Thursday, May 29, 2014

Do Something Good!

"I'm convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they're stones that don't matter. As long as you're breathing, it's never too late to do some good." 
-Dr. Maya Angelou 

Wow. It's been a while since I've posted. I've been at a loss for words lately. With the passing of such a strong, beautiful, wise woman, I knew it was time for me to get back to writing. Maya Angelou was always someone I looked up to. She was an undeniably brave activist and a compassionate philanthropist. She made me believe that diversity and peace could coexist. It is heartbreaking that the world continues without her. With her death comes my realization that I have a responsibility to reach out to as many people as possible.

I haven't posted in a while because I have been wrapped up in.. well, CRAP. I think social media has something to do with that. While the internet opens up communication opportunities that were never a possibility before, it also serves to shed light on some of the darkest aspects of humanity. I have been so caught up in reading all of these hateful things that people say to one another on Facebook or random forums, that I have begun to feel like an outsider.

For instance, there is a restaurant nearby in Gilmer, Texas. It is called Big Earl's. At this restaurant, a gay couple had dinner and paid for their meal. After receiving payment the waitress (who was also the owner's daughter) informed the couple that Big Earl's doesn't serve "f*gs." A news story was promptly posted on every local newspaper's website. What was worse than the restaurant owner's pride in his daughter's statements, were the comments on the news stories online. So many of people who are supposed to be my peers posted disgusting, hatred-fueled words about this couple and the gay community in general. Seeing these posts initially made me feel anger. I was angry that there could still be such ignorance running rampant in the world today. But, then my anger dissolved into sadness.

Is this what it means to be human? To destroy all that is different? To hate all that you do not understand? To believe that your way is the only way? 

Well, if that is what it means to be human, then I hope I have evolved. That is not me, and it is shameful that I have to live in a place where people with this mindset are considered my peers.

I want to believe- no, I have to believe- that there is a radiance inside all of us. I have to believe that inside each person is an innate good. I have to believe that the only reason people say and do horrible things is because that goodness has been swallowed up by the pain that destroys their minds.

As Dr. Angelou's quote states, the simple act of just ACKNOWLEDGING people around you can really make a difference. I have to think, maybe that person who left that hateful comment on that forum is just struggling beneath silent agony in their mind or spirit. Maybe that person has given up. Maybe that person feels like the only way to get recognition is to lash out. After all, a negative reaction is still a reaction. It still reminds you that you are alive. But wouldn't it be so simple if people were able to reach their attention quota just by smiles or words from strangers in the street? Wouldn't it be simple if you spoke to someone and it gave them the motivation to keep going? Well, it's possible.

So, what if you are that person who has said horrible, hateful things? Well, it's never too late to begin to improve. Every breath you breathe gives you another chance for a kind word. What better redemption than creating hope for another!!

Plus, what bad could come of doing something nice? What negative thing could be created from your choice to cause the least amount of harm possible?

And this is where I find my mission.

I want to help people, including myself, unlock as much of their inner good as possible. I want each person to reach their full potential of happiness, peace, and hope. I don't want to shudder at the thought of trying to reason with the unreasonable. I want to conquer the hatred in this world and turn it into something beautiful.

You can do it too!!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Every Path Is Open To You

"Not all those who wander are lost."

-J.R.R. Tolkien
 When I contemplated starting my own photography business, I was stressed at work, bored with my scheduled days, and was lacking inspiration. So I did what everyone does when pouting isn't accomplishing anything. I posted a status on Facebook. I can't remember verbatim, but it was something like, "I know I am not who I am meant to be, yet. I need a change!"

Yes, it was exactly what you are thinking. One of those vague, 'pay attention to me' statuses. Guilty as charged. Sometimes, to voice a worry to the world lifts some of the weight from my shoulders. This was one of those times.

When I posted that status I typed it with gusto, feeling empowered by typing my mission online for the world to see. I was going to work harder at improving myself and reaching my potential! I said it on the internet, so it must be true... right?

Then I got this comment: "Oh, Jennifer. You are always at a crossroads in your life."

I felt my heart drop as I read the comment. Just moments before, I was reveling in the feeling of clicking the "post" button. At the time, it was like I was clicking to turn over my new leaf. But after reading the comment I immediately began to questioned myself. "Obviously you've come to these grand ideas of enlightenment before, Jennifer. You saw how that panned out. What makes you think this time will be different?"

My question presented my answer. The difference this time was ME. I was a different person than I was during the other times of self-imposed turmoil. I am a different person today than I was yesterday. So what if I've failed a thousand times before? So what if I don't know what I want to do with my life... for the rest of my life? I am forever changing. My mind is allowed to change with it. In fact, I hope it does. I hope I continue to strive for change, betterment, and maybe even a little turmoil if it means I am improving myself and the world around me.

Remember, you may feel like you are spending your whole life searching for that something that you are meant to do or that someone you are meant to be. It doesn't mean you are directionless. It simply means you have not barricaded any possibilities. Every path is open to you. 

If you never settle for good enough, if you never settle for just contentment, you will never stop yearning. And if you never stop yearning, you will never stop growing, you will never stop learning, and you will never stop experiencing what it means to be ALIVE!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bust those doors down!

"Opportunity does not knock, it presents itself when you beat down the door."

-Kyle Chandler

 I sometimes find comfort in cliches, as vapid as that may sound.

I didn't just become a worrier one day. I think I was born one. For as long as I can remember reckless, anxious thoughts have crept inside my consciousness. If you're not one to fret, be happy. Worry fits less like a glove, and more like a suffocating straight jacket.

For instance, I remember once I was about 8 years old, I was posted up on the couch with a cast on my leg due to another femur fracture. I was playing Crash Bandicoot (and kicking some serious butt, I might add), when my sister came in. She was grasping a couple of Polly Pockets, and dancing to the music buzzing through the headphones of her portable CD player. Yes, we were so terribly '90's. She wasn't paying attention. The whole time she was getting her groove on around the room, I was paralyzed with fear. I literally had to pause my game so that I could watch her to make sure she didn't accidentally bump into my leg, or shatter it with her tiny hands, or rip it off in a fit of rage. Whatever it was that I was so afraid of didn't have to make sense. The fear was overwhelming.  For the record, my sister ended up grabbing a controller and sitting on the recliner and we played Mortal Kombat.

I sometimes find comfort in cliches, as vapid as that may sound. When I worry, my mom's words echo in my mind, "whatever is meant to happen will happen. Don't sweat the small stuff."

In most instances, I do find comfort in it. Like, when I worried that we would NEVER find a wheelchair-accessible house. We finally did. Problem solved. It was meant to be, I suppose.

But lately, I realize that I have relied on that tiny token of belief for far too long. In many aspects of my life I have become too.... "go-with-the-flow." Like my future, for example.

Currently, I am not 100% where I want to be. I mean, I really do love the work that I do, but I don't believe in my heart that it is what I am meant to do forever. I want to help people. I want to make a difference in the world. I have coasted on the fact that the life that is "meant to happen will happen." That's not how life works. If everyone just let it "happen" we would have the DULLEST world. No inventions. No improvements. No true unique ideas.

I'm taking the reigns now. I have decided to take a leap in multiple ways. One being, I started my own photography business. I still work, I just do this one the side. It is serving as an amazing creative outlook for me. So my future is looking brighter. Also, I got accepted into a local University. Right now it's a toss-up on whether my major will be teaching or Psychology. Right now, I'm just going to take a little bit of everything and follow the passion I hope I will discover!

I encourage you to take a leap in your life. Don't coast on a cliche.

YOU have to make things happen in your life. Don't rely on fate. Rely on the power of your own mind and spirit!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Yellow Bird

She said you were aiming for the sun
And I was just in-between
And every time you wish to die
An arrow was released

And the only thing between dark and light
Was my breast or yellow wings
Well this can’t be true I shook with fear
Though I knew she didn’t lie
I never wanted to harm anybody else
It’s just I who wish to die
And then the tears came rolling down
And the floor fell underneath
And the yellow bird folded her wings together
And I dragged her down with me

-Lyrics from  'Came a Yellow Bird' by Simon Joyner

'Came a Yellow Bird' is one of the most tragic, beautiful songs I have ever heard. If you haven't listened to it, I recommend you do so. 

Often when I am upset, angry, or sad, I sink into self-absorption. I don't think about the impact that my attitude can have on other people. I don't think about how painful it is to see someone you love crumble before you eyes. My only concern is with myself. For instance, if I have a bad day at work I sometimes find myself being sarcastic and short with my husband when he has done nothing wrong. But, really, how selfish is that? I am the type of person who loves with my whole heart. Seeing anyone or anything suffer because of me is unacceptable. (which is one of the reasons I am vegan.) Sometimes just the realization that I am being rude and negative to my husband, when he has waited all day to see me and spend time with me, is enough to snap me out of it.

Even as an adult, when I see my mother cry my heart aches and I crumble. Even though it is very rare and shortlived, her tears always move me. I am overcome with the need to take all of her pain away, as if I could absorb it at my own expense. While I know it isn't possible to physically transfer her heartache to mine, I still feel the pain along with her. I wouldn't wish pain on anyone. So I try to bring joy wherever I go.

If you have kept up with my blog, you know that I lost a friend to suicide. I think that is the reason this song has stuck with me for so long. Specifically the lyrics, "I never wanted to harm anybody else, it's just I who wish to die."

I hope that anyone who has EVER seen suicide as an option realizes that you can not pray for death and expect no one to be hurt. Someone loves you. Someone's life has been forever changed because you are alive. And it will be forever crushed when you die. I promise, no matter how bad your life may seem right now, every moment is temporary. With the flutter of a wing, your life can reach heights you never knew possible.  There is always hope, even when you see nothing but darkness in your path. Sometimes, you have to light your own match and stumble out into the world.

Just remember to protect your yellow bird. Don't shoot arrows of self-loathing, anger, and hatred into the wings of the people you love by simply giving up.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

No More Bargains.

"If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves."

-Thomas Edison
In March, I made a proposition to myself. I challenged myself to prepare for a mile race at Alley Fest in my hometown. It sounded like an awesome idea at the time. I mean, sure I sometimes don't have the strength to open my water bottle... but how much more difficult would it be to push myself a mile?

It's only a month away and have I prepped at all? Uh... no.

Not even a little.

I always try to exude confidence in my daily life. However, when it comes to hitting the gym or doing anything physical, I feel about three inches tall. A few weeks ago I opted to skip hitting the pool and decided to go upstairs to check out the REAL "gym." I spotted a cycling machine and decided to try it out. I mean, I pedal at home all the time, so it can't be that difficult. WRONG. First, I couldn't get the blasted thing to turn on. I struggled with it for about 10 minutes (which stretched into what felt like three weeks). Once I finally got the machine turned on I transferred from my wheelchair and attempted to cycle, but it was way too hard. I strained against the resistance as hard as I could, but it was hopeless. I felt people staring. Judging me for my lack of washboard abs and buns of steel. After about two minutes I booked it out of there and didn't look back.

I haven't been back to that floor since.

The problem? The indoor track resides there- circling around all the weightlifting benches, cycling machines, and elliptical contraptions. Every time I consider going and practicing on the indoor track, I freeze. I know that those same people will be there. I will be the less in-shape girl gasping for air and she rolls around in circles at the gym. Senior citizens will be jogging laps around me, "wheel in your own lane, little girl."

But then I read Edison's words. I realize now that I don't know what I'm really capable of because I haven't tried. I may surprise myself. I may be able to do a half, or even a whole mile on my first try. And even if I can only do one lap around the gym, at least I tried my best. And no one can judge me for that. Even if people scoff at me for going so slow, what does it really matter? It doesn't!

I decided to do this race. And I am determined to do it. I am determined to 'astonish' myself by pushing myself to reach my full potential. I am conquering that track and in a month, I will attempt to conquer the race. Even if I don't finish, at least I know I gave it my best. If I chickened out and didn't do it, I would always wonder 'what if.' My life already has too many of those. I need to make less bargains with myself and more promises.

And I AM doing this race.

I challenge you to throw at least one potential 'what if' moment out the window right now. Turn that into a PROMISE to yourself to make it happen.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

My Masterpiece: In Progress

"We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours."
 -Dag Hammarskjold

When you are born, you are brought into a family. A lifestyle. You are dropped into a preconceived belief system. You survive on the income that your family, or other caretakers, presently earn. Your birth determines who hears you speak your first words. It determines if you will go to a private elementary school. It even determines if you will have enough food to eat each day as you crawl around in diapers.

At the beginning of your life, you are given a map of what your life could potentially be. You could be just like the people in your community. At birth, you are given all the tools you need to create a replica of what you have been raised to accept as normalcy. For some people, this is enough. For them, it is enough to become another member of the Women's Bible Study at the local Baptist church, whispering words of judgement as you make notes of what God says you should forgive. For some, it is enough to wake up, go to a dead-end job, go home and drink yourself into oblivion. And even some are happy enough with just finding enough willpower to get out of bed.

These are the people that take their foundation, (the framework, if you will) and create a life around it. A copy-and-paste, cookie-cutter life. 

But I have never been a follower. I see that foundation as a starting point. A jumping off point. It is the one constant in my life. My past is will always be there, and it will always be an option. Because of that fact, there is no need to stay in that moment. I use that stability in my life's framework to help catapult me into the life I want.

It's not that I don't respect people who want normalcy. I mean, I totally get it. It is safe. It is almost guaranteed. But I know that the strongest people I have ever met (my parents) have both gone off-course in their lives. They used their framework to their advantage. They took the things they were taught, expanded on it, and create a masterpiece. They provided my sisters and I with a nurturing home. And they are always there when anyone needs them. I am lucky to have a foundation like that.

However, I was raised in what just may be the most closed-minded town in America. From gay bashing, racism, sexism, to "do not question God" and no not "use the Lord's name in vein. OR ELSE." All of the ignorance felt like a chokehold. 

If I had let that town paint the picture of my destiny, it would be the picture of hatred of others, and in the end it would be a picture of self-hatred.

I appreciate my past. I really do. I understand ignorance spreads like a disease, and I can't despise those who become infected. I really feel sorry for them. Because their life's "masterpiece" was signed by another artist: He Who Spoke Loudest.

Don't forget where you came from. Without it you would not be who you are today. But, don't let it control you. When you let your past control you, you can not be the person you are meant to be.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Good Morning, Sunshine!

"If you wish to be loved, show more of your faults than your virtues." 
-Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

One of my favorite memories happened at spring break during my junior year of high school. I had a close-knit group of friends and we were inseparable. We stayed up all night at my friend's house and I ended up asking my parents if I could spend the night. Of course, leaving out a few details about the fact that it was a co-ed sleepover. (Can my parents still ground me?!) I was told I could stay. We all stayed up way too late, laughed way too loud, and made some fantastic memories. I ended up getting stuck on large blow up mattress in the living room next to Drae. I had no idea I would marry him one day. I didn't even know we would date. (Don't worry Mom. My virtue was still safe that night. Haha!) We laid awake and made stupid jokes until we both passed out.

Then came morning.

I woke to the strong, sickly sweet smell of maple bacon. Now, not many people know this but my stomach is EXTREMELY sensitive in the morning. I mean so sensitive that I immediately began dry-heaving at the smell. When I say immediately, I mean immediately. My hair was in one huge rat's nest, my morning breath was atrocious, and I'm pretty sure my makeup from the night before had melted down my face.

After my dry-heaving session, I left in a hilarious whirlwind of laughter and shame.

Years later, I learned that staying that night (and heaving the next morning) may have created my destiny.

"You know," Drae told me one day. "That was the day I knew I wanted to date you. You were fun and nerdy and really cute. I felt comfortable with you."

I almost choked when he said this to me.


"Pretty much."

Perfection sneaks up on us everywhere. "Reality" television stars stumble out of bed with full makeup, complete with a set of false lashes. Celebrities with airbrushed six packs strut across the pages of the tabloids. Bone-thin models flash their pearly whites (among other things) down the runway.

And then there are people like me.

I drag myself into my wheelchair, wince as I roll past the mirror and witness the rooster-like hair and drool-crusted cheek staring back at me. Get washed up and paint on the makeup for 20 painstaking minutes, in an attempt to achieve what? Perfection? Who am I kidding??

Perfection does not exist.

But sometimes, in those moments of what we consider imperfection, a perfect moment happens.

I would consider almost blowing chunks the morning after a sleep over a DEFINITE moment of imperfection. But that night, and that lovely morning moment, created a spark between Drae and I.

If my friend's mom had made scrambled eggs instead of maple bacon, who knows where I'd be today.

Don't spend your whole life trying to create a facade of perfection. People don't fall in love with shiny bits of plastic. People fall in love with uniqueness, silliness, confidence, and those imperfect perfect moments.