Meet Leighton Serlo


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, 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.

Posted in Lifework Stories

Meet Mel Toran

We got the opportunity to sit down with Mel Toran, Lifework Leadership Class 2016/2017 to hear more of his story.


When did you surrender your life to Jesus? 

As a young boy born in Portland OR and raised in Erie, PA., I was baptized Methodist and attended Catholic School.  This meant that I went to Mass on Tuesdays for 45-min, but Church on Sundays for what seemed to be all day.  I also recall attending Vacation Bible School every Summer in Buffalo, NY with my Grandmother, Brother, and Cousins.  The influence of my Mother and Grandmother were quite powerful as a youngster and I am so thankful that they trained me up as a child in the way that I should go, and although I strayed along the way, I have not departed from it.

My wife Donna and I surrendered our lives to Jesus in January 2008.  We relocated back to Gainesville, FL. in September 2007.  Donna’s hairdresser invited us to attend her church (Passage Family Church), where we became actively engaged in the Ministry.  It began with me attending meetings on Saturday’s with the Men’s Ministry, continued with a display for helping children (boys aged 9-12) as a mentor, included work in the Audio Visual Dept. of the church where I would video the service while keeping my eye upon Donna who sang in the choir, and concluded with life changing opportunities where I choose to go to the Dominican Republic and Haiti on two separate occasions as a member of our Global Missions Ministry.  It was here that I saw a love for Christ in the midst of nothing that caused me to be forever changed.  It was also here that I gained an understanding of the importance of Tithing, the power of prayer, and where I learned my 7 Faith Confessions, which I recite daily.  Each confession is critically important, but I love #4, which states:  “In the Name of Jesus I confess that I am on my way to Godly Greatness, My life is ordained by God and my Destiny is secure, I am gifted to succeed and anointed to be a Blessing, it is so be it unto me.”


How is your job a calling and how do you find purpose in it?

I am the Senior Director of Community Engagement for the American Cancer Society.  I just celebrated 13-years on staff on March 1st.  Prior to the Society, I had jobs/career that paid our bills and helped sustain our lifestyle, but I neither found them rewarding or fulfilling.  I lost my dad to Pancreatic Cancer in June 1998 and he did not tell us of his diagnosis.  We learned later that he had been traveling to Canada for experimental treatment.  I initially joined the Society as a volunteer not because of my day, but instead because someone asked me to join the local cancer society board. Since joining the Society, I have realized that I have a level of compassion for others that I did not know existed within me.  My work allows me to utilize the unique gifts that God has blessed me to possess.  They include compassion and genuine empathy for others, along with a level of tenacity to accomplish all that is placed in front of me.  I am charged with educating members of the community on the importance of screening and early detection, overseeing free programs and services for those diagnosed with cancer, raising funds to further our mission, and advocating for cancer related appropriations and policy in Tallahassee and Washington, DC.

My personal calling is to educate men, specifically men that look like me on the importance of understanding your family health history, speaking about it, and ensuring that we take active control of our health through screening and early detection. 


Has anything significant happened in your life lately to impact how you view the world? 

I lost my mom to lung cancer in July 2015 and my only sibling (brother) in February 2016.  As a result, I have relied upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to carry me through a difficult period in my life.  I am also blessed to have a loving wife who has been at my side for the last 16-years.

My relationship, trust, and faith in God have only grown stronger.  My relationship with my wife and our family members also continues to grow stronger.  My relationships with friends who have had an impact upon my life have grown stronger.  My relationship with those who seek to harm me has grown stronger, as I have adopted a “love everyone” mentality.  My interest in “living for today” and enjoying all that life has to offer has grown stronger.  Most importantly, I choose to be a better CHRISTian, better husband, better uncle, better family member, and a better friend to everyone that I encounter.

Posted in Lifework Stories

Meet Congressman John Rutherford

SheriffJohnRutherfordIn this field, you begin to see that life doesn’t always cease at the end of a long life, but can cease suddenly and very unexpectedly. However, to have an individual die in my hands while I was trying to save him, that will absolutely change your worldview and perspective on life. Seeing his wife and kids there, it was shocking and devastating. That was a huge turning point in my life. I started to question my purpose, my faith and if I could even continue in this job.

I had grown up in church to about 14 years old, and knew the Gospel and knew about Jesus. Now seeing death and dying first hand, I realized I only believed it because someone told me I should. At this point, I’m struggling with my belief in God. Is this life really all there is or does God truly exist and offer us a life after death? Now I’m a police officer and if there is life after death, I needed proof, “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” So at that time, I started reading the Bible, literally, cover to cover. What I figured out through reading Scripture was that I was a good man, a good father and on my way to being a pretty good police officer, but I was NOT saved.

By May 28, 1978, I had made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of my life. However, I was working the midnight shift and was so tired that I didn’t want to go to church that morning. I turned on the radio for some background noise so that I could fall asleep. To my surprise, there was an evangelist talking about “No excuse Sunday!” speaking on how there will always be an excuse as to why we ‘can’t’ go to church, but no excuses this Sunday. If you want the beach, they had sand at the Church, if you wanted to go swimming they had a rubber pool, everything you could want to do, the Churched was providing that morning. No EXCUSES for not going to Church!. I KNEW he was talking directly to me. I jumped out of bed, went to church and that morning I turned my life over to Jesus Christ. I surrendered my life to Jesus, and it changed my life forever. Once you decide “Is there a God: yes or no” that impacts and guides every decision you will make after that. My job became my calling, my ministry. (Ephesians 2:10)

As soon as I surrendered to Jesus Christ, the attacks began. Back in 1991, I was Chief of Patrol. That job had a reputation for grinding people down so it was usually a short-term assignment that they rotated people through because of the stress that came with it. One day, I was walking over to the drill hall and a young officer stopped me. He said, “Do you mind if I ask you a question? I’ve seen other Chief of Patrols and you are different. You are always smiling, and it’s like you have no problems.” I told him, it’s because this is a calling for me and not a job. It’s a ministry. That makes all of the darts and arrows that come your way, all the difficulties, easier to accept. This is my ministry, so even in adversity, I can be at peace because I know He is in control. My worldview was different – my happiness in life wasn’t dependent upon being sheriff or climbing a ladder. It was dependent upon doing what God wanted me to do. There’s a lot of peace and empowerment in God’s Grace.

Fun Fact: Sheriff John Rutherford has been married for 44 years to his high school sweet heart. When asked what’s his secret, he replied: “I’ve been married for 44 years because I learned three simple responses; Yes dear. You’re right dear and I’m sorry dear.”

Posted in Lifework Stories

Meet Kevin and Jessica Bush, Lifework Class 2016/17

L2BlogPicKevin and Jessica met online through in July 2011. It was a quick chase by all accounts! They got engaged three months to the day from their first date. Just as Jessica was starting to get used to calling Kevin her fiancé, they got married. Again, this happened exactly three months after they were engaged, on January 21, 2012.
Kevin was introduced to Lifework Leadership by a graduate and fellow church member. After learning about the program, he realized this was exactly what God was pushing him towards for community involvement and spreading the love of Christ. Kevin and Jessica discussed this program and both felt strongly that this was a way for them to grow in their faith, learn a lot from a quality program on leadership, and be intentional in all aspects of their life. Jessica actually said, “How can you turn down an opportunity like this when God provides it?”
Kevin mentioned that God is always doing something significant in their lives. The first four years of marriage were an intensely focused time of personal growth encompassing deep roots of faith in Jesus, a solid understanding of the roles each family member performs, and the development of strong family ties. Their family verse is now Ecclesiastes 4:12, “The one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” After building this foundation for the Bushes, God placed several people and processes in motion to involve them in Celebration Church’s Marketplace Ministries, Boys and Girls Club of Northeast Florida, call them to lead a small group, and to most recently join Lifework Leadership. It is their firm belief that God is working through them to accomplish His will, and they are very excited to see the fruit that comes from staying attached to the vine!
Unwavering faith in God’s promise to provide and His words in Romans 8:28 are the bedrock on which the Bushes have built their worldview. Their marriage is a lifetime covenant with God, unable to be detached or separated by anyone or anything. The priorities of God and marriage come first and second, well before anything else in their lives. With the additional perspectives learned through Lifework Leadership, their jobs have taken on a new meaning – an understanding of its purpose and role in their lives. Their jobs are the means to the end, the glory of the Creator, Savior, and Redeemer.
Posted in Lifework Stories

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Lifework Leadership seeks to limit its classes to proven participants. Participants are men and women who have demonstrated leadership potential, business excellence, and integrity.

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