you to go to Vegas.’

“So I came back home to Vegas, and I was like: ‘LORD, I don’t know what to do.’ And He was like, ‘I want you to join the YWAM base in Vegas.’ And I was like, ‘There’s no YWAM base in Vegas. I’ve lived in Vegas my whole life. That’s a bunch of balogne.’ And He was like, ‘Oh really. Go Google it.’

“So I Google YWAM. And, of course, YWAM Vegas is the first thing that pops up. I was like, ‘Okay. You are LORD. I am not. You have spoken. I have not. I’m going to YWAM Vegas!’ I’ve been at that base for fifteen months now.”

Now you’re working at the YWAM Las Vegas base on F Street and Washington. What does a day in the life of Lauren look like?

“Well, it depends on which season I’m in. I work with a program called Mission Adventures, where I recruit these youth groups and we have these kids come, anywhere from ages 9 to 28. We teach them how to share their faith and how to show God’s love wherever they go.

Laur with storm troopers

Lauren (second from right) isn’t afraid to have fun! Here her outreach team joins stormtroopers on the Strip!

“So if I’m in a season where the kids are in town, then my day is jam-packed from 7:30 in the morning ‘til 11:00 at night. I’m either cooking a meal or I’m teaching a lesson, doing small groups, washing dishes, organizing outreaches, like holding a giant sign on Fremont Street that says, ‘Come get free prayer.’

“We also do a thing where a couple of my friends and I will go down in front of the Bally’s casino on the Strip and basically play worship songs right there with everybody else. It’s really fun.

“Then for promotions for Mission Adventures, I’m usually sitting at my desk praying and asking the LORD for new ideas on how to promote. It’s either making cool videos, or it’s calling churches and trying to promote that way.”

Now you’ve also done some work through The Pier in Vegas as well, right?

“Yeah, it’s a community resource center. Basically what we do is we feed low-income families. We give them boxes of food per number in the household. We get 700 pounds of food from Three Square Food Bank on Mondays. Then I’ll organize it with the local church on Monday afternoon. Then on that Tuesday, people with appointments will come and we give out food.”

From office work to working with kids, how do you keep up your energy level and what motivates you to do this?

“I’m a people person! If I’m around people, I can get a lot of energy. So that’s easy! But if I’m in the office for promotions, it’s a struggle. Some days, you just really got to fight and push through.

“When you tell yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ you’ve just got to remember: ‘If I don’t work now, if I don’t try to get teams now, then nobody’s going to come next summer. Nobody’s getting transformed for Jesus. Nobody’s changing lives. Nothing is happening.’

“Then I usually go on Pandora and find some really upbeat music.”

You’ve inspired kids and adults alike with your life story. You say you’ve transformed from someone who had no hope to someone with purpose, passion, and a lot of joy. Who or what helped you in difficult times?

“My motto is: ‘Who I am hates who I’ve been. But I’m called to love those like I once was.’

“When I say ‘I hate who I was,’ it’s because who I was, was suicidal. Who I was had no purpose. Who I was had no joy. I was a metaphorical walking zombie, if you know what I mean. I had nothing to live for. I was just going through the motions of day-to-day life.

girl hugs Jesus

Lauren is also an artist. She created this cool picture to recognize Jesus has rescued her. (Yes, that is manga Jesus.)

“But God is good. He totally saved me that night I tried to take my life. He wouldn’t let me die. He is the reason I am alive.

“People supported me in that tough time in my life. People I didn’t even know that well were reaching out to me, in my church or at school.

“I mean, you can’t beat suicide in a day. You can’t beat it in a night. You can’t beat it in a month. For some of us, it takes years. But you just have to know: There is life. There is purpose. There is a reason why you’re going through what you’re going through.

“I know something the LORD has really been speaking to me about a lot of crap in my past is: It’s not God’s will for this to happen. But He has a plan for what has happened.

“While I hate who I used to be, I cannot hate those who are like the old me. I have to love on them. I want to reach out to them.”

It’s encouraging to hear how you want to reach out to help others. Can just anybody be missions-minded?

“A lot of people have this mentality of ‘Oh, I have to go to third-world countries: to serve in Africa, to serve in the jungles of the Amazon, to serve in rural places. Well, as I learned in the Philippines, you can live in Beverly Hills and be a missionary. You can be in Tent City and be a missionary. You can be in Reno and be a missionary. You can be in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and be a missionary.

Lauren by grafitti wall

Anybody can change the world. Lauren (far left) and her friends can. So can you!

“To be a missionary just means that you accept the mission that God has given you personally and that you go and you share the Gospel.

“You’re going out to your neighbors and saying, ‘Hey, we’re a couple of kids. Can we serve you?’ We don’t need to always speak the name of Jesus. We could just be nice.

Anybody can be a missionary. You just go out and do what the LORD calls you to do. The LORD’s going to equip you to go wherever you need to go. That’s all there is to it.”

What’s next for you?

“I’m going to Dallas, Texas, for seminary school. Then it’s right back to Las Vegas to start the LOVE Revolution and transform Sin City to Saint City!”

Words: Ally Siwajian and Lauren Patton © 2013

Photo credit: Sarah Nilame and Lauren Patton © 2012

Sketchbook with words: Move. This is the story of ... young dreamers, trying to move the world, the chaos that followed, and what's next.
Connectivity, Discover Your Dream, Stop Social Injustice, Stunted World Changers, World News

MOVE: In the aftermath of Invisible Children’s KONY 2012

Author’s Note: This post assumes the audience knows of nonprofit organization Invisible Children and its mission. For introductory information, please view the following videos: Who is the LRA, TONY: Lose All. Gain Everything, KONY 2012: Part 1, and KONY 2012: Part 2.


On March 5, 2012, nonprofit organization Invisible Children released their KONY 2012 video to kick-off their latest campaign to call for awareness, justice, and unification. Millions of viewers watched the film on YouTube, and millions shared the video via social media. A new era dawned. People knew, and people cared in mass numbers.

But with glorified success, Invisible Children and its Creative Director Jason Russell also faced scathing criticism. In the Western world, we have the privilege to share our dissent and to do so publicly with whatever words we choose. I am grateful for freedom of speech. But sometimes we forget who is on the receiving end of our verbal pitchforks.

In March, I watched with the world as Jason Russell, one of my heroes, fell beneath the weight of a burden he was not prepared to carry. I had met Jason briefly at The Rescue in 2009, and his messages of hope, his cries for creativity, and his inspiration for activism had empowered me with the knowledge that every life matters. As such, we each should do all we can to let everyone know they are valued.Sketchbook with words: Move. This is the story of ... young dreamers, trying to move the world, the chaos that followed, and what's next.

Sooner or later, we all have to MOVE.

I would like to invite you to peek further into this chapter of Invisible Children’s campaigns and the movement to stop the use of children as soldiers for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). This film, MOVE, will illustrate the rise and fall of leaders. It will elucidate the emotions felt by those on both sides of the debate.

Most of all, I like it because it restores hope. If you’re looking to find hope in your own life or to bring hope to others, I think you will find you like it too.

I respect a man who will publicly apologize for actions he realizes were wrong and accept the consequences. If anyone can fall that far and that hard, only to stand back up and ask forgiveness and dedicate himself to “Stop at Nothing,” well, then what Jason told me at The Rescue in 2009 is true: “Anything is possible.” So dream. Dream big. Imagine the world you want to live within. But don’t stop there. Stand up, say something, and urge people to take action with you.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Please, friends, keep it clean and keep it friendly. Comments will be published after moderator’s approval. Thanks.

Photograph and video: Invisible Children Inc.