13 Reasons Why, for Parents!

If you have a teenager or young adult, you need to watch 13 Reasons Why. 

I’m going to be honest with you. It’s a hard show to watch. I mean at some points my skin was crawling for the door while my eyes hid behind the steel trap door of my fingers. I was dying to whip out the Sword of the Spirit on these fictional characters as my heart ached for them. 

Despite the fact that it’s hard, it’s real. As I was watching, I could identify each character as someone I knew when I was in high school. Maybe they went to my school, maybe they went to another one, but Justin, Jessica, Hannah, I knew them all, just with different names. 

It’s scary to think that. It’s also crazy that most shows are dramatized, but this one didn’t seem as unrealistic as most.

I know, I’m not a parent so who am I to be giving advice, but hear me out:

Remember your first heartbreak? Or when you didn’t make the team that one time? What about the rumor your ex-boyfriend spread about you? Now those things don’t seem like such a big deal, but back then, remember, it felt like an earthquake. That was the first time you felt betrayal, anxiety and other emotions that you had no idea existed before. Or maybe you had an idea, but not in this magnitude. Also, this stuff called social media isn’t helpful either. Teens and young adults are constantly scrolling through beautiful photos of places and people that they are comparing themselves to. I was the teen of dial up internet and the very beginning stages of Facebook, Myspace, etc. I’ll never forget the pain in my chest when I read negative comments on Facebook about myself from classmates or the drama that followed who you did or didn’t include in your Top 8. Why will I never forget? Because it was the first time I’d experienced anything like it. Had I known that life was going to be a lot more painful and beautiful at the same time, maybe it wouldn’t be so significant, but I didn’t know. It felt like an earthquake. Oh, and hormones and body changes and the pressure of doing well because your entire future hangs in the balance of your 17-year-old self, so it seems.

Keep in mind, parents, that it’s likely that your teen is facing some serious issues for the first time and doesn’t necessarily have the coping skills to actually deal with them. This is their first encounter with an eating disorder, self-harm, sexual harassment, etc. When I was in middle school, yes, middle school - every Wednesday was a day that the guys were allowed to grab our butts. I don’t remember who made the rule up, but I remember feeling violated. During my senior year of high school, one girl per week was “exiled” from the group and couldn’t sit with us at lunch. WHAT!? The nonsensical actions of peers make it difficult to cope. Your teen feels the impact of these experiences in a big way, so please don’t be passive if they bring it up or tell them they’ll get over it. 

If you want a glimpse into their lives, watch this show. Learn how to use social media. Reach out and I’m more than happy to teach you. I’m sure you’re doing a phenomenal job at loving them and that’s great, but they also crave to be understood and heard. 

My prayer is that we can build a bridge of communication between parents and teens so we can eliminate life controlling issues in young adults. Please watch this show & for more awareness videos & resources, visit UnveiledCampaign.com

Hearts & Rockets,

Ainsley

What to do when your friend tells you they've been abused...

*True story, names changed.

Madison and Grant have known each other their entire lives and are best friends. She helps him with Christmas presents for his mom, he helps her with the latest guy drama. He’s a bit more reserved, she’s a wildcard. They’re very close and Madison, for the first time, is about to be more vulnerable than she’s ever been. 

Madison: I have to tell you something.. 
Grant: What?
Madison: It's serious and I haven't told anyone
Grant: Wait what? What’s wrong?
Madison: I was raped. 
Grant: Oh, you don’t remember, you already told me that. Whew, I thought it was serious. Wanna go to Starbucks?
Madison: Oh. Um, I guess.. yeah.

Madison thought to herself, “Wait what? I don’t remember telling him that, but I guess I did…or maybe someone else did? but who would know?  but… he still just brushed it off and acted like it wasn’t a big deal…I guess it isn’t THAT big of a big deal, I mean…I’m okay now…kind of…” and this topic was never brought up again. Not when Madison felt triggered, not when she had flashbacks and nightmares, not ever. 

Why do I tell you this story?

It’s important to know what to say or do when your friend tells you something like this, whether it’s the first or second or third or seventeenth time. 

When your friend tells you they’ve been sexually or physically assaulted:

  1. Do not brush it off and act like it doesn’t take courage to tell someone. If they feel comfortable enough with you to tell you something like that, sympathize and thank them for being vulnerable enough to share such a tough situation. Understand the gravity of the situation.
  2. Don’t panic. Maybe on the inside it’s inevitable, but keep a calm and caring front with them. They are probably panicking themselves and need someone that isn’t going to jump to conclusions on what actions to take right away immediately.
  3. Ask them if they are okay and how you can help, but NOT about the details if they don’t voluntarily share them. 
  4. Don’t make a police report without their consent
  5. Tell the victim about RAINN or any Rape Crisis Centers in your area. It’s important to know what their safe options are.
  6. Don’t treat them like a wounded bird. They’re still your friend and likely don’t want to be treated differently long term. He/she wants to be heard, supported & not patronized. At the end of the day, your friend is still your friend. 

I hope this is helpful on what to do or say when your friend discloses shocking news. Don’t be like Grant. 

 

Refer to the Resources tab on UnveiledCampaign.com for the RAINN website.

Inhale the good, exhale the bad.

I'm reposting this from last year on my personal blog because I never realized how the same emotions can pop up even one year later. The pain of loss isn't temporary, but community and support makes it a little bit more bearable. Tell someone you love them today. 

_________________

12/1/16

May I start by saying that my brain has successfully turned to mush because when I was typing the title of this,  this is how it went:

"Inhale the good, outhale the bad. *wait* *backspace* exhale the bad."

Mush. 

Continuing to walk through grief during the holidays is such a whirlwind. Tears attack at any given moment with no warning. I wondered to myself how long I'm supposed to keep Poppa's picture on my phone background. Sometimes I see it and I smile, some times I'm too distracted with my task at hand to notice, and some times I look a little too long and a complete and total meltdown rises up and boils over. Luckily, I live in NYC and I don't seem that crazy when that happens, but on a a serious note... when is the time?

I don't want to rush the process. I want to properly go through the emotions and be sad that Poppa is gone and mad that he won't be at my future wedding and devastated that he won't meet my future children. My eyes are already raw from wiping them just thinking about the reality in that last sentence. My heart feels like a 500lb. weight is rested on it for the pain my sweet grandmother must feel. I truly can't imagine.

As we go through the holiday season, add an extra ounce of joy to pass around. You never know who needs it. 

(I realize I didn't write remotely what I meant to, but I'm keeping the title because of the great example of my brain mush as mentioned in the beginning. carry on.)

Ignoring the issue...

Ignoring the Issue

 

By Gregory Henn

 

Fingers tingle with anticipation as they type the words out, each one more hopeful than the next.  When the final message is constructed, it gets read and re-read countless times to ensure that the wording is just right and conveys the exact feelings we want it to.  We hover the mouse, or our thumbs, hesitantly over the “send” key and mentally try to not think about the outcome, no matter how nervous we are.  And then, with one click…it’s done.  The message is sent off into the great oblivion to hopefully be read and responded to quickly.  But sometimes, that just doesn’t happen…

 

Ignoring people is by no means a new concept, but looking around lately, it’s not hard to see that it’s become much easier.  So easy in fact that we’ve been trained to ignore people on a daily basis.  We ignore the people around us at Starbucks by being on our phones as we wait for our drink.  We ignore the homeless person asking for spare change on the street corner.  We ignore knocks at our door or phone calls from numbers we don’t recognize.  Granted, some of those are for safety purposes, but if we’re being honest, sometimes we just don’t want the bother of interaction.  Now, before I proceed, please understand I am NOT advocating that we engage with every single person we come into contact with, because that’s just not wise.  However, when I look around at all the “barriers” people have created around themselves, it’s a wonder that interaction with other people is even possible.  Perhaps the worst perpetrator of all is how we engage one another on social media. 

 

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, all encourage their users to interact with other people.  That is after all, the “social” part of social media.  Yet how often do our comments, messages, and other methods of reaching out fall off unanswered into the silent abyss that is the Internet?  Forgetting about celebrities for a second, how often do we try and communicate with even our own friends and find that we are faced with…silence?  When we later discuss it with them, they apologize for not checking, or for simply forgetting to respond and the issue is quickly forgotten.  Except not entirely, because simple excuses do little to quench the pains of being ignored. 

 

Why do we do this?  Well, in short, I think we ignore because ultimately we want to be the ones to decide who gets special access to our lives.  By putting yourself on social media (unless you become totally private) you are allowing yourself to be open to incoming attention, both wanted and unwanted.  But the genius rests in the fact that since you never actually sit face to face with the person, you get to plan out your response in a careful and calculated way.  If this individual doesn’t seem like someone you want in your life, you can ignore their friend request and hope that they eventually lose interest and go away.  When you get a reply to a tweet you wrote, you aren’t obligated to respond.  In a sense, it was designed that way.  Never before have we had such platforms for people to be “connected” on, and ignored simultaneously.  It’s truly a marvel.    

 

If you stop and think about it, none of this would exist in the real world.  It would be far too awkward.  Imagine you’re sitting down at a table at Starbucks and a person comes in and sits down across from you.  Now imagine that they begin talking to you.  If you just sat there and did nothing (silently hoping they’d just go away), people might begin to think there was something wrong with you.  Yet, somehow we don’t even think twice about doing this over social media.  One can make the claim that they are just inundated with messages and comments and that it is hard for them to respond to them all, but I cry foul on that.  Even within your own inbox, you will prioritize who you want to respond to or not. 

 

Now, while being ignored for any length of time hurts deeply, it’s when we are never responded to at all that hurts the most.  People who never get a response are left with a million unanswered questions, while the other party involved gets to skip and jump and play their life away feeling “free” from the annoyance.  But, speaking as someone who has been ignored quite frequently in my life, let me encourage you that a non-response is the worst thing you can give another person.  Please believe me when I say that we would rather all be recipients to the truth than to silence. 

 

Truth seems to be one of the few remaining currencies we still have as humans.  When we give truth, we often gain truth in return.  Truth about ourselves as well as truth about someone else.  This whole mentality of ignoring something and hoping things just go away on their own is actually quite damaging to people.  If someone is repeatedly ignored because they maybe do things a certain way, but no one ever tells them, do you think they’re going to keep doing it?  Of course they are, because they don’t realize that what they are doing is resulting in them being ignored.  It usually just takes one honest person to finally tell them the truth, and they’ll realize where they’d been going wrong all those years.  One honest person that could have prevented years of heartache and confusion.

 

There’s that age-old phrase that says, “the truth will set you free”, and I think that is definitely true.  But there is another aspect to it as well.  Truth not only sets you free, but it sets the other person free as well.  People who are frequently ignored often harbor negative feelings about themselves for a long time.  Someone who is repeatedly ignored might grow to feel they have less worth than they originally thought and begin to question their sense of value compared to others.  The often ignored might grow to become a bitter and jaded person who seeks to avoid human contact, or worse.  Now, I am not suggesting that ignoring someone once will turn them into a sociopath, but the truth is, you don’t always know where the other person is coming from at that particular moment in their life.  You might just be yet another in a long stream of people who have ignored them in the past, and this time might push them over the edge.  (I admit I’ve seen a few Lifetime movies.  It never ends well.) 

 

So what do we do with this?  Are we to engage every single person we come into contact with in deep meaningful conversations?  Definitely not.  There is a time and place to keep things short and surface-level with someone.  But I think we need to re-assess the way we look at ignoring others as a good avenue to take.  What might appear on the surface to be an easy out, rarely ever is.  We might think we’re doing nothing wrong, but I can guarantee you it hardly feels that way from their perspective.  I think if we truly considered the other person’s feelings above our own initial comfort level, there would be a lot more honesty being tossed around.  And while the truth might hurt their feelings at first, in the long run, everyone winds up better for it.  

Who Runs The World?

*Steps onto soapbox*

During the past 10 months or so, we've been in wedding mode. Planning, working, enjoying and laser focusing in on our relationship as the exciting events surrounded us. Everything was about "us." While that's so fun and exciting, I forgot to focus on myself as an individual and what fills my tank. I can't speak for Justin, but I know I sucked at keeping up with my friends and what was happening in their lives. It was all wedding all the time, or if not the wedding, then work or Unveiled or Hearts & Rockets. My mind was so cluttered that I was 100% a sucky friend (sorry yall...).

PSA: Husbands don't like to talk about the same things you like to talk about. They can't relate to your cramps and get super grossed out when you say anything related to Aunt Flo. Kardashians are the last thing they want to see on TV and "OMG I HATE THE BACHELOR BUT HOW FAR DO YOU THINK I WOULD'VE MADE IT ON THIS SHOW?.. " - direct quote from Mr. Glenn.

So, 

The other night my friend Sarah came to NYC for work and we went to grab dinner. As we shared the most delicious kale & sausage pasta and dipped our overpriced cookies in milk, we talked about all sorts of girl stuff. I probably talked her ear right off but it was so refreshing and fulfilling to just talk about nail polish and The Skimm and the highs and lows of living with a boy (They are so weird. Must've been some side effect of the cootie shot. You hear about those in vaccines you know). 

Then, the next morning, I went to breakfast with my friend Lauren who also happened to be performing in NYC at Carnegie Hall (I cried. It's cool. whatever). Listening to her Grandmothers tell me about how one of them met her husband when she and 48 other students sailed overseas was like a real life rom com storyline and the other lived in Colorado for a while and threw caution to the wind in her sassy car was so fun and inspiring! Remembering our middle school church trip and how one of the girls got caught kissing one of the guys by the lead Pastor, was all so fun and silly and as my heart overflowed with a giddy feeling, I remembered how insanely crucial your girlfriends are. 

I was always the girl who had more guy friends than girl friends because "I don't like drama" when really, I just wanted attention and to be "cool." This changed around the time I turned 19 and realized how much I love having girls I can be silly and dramatic with. Yes, of course girls (including myself) can be crazy, but at the same time, they are the ones who you can stay up all night nail painting and hair braiding with. Girls are the ones who will watch that RomCom movie and eat pints of ice cream with you, and I swear we will go to Pilates tomorrow, yet when tomorrow comes, Pilates turns into brunch and bottomless mimosas. While, having a husband/fiance/boyfriend and being in love is such an incredible feeling, it's also so important to be able to relate on the most random things like which nail salon is the best and who did your hair because I can't live with this mop on my head any longer!?

What I'm trying to say is to cherish your girl friends and nurture those relationships as you keep your independence and individuality while in a relationship. Justin actually loves when I have girls nights. Girls encouraging girls brings out a sense of confidence and joy. Let's nurture that in each other and love on one another. 

Beyonce said it best. Who runs the world? GIRLS.

*Steps off of soapbox*

.

My best friend in high school was the most beautiful girl in school. She was smart, athletic, gorgeous and ALL of the guys wanted to date her. I mean ALL of them. One catch - her dad was the Dean of Discipline... Yikes. He was very strict as you can imagine, but she carried herself with grace. While she was more shy than I was (shocker, I know), the most outstanding quality that she possessed that guys were SO attracted to was....

SHE DIDN'T SETTLE.

I mean, she didn't even have her first kiss until Junior year of high school! Which, oddly enough was the same guy I had my first kiss with, only 3 years before that.. awkotaco, right? That's not the point. 

 

She kept her standards high and guys noticed that. She wasn't the girl who they called in the middle of the night. She wasn't saying "Yes" to every date offered and she was intentional about her female relationships, not ditching her girls to be with a guy she liked. 

 

Hear me on this: It wasn't easy. As her best friend I heard the struggle it was to always be the single one (meanwhile, I'm over there dating an athlete that bored me to tears), but the things that she saved herself from were so rewarding:

1. She didn't have her heart broken a million times

2. She invested in her friendships and no one gossiped about her

3. She made straight A's and got a scholarship to college

4. She didn't carry guilt or shame from one relationship to the next

5. She knew her worth. 

 

 So, embracing your confidence and self worth as well as investing in your girls is attractive to guys, but if you read anything from this, read this:

Don't settle. As she would say, "It's not about someone being good enough, it's about finding my right match."

 

Go ahead girlfriend. 

 

ps- she's now successful, still gorgeous & has incredible friendships. She's still selective on who she dates, but she's met some really quality guys by keeping her standards high.

Pss- I can feel you rolling your eyes at me for not saying "wear a short skirt and laugh at all his jokes" as a way to get guys to notice you, but I'm telling you how to get QUALITY guys to notice you, not quantity. Yer Welcome...

Your Story VI

Before you read this:

1. Grab a tissue

2. Remember the resources page if you have experienced a similar trauma

3. This is an upsetting story with a positive ending, just prepare yourself.

4. To the author of this story: Thank you for your vulnerability, willingness to share & bravery. You are truly a warrior and I'd love for you to email unveiledcampaign@yahoo.com so I can personally thank you. 


Have you ever been cold? Like absolutely cold? And no, I’m not talking about the coldness you feel on that first winter morning. You know, that one morning when you step out for your coffee run and wish you had put on a little more than just a t-shirt and jeans. I’m not even talking about that moment when you’re showering, just about to rinse, and the pilot light goes out. Those moments might be cold, freezing even. However, that’s not what I mean. Those flashes of cold are wimpy compared to what I’m talking about. What I’m describing is a feeling that freezes you so deeply, you can actually feel it touching your soul. It takes full control of your mind, and makes everything about yourself feel unrecognizable. And the feeling lingers. It lingers long and it lingers hard. 

Unfortunately, this is a feeling I used to get often. The cold would find it’s way towards me and I could never seem to escape it. There were triggers, you know? Like, take The Lion King for example. I know, it’s so hard to believe that such an innocent, beautiful, amazing movie could trigger such an awful feeling. I wish it weren’t true but the second I heard The Circle of Life, the coldness and the foggy mind would hit me. That’s all that would have to happen. That movie, the music of that movie, any sign of that movie became one of the many triggers because, well, that movie was playing in the background when it happened. 

It was summer vacation. My junior year of high school had just ended, meaning this would be my last summer with that high school label to my name. As usual I’d be spending it out on the softball field, and I’d be hoping to not just enjoy my time on the team, but also catch the attention of some college coaches. That was the dream at least and I am happy to say now it’s a dream that luckily came true. However, that’s not the story I’m telling here. 

My story starts with the arrival of one of my father’s friends. He was in his early thirties at the time, was a few months out of the basic training he was to weak to pass, and he would be spending time with us in hopes of finding some work up here in his dream state of Massachusetts. He’d grown up and lived in Tennessee and my father had connected with him through work - education. My dad was a principal, and here was a friend of his looking for a job, a job my dad might be able to help him get. It all made perfect sense. There was nothing wrong in the plan. It was a very casual thing. There was nothing uncomfortable about it. But then, sadly, that’s what it would become. 

I can still remember sitting in the back seat as we picked him up from the airport, still in my rugged, sweated over softball uniform. Dirt is a known accessory for me during the softball season. Not comfortable, not flattering. But at that moment, wearing a softball uniform in front of someone whose mind was addicted to sports in an almost robotic way, I guess that was like putting gravy on top of your dogs dinner. I guess that athletic factor inside of me just drew him in even more. 

He’d only be staying with us for a week. The weather was hot, our small house on Cape Cod was barely enough to fit my family let alone a guest, but it was kind of fun hosting someone who was so fascinated by the Boston lifestyle. He had never seen Fenway Park, had never experienced a Boston accent outside of my father’s, and as someone who has lived beside the Cape Cod ocean their entire life, it was almost priceless seeing him smile when he saw that view of the lighthouse for the first time. It was fun. It was summer vacation. However, what started as fun quickly became tricky once I got dealt some hosting obligations. 

My father, he had to handle work at school come the weekdays. My mom, also being a teacher, had the same deal. My sister, had a job up at Dunkin Donuts keeping her busy. So me, with nothing but softball on my plate every now and then, would be given the job of entertaining. This lead to an afternoon at a Patriots practice, both an afternoon and night game at Fenway Park, even a few rounds of catch down at the beach. It was alright. I didn’t mind any of it. But to me I was just hosting my dads friend, keeping the guy busy until he was home to do the entertaining. That’s all it was, that’s all anyone would have seen it as. Then again, that didn’t stop him from seeing it from a different angle. Where I saw it as entertaining, he took these instances as a sign of a bigger “relationship”, one that was “heating up”. So just like that, after an evening of steak tips and fourth of July fireworks with the family, I was introduced to that cold feeling for the very first time. 

Everyone in the house was sound asleep. I was tucked in but still awake, finishing off the night by enjoying that wonderful throwback The Lion King. It felt like a solid way to finish the day. But like I said, everyone was asleep, so my heart was already a little surprised when I heard my bedroom door opening. I could hear him, I could see him, and thinking about it now I can still feel the silence of the house. I wasn’t all that alarmed at first. I just figured he needed something, was looking for something in the house and I was the only one awake. But he was getting closer, coming towards my bed and he eventually climbed in. He wasn’t in here looking for something. No, he was just simply looking for me. 

And he found what he wanted. He’d locked the door so there was no way of running out and he kept his hand pressed to my face, muting my mouth so my screams only became wasted energy. In such a small house I still question how he was able to keep it so quiet. So deathly quiet and my God, in the summer, how could his hands have been so damn cold?! 

Before he started, in an unnaturally calm voice, he gave this story about how I egged him on. That this would stay our little secret or else. Besides, with the things we did, with the “dates” we had, no one would believe it. Then, without saying anything else, he did whatever he wanted. When it was over, when it was all finally over, when he finally left the room, that is when the coldness hit me the hardest. It could have been shock, it could have been pain, it could have been fear. Whatever it was I just know I could hardly move. Not because of how it physically hurt, I don’t even think any of that had registered in my mind yet. But I still remember just shivering so hard that I could barely breath. The next morning, after an entire night of being sick in the bathroom, it was off to the hospital. 

My mother thought my sickness was dehydration. She figured that had to explain my shaking and rapid heartbeat. The doctors even figured thats all it was, solving my nerves and nausea with just a few bags of liquids. They credited my scratches and bruises to softball and that’s what I let them think. I didn’t tell them the truth. Because I was too scared to tell them the biggest piece of the story. I was too embarrassed to tell them what really happened. It would be to uncomfortable to explain the real details to my mother. It would be awful to make my family worry like that. Just awful. 

So I let the nurses do their usual smiling. One kept bringing me a freshly heated blanket to stop my chills, and I kept a smile painted on my own face the entire time. I’m an athlete. A “never let them see you cry or ache” type girl. So even when I looked down at my phone to see a text from HIM, I still kept that smile on. I even nodded my head and agreed with my mother when she said how nice it was of him to check in like that. I smiled and thanked HIM. 

It only took me roughly twenty four hours though for me to find the courage to make some kind of stand for myself. I didn’t say why, I didn’t say what he had done, I just made it very clear that I would be getting in the car and I wouldn’t be coming back until he was out of the house. That was the only message my family needed to hear to conclude that yes, something wasn’t right. He complained, cursed, and whined that entire morning. He didn’t want to be leaving, he still had jobs to check out and a vacation to enjoy up here. However, as he made up his bed and complained to one of his friends on the phone, my sister overheard and learned quite a few details about my dads friend that hinted to my strong request. She heard a bit of the truth and that’s all my father needed to know to make sure he was long gone and never able to see our house again. My prayers were answered and he was kicked to the bus stop curb before he even had a ticket back to Tennessee. I was safe again, and I still had a good amount of summer left to enjoy. Then why, still, did I feel so cold. 

My senior year would become such a fog. I was already the distant type so I just went through my normal actions in the hallways at school. I kept to myself, I didn’t have friends to keep me busy, I didn’t think I needed friends to keep me busy, so I just kept my head down pure usual. I played softball so that was my way of venting when I was away from home, and my passion for music and the guitar kept my mind safe and steady when I was home. I remained my bubbly and happy self for my family, but that was all just motions. I was just keeping up an act to try and make it seem as if nothing about me had changed. But something had changed, and because of that secret boiling inside of me for so long, it eventually lead to a breaking point. 

The breaking point happened my freshman year of college. I had just returned to school from winter break and although I still kept on a smile for my friends at school, my family was beginning to notice a much more ghostly me. I talked about hating and quitting softball, something I had lived for, and I didn’t want to be at school. To them, it didn’t seem normal for someone with all these new friends, caring friends, to want to come home every chance they got. And it wasn’t normal. As much as I hated their attempts and eventually the doctors attempts to snap me out of that fog, I am beyond thankful that they finally forced it out of me. It took time, a lot of patience, and lordy was it exhausting. But my family finally heard the full story of that summer, and very suddenly, almost as if there was a switch turned on inside of me, my world was beginning to look so much brighter. I was finally feeling warm again. 

I still don’t talk about this glimpse in my life much. In fact, I don’t talk about it at all. The doctors bring it up every now and then but even with them I like to try and look at the positives in my life TODAY. Why? Because in the end, those positive moments are the ones that matter. College has gifted me with so many things, the ability and strength to let other people into my world being one, and I like to use these friends of mine as a reminder to look forward. They have given me so many memories worth cherishing and those moments all combine beautifully to push out, drown out, and almost erase that one terrible chapter of my life story. That’s not to say that I’m fully healed, that I’m fully free from those triggers. But with so many people around me now who keep me smiling, and with this refreshed mind set, I am able to remind myself during those difficult flashbacks that there are still so many things that I am blessed to have in this life. 

With places like this, the Unveiled Campaign, and with so many other beautiful things to turn to, I have learned that there is still so much out there. Since stepping out from behind that wall, even taking the chance and letting a real, trusting man into my word, I now know that there is a way to direct my story so that I only see the happy ending. 

I want to see the happy endings. I want to hold the moments of smiles close in my heart forever. And I hope by sharing my story, this story, that if any one out there is ever feeling that same earth shattering coldness, that they read this as evidence for the warmth that is still out there and worth fighting for. Because there is still light. There is still color. In fact, there’s a lot of it. And as some girl named Miley Cyrus once said, “Life’s a climb, but the view is great”. 

It is great, and I’m lucky and honored to stand as proof that those mountain parts of life are definitely worth climbing.

 

Wrong Sandwich...

“Wrong Sandwich”
By Gregory Henn
It might seem like a pretty ridiculous set up, but I recently learned a very valuable life lesson from a sandwich…
Allow me to explain. 
The other day I had gone to lunch and ordered some food to-go.  Before handing me my meal, the worker repeated the correct order, but one inquisitive glance in the bag, showed me that it wasn’t exactly made the way I had ordered it. Now, I like to think I’m a pretty rational person and I understand that in quick-food services (especially during the lunch rush), mistakes happen.  And so, since the visible error wasn’t anything that would have put me out completely, I said nothing, happily accepted the food as it was, and went home. 
It was only after I got home though that I realized I had actually received the entire wrong meal.  It wasn’t just that they had used white bread instead of sourdough; it wasn’t even close to the sandwich I ordered.  I sat there in a moment of consideration.  I could either take 15 minutes to drive back to the restaurant, explain the problem and wait for them to give me the correct food, OR, I could do the alternative, keep the entire matter to myself, and just eat what I was given.  I feel like any normal person would have just gone right back out the door, but I just sat there and ate it. 
Now the sandwich I had received was actually pretty tasty, but that’s beside the point.  The POINT to all of this is that none of this would have happened if I had just spoken up in the restaurant the first moment I saw something wrong.  But, because of who I am inside, I also knew that saying something would have taken a lot more guts than just keeping my mouth shut.  This then, is the plight of the people pleaser.  
If I didn’t know it before, I sure did realize it after this experience.  I am a people pleaser and while that sometimes isn’t an inherently bad thing, sometimes it can be a truly backwards approach to life.  Within seconds of realizing this, a thousand other compromising decisions filled my mind, and I realized this is something I do on an alarmingly frequent basis.  
You might not immediately see how people pleasing leads to compromising decisions, so let me explain.  For the people pleaser, the number one priority in any situation is making sure the other “person” is happy.  This applies to friends, family, and yes, even the cashier at the restaurant.  For me, going back in with a “complaint” would not have made the cashier happy and would have soured their day which would have undoubtedly caused a chain reaction of other negative actions all resulting in the downfall of civilization…in my mind.  
In total seriousness though, this event was eye-opening.  It made me realize just how easy it is for me to choose to settle on something rather than go for the thing I actually want because I’m often too afraid of hurting someone else’s feelings in the process.  Almost providentially, I recalled the old words of a friend: “You don’t want good things for yourself”.  At the time I balked at the notion, because well, who wouldn’t want good things for themselves?  But the more I realized it, they were right.  Rather than wanting good things for myself, my people pleasing mentality wanted good things for everyone else.  As a result, my life turned into a large collection of settlements and acceptances of things that I never quite asked for, but I accepted because it made other people happy.  
The problem with all of this runs deeper than just winding up with a bunch of less than amazing things though.  When I people please, I preach myself a lie that convinces me: I am personally responsible for someone else’s happiness.  I wrongly believe that if I’m not just accepting the things I am given, then I am letting other people down.  As a byproduct of people pleasing, I often fall into the “nice guy” trap.  To illustrate this more clearly, recently someone told me I was a nice guy, and used that as one of the reasons it was “OK” that I hadn’t gotten paid for doing three months-worth of work.  But that’s another story for another time… 
For too long I have happily received the “wrong sandwich” in life all because I chose not to speak up and cause a fuss.  But in doing that, I have also sold my life short.  I could have easily enjoyed all the wonderful things I had originally set my mind and heart on…if only I had found the nerve to just say something and not watch them slip away into someone else’s hands (or stomach).  Now, I’m not saying that life would have always handed me exactly what I wanted, but in a way I guess I can say that I don’t know that for certain because I never took the chance to find out.  What is certain though is that the more I people please, the less I actually respect my own life.  The more I live under the rule someone else’s perception of happiness and not my own, the less likely I am to find actual fulfillment in my life.  
Clearly, if I had brought up the error in my food order, the cashier would not have hated me.  In fact, she probably would have been grateful I said something so as to prevent another complaint from the person whose food I did end up with, and they got mine.  The truth of the matter is, by not saying anything I probably very likely caused someone else to be upset anyway.    
When you’re a people pleaser, you strive to make everyone else happy and it feels good to do so.  But I think you ultimately do it at the risk of disappointing yourself, and your life is too precious and valuable to do that. 
 After all, doesn’t life taste a lot better when you get the right sandwich?
   

 

Your Story V

I may only be 24 years old, but I have had my fair share of experiences just like any other person. Like many other people, I grew up in a small town. It was bigger than a village but smaller than a city, populated by 2100 people, having increased since then. My childhood was great, I didnt really begin to experience anything until I made it to Jr. high school. For me it was very difficult. Growing up where I did, it was very hard to find a place where you felt like you could fit in. Most of my classmates parents made a lot of money, allowing them to have pretty much anything a young kid in school would want. High end school supplies, high end clothes. These were all the same kids who got good grades and took part in football, track, cheerleading, you name it. I was an outcast from the start. My parents weren't rich like their parents, but how much money my parents had never really bothered me. Money and items dont make you who you are. On top of not having a place to fit in, I never had that many friends. There was a small group of us, but it wasnt anything huge. This was a group of friends that I loved very much. We didnt care whose parents had more money, who had the better house or stuff like that. This group of friends only cared about the important stuff. It was a place to fit in. For a long time, it didnt really seem to bother me. Then I discovered my feelings for a guy. This is where I began to start dressing up more, putting my hair up all pretty and wearing what little make up my mother would allow me. While doing all of this it never occurred to me that maybe I could just be myself and that might be good enough. I never really thought about it because this place, this school, all the girls had such high standards of what they looked liked. Here I was looking like a tom boy. I grew up out in the country, so for me all that work to make myself look "good" really was work. I was trying my hardest to be somebody I wasnt to impress a boy. Eventually he began to show interest and I was happy. But long story short, he was showing interest for all the wrong reasons. It was a dare or something, one of his friends put him up to. Talk about kick while you are down. As a girl in high school, that would be enough to make you wanna go home and never go anywhere ever again. I never told anyone about it, not even my friends, not even my family. I just swallowed it all and went back to being my "dirty" country girl self. I began to really wonder if something was wrong with me, I started shutting myself off to the outside world. I would just go to school, do my work, and then go home. I would wake up the next day and do the same thing all over again, showing no emotion ever. It didn't help matters that I loved wrestling. My mom got me into watching wrestling on tv and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. It became my hobby. It really consumed me, but it gave me something to look forward to and something to show interest in. Of course that got an immediate negative reaction at my school. I began to wear all different kinds of t shirts for different wrestlers, and one week during homecoming for career day I dressed up as my favorite wrestler. I got made fun of so much for it. I would just shrug it off and act like I didnt care, but on the inside my heart was just crumbling more and more. This was going to be my life until I graduated and left it all behind. Things didnt get any better either. Im gonna flash forward to my senior prom. I had been talking to this really cute guy for awhile, and it really seemed like it might go somewhere because he seemed to be showing interest in who i really was. The real me, my dirty cowgirl, playin in the mud, playin in the woods self. He asked if I would go to prom with him and of course I said yes. I had never been asked to go to a dance or anything of the sort. Not even a date, so I was very excited to say the least. I got my dressed picked out and my mom bought a corsage for me. The day came and I couldnt have been more excited as my sister in law helped me get ready. I made it to prom and he was nowhere to be found. Eventually I found out that he stood me up, and decided to go to his ex girlfriends prom with her. I was very hurt and upset. That was probably the worst thing that could have happened to me. I didnt confront him, and I didnt do anything about it. I just wanted to find a hole to crawl into and never come out. Needless to say it didnt help with my self esteem at all. All I could think was there had to be something wrong with me. Graduation came around and we all said our good byes. That was probably one of the best days of my life. I couldnt wait to leave this school and all these negative small minded people behind. And I did just that. I began going to the gym on a regular basis and eating healthy. Yes, I was unhappy with my body, but I also wanted to make a lifestyle change and prove to people that I could become so much more. When you struggle with self esteem, your weight can be a huge issue. And it was very huge for me. But I am also a tall girl. I am 5'10", which I never really liked. I mean what kind of guy is gonna want to date a girl thats not only bigger than him, but taller as well. Eventually I just stopped caring and focused on what I wanted. I wasnt happy, but I wasnt miserable either. I just felt like there was something missing. I felt like there was something else that could really help me, something that could help me with how I see myself when I look in the mirror. Thing is, (not to mark on myself) but I am a very humble girl. When I stand in front of the mirror I dont look into it and say "Dang Im freakin hot" or anything like that. I just look into it and decide if I am happy with how I look that day. Thats just how I am, its how I was raised. 6 years later, to this day, I still do the same thing. And I still workout, but now I do it because I enjoy it. I eat right, because I enjoy it. How did that happen? Well I ended up making some even more amazing friends, and these girls never missed a day of telling me how beautiful I was inside and out. And God, I found God. I discovered a new found faith that had been existent in my heart, but it was just shut away because I had so much sorrow that I could not get past. And there is music. I have always loved music so very much, but I cant play a single instrument. I cant carry a tune either but I still sing my heart out constantly. After everything that has happened to me, I look back on it all as a blessing. All the heartbreak, all the pain, it made me a stronger person and it made me who I am today. People may label you, they may judge you, but they only opinion you should care about is your own. When you look into that mirror, what matters the most is what you see, and how you see yourself. For me music, god, and friendship were my saviors. I finally feel like I belong. It has been a long painful journey, but I made it. No matter what you are going through, I promise you, it gets better. Stay strong and join me in becoming unveiled!

Thoughts on Friendship

Friendships are the best, right?  I mean, can anyone else remember being back in elementary school, when you and your friend decided to solidify the fact that you would be best friends forever with BFF necklaces?  Friendships back then were so simple.  They were based on what class you were in, or what you liked to do, or which boy band was your favorite.  And, for the most part, they were pretty steady.  It wasn’t until middle and high school that things started to get a little more complicated, when we all started separating into cliques and groups.  I remember that time of my life being challenging, as I considered myself a “floater” who got along with almost everyone.  I kind of bounced around from group to group each year, never really knowing who my closest friends were until I was a senior.

At this point, I have been out of high school for almost ten years, and I have consequently learned a lot about what healthy and unhealthy friendships look like.  I have learned that some friendships form very naturally and can last a long time, that sometimes the hardest friendships are the most worth fighting for, and that sometimes you just have to let go of the ones that are not encouraging you to be the best version of yourself.  So allow me to share of the things that I have learned about friendships with you:

  • You get to choose your friends, so choose wisely!  Look for those who will encourage you, challenge you, and love you no matter what; the ones who call you out on your crap and remind you of your true worth.  Those kinds of friends are absolute keepers.
  • You have to work to maintain your friendships, especially post high school and college.  When you’re no longer living with or sitting in classes with your friends everyday, you will need to be very intentional to stay close wth them.  Snail mail, coffee dates, and spontaneous road trips are always winning options.
  • It’s okay for some friendships to slowly fade away.  Some friends are for a reason or for a season, and are not necessarily meant to last forever.  This is natural and happens to all of us, so feel free to grieve any losses while moving forward in your other friendships.
  • Sometimes, the best thing you can do is end a toxic friendship.  If you have a friend who radiates negativity, is a bad influence, or has boundary issues, know that it’s okay to walk away.  It won't necessarily be easy, but you want to make sure you are taking care of yourself in your friendships, too.
  • You might find yourself on the receiving end of a broken or dying friendship.  Maybe your friend tells you that they can’t be friends anymore, or maybe they just shut you out for no reason at all.  These situations are really tough, especially when they are someone you really care about.  My advice in these situations comes straight from the Bible — “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." (Romans 12:18).  Do all that is in your power to make peace with that friendship, and if it is not received, feel free to walk away knowing you tried to make it right.  And remember that sometimes it has less to do with you than you may think.

Friendships are beautiful, wonderful gifts from God, but that doesn’t always mean that they are easy.  They take work, intentionality, and a whole lot of grace, but they are most certainly a picture of God’s love for His kids.  So get out there and grow deeper with the friends you value most, seek new friendships with those that will encourage and challenge you to be your best self, and always remember that Jesus is the greatest friend of all.


“A friend loves at all times…”
Proverbs 17:17
 

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…”
1 Thessalonians 5:11
 

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Colossians 3:12-14

 

- Gennean (blog / instagram)

Your Story IV...

*Before you read, buckle up. This is amazing.*

______________________________

My story begins when I was 17. I was a young girl who was struggling with anxiety to the point of not being able to eat. I was dropping weight and was not able to keep anything I ate down.

Then I met him. We’ll call him Dan. He swooped in right when I needed someone the most. My father moved out of states a few months before for a job and my identical twin had just had a major surgery a few months before as well.

I had a crush on Dan for months, but when we officially met, we were inseparable. It was the summer, I was going into my senior year of high school, and we spent every day together.

Dan was a year older than I was and went off to college when fall came. He was only an hour away, and I visited regularly.

But things started to change when he got to college. He started talking to me poorly, get annoyed constantly, and crabby.

I blew it off as him being stressed from school, or that maybe I was doing something wrong to make him mad.

When it came time to choose college for myself, and I allowed Dan to cloud my choice. He convinced me to go to the same school, and when I brought up the school I had fallen in love with, he guilt tripped me to the point of me not applying.

I ended up going to the same school, but getting into a competitive research program.

The first day we both were there, I jokingly hid one of Dan’s desk chairs, and he cussed me out loud enough for others to hear, and for my family to hear. I was skyping my twin when he realized the chair was gone.

That moment my stomach turned into knots, I knew I made a mistake.

Dan started controlling more and more of my life and I did not even realize it.

I couldn’t talk to guys in my class without him making me feel guilty, I couldn’t go to parties without him there and he refused to go to anything I wanted to go to. If I wore a shirt that was lower cut, I’d get guilt tripped.

After Fall Semester, Dan was dismissed from the college because of grades. I was assured that he wouldn’t fail out, but he lied about how much class he was actually missing.

When I returned to college for Spring Semester, I was going alone. I had made no friends of my own and knew no one on my floor.

I fell into a deep depression. I struggled not only with not having Dan there, but being my own person. I had always been a twin, and when I got the chance to be my own person, I still was attached to someone else.

After my first year of college, my mother and younger sister moved to where my father was living. I thought about transferring to the school I wanted to go to originally, even talked to a Transfer Counselor, but Dan made me feel bad about even thinking about it.

When my family dropped me off for my sophomore year of college, I stood outside my dorm watching the van drive off and tears streamed down my face. I had asked Dan to be there when they left for comfort; he didn't show up for over an hour after my family.

That was the moment that I knew that I deserved better.

"I'm transferring".

I said it out loud to myself, and I knew that I meant it this time. I was going to transfer to where I wanted to go to school for ME. No one else.

Dan started making me cry on a weekly basis, I barely left my room because I did not have many friends, and I sat alone on weekends begging Dan to come visit. Every weekend it was another excuse as to why he couldn't come visit and when he did, he'd treat me horribly. He would raise his voice to me a few times a day, and I let him.

Family would tell me he talked to me poorly and I'd say it wasn't like that all of the time.

But it was.

I'd get embarrassed that they would notice how he talked to me. Not only was he embarrassing me in front of people, he had given himself the power to embarrass me even when he was not there. I was constantly embarrassed about just being myself.

One of the moments that stick out in my mind was when we went to the big mall together by where I used to live. We walked into the food court and I was walking around looking for food. He got in line and ordered. I walked up to Five Guys and thought it was a little ridiculously priced. I turned around and walked back to him and he asked if I ordered. I said, "No not yet, I don't know what I want". He immediately went off on me. "What?! I already ordered. God. You can't pick from the selection that is here? I'm going to get my food way before you. Come on!” The guy that was standing waiting for food next to us looked at us, then at me with the most disgusted look on his face.

I felt immediately humiliated. This complete stranger must think I'm stupid for not being able to make up my mind. 

But then when they called Dan's order, the guy who overheard said, "Hey! I think that's yours" with a bite and glared at Dan. I knew then that he didn't look disgusted because I couldn't make up my mind, he looked disgusted that Dan was talking to me the way he was.

I constantly was asking, "Why do you always have to make me feel stupid?" or "Do you always have to do that? Make me feel stupid?”

Yes, I am a little unorganized and klutzy, but that should be lovable and goofy, not annoying.

Dan did get physical one time, and it scared me.

He grabbed my arm and yanked me away from a bird that was hurt. I felt a flash of fear; he'd never done that before. There were people sitting on a bench that saw him do that, and I saw their eyebrows go up with surprise. Yet again, I was embarrassed that someone saw that, but I didn't say anything.

As a girlfriend I was never valued. Anything that bothered me, "you're too sensitive" or "you're overreacting". I'd never get a phone call or text but whenever we were together he was always on his phone.

I had to ask to hold his hand, or ask him to cuddle. I never was told I looked nice or beautiful. He was constantly degrading me.

Too clumsy to remember where my keys were.

Too untrustworthy to be allowed to go out.

Too sensitive to "jokes"

Too clingy or pushy for asking for positive attention.

My accomplishments were never anything to be proud of.

When I got accepted to the school I had turned down to go to where Dan wanted, I was ecstatic. I could not believe that I was getting the opportunity to do what I had always wanted.

Dan didn't say, "Congratulations, I'm proud of you", he said, "Took long enough".

I moved out of the state we both had lived in and to where my whole family was, and I felt a weight lifted off of my shoulders. I breathed a little deeper, and found myself not missing Dan.

One evening, in the summer before I moved to my new college, I broke up with Dan because he had lied to me about trying to move to where I was. He was caught and I was done letting him lie to me.

A few hours later, I called him back and told him I was sorry and that I didn't want it to end.

They say that it takes someone who is in an abusive relationship five tries to get out of the relationship.

When I got to my dream school, I flourished. I made friends, got invited over, did better in classes, and truly smiled.

The happier I became, the worse Dan got. He would yell at me on the phone, guilt trip me for having friends that were guys, and needed to know where I was going all of the time.

One night, Dan told me he was never going to move out of our home state and I knew in that moment that if I stayed with him, I was going to be trapped in the state I moved away from.

"What are we doing then?" I asked.

We broke up mutually, but I still was upset about it. We were together almost three and a half years. I didn't understand why I was upset when he treated me so poorly.

When I found out that he had started dating someone who was 4 years younger than him less than 3 weeks after we broke up, I became numb.

Dan started doing drugs and hanging out with the wrong kind of people.

After finding out about his new girlfriend, who it seemed like he was with while still dating me, I knew that I couldn't focus on the past or him, I had to work on how I viewed myself.

I realized that I was in an emotionally abusive relationship after men started paying attention to me and I would question why. Why would they want me? I'm nothing special.

It took a long time to break that train of thought. I'd cringe when I would lose something, I would hear Dan yelling at me and be embarrassed, even if no one was there.

When it came to men, I steered clear. I had guys that were interested in me, but I wasn't interested in dating for months.

The lies I allowed Dan to put into my head about myself were not who I was, and I unveiled the lies and saw the truth.

I was me. 100% unique.

Instead of being ashamed of who I was, I started embracing it, recognizing my likes and dislikes, and thrived on being authentic.

I did all of the things that Dan had stopped me from doing.

I went out dancing and didn't care how goofy I looked.

I wore a dress out for a girl's night.

I joined a women's group.

I started painting and doing creative things.

I had finally got the opportunity to do whatever I wanted to do.

I graduated a year ago from my dream school, and I have never stopped living fully.

Life had it's hard points, like what to do after graduating, the realization that I know am starting my life, and moving two times.

I moved away from the state where my dream school was, and in the region of the US that my home state is. I don't regret moving, but I definitely miss it.

I got a job as a Life Skills Trainer for people with developmental disabilities and I love it. I look forward to going to work and have amazing coworkers.

Through my job I am teaching classes, and making a difference in the client's lives. I am helping them become more independent, and it makes me proud of not only where I work, but also whom I work with.

Because of my job, I have become more aware of disability rights and now am an advocate for those who have disabilities to have the same rights as you or I. I volunteer for a candidate for my new state's senate.

If I let Dan keep his control, believe what he made me believe about myself and not become the person I am today, I would never be here. I would not be helping those reach their full potential. I would not be helping a great person win a senate seat. I would be trapped in a life that was not meant for me.

The next challenge for me is to actually date someone. I have a fear of being vulnerable with someone again due to how I was treated. I have become independent but also am getting to the point of wanting a companion. I don't want another Dan either. But being able to talk about the emotional abuse it one step in the right direction.

Learning to be vulnerable after coming so far will be tough, but I am ready for it.

I want to make sure that others know to not let someone control so much of your life that you forget to live it.

I knew I deserved better and I haven't stopped looking for that better person.

I am living unveiled.

Until You Know

I always knew I wanted to tell stories. As a young boy growing up in the heat of the Mississippi Delta, I would oft skip out on joining my older brother and cousins in a game of backyard baseball, and instead, I would line my stuffed animals and Beanie Babies (Hey, it was the 90s, alright?) across the foot of my bed and, ignoring my mother’s warnings, would climb onto the built-in bookshelf to reenact scenes from the most recent Brooks & Dunn or Reba music video for my captivated audience. From my earliest recollection, I always knew I wanted to tell stories. I always knew I wanted to be an actor.

I always knew…until I didn’t. 

There have been times in my life where I felt as if all that I had was my desire, my God-given sense of purpose. For my entire life, that sense of purpose had been rooted in my aspiration to do one thing: act. Upon graduating college, I immediately charged the yellow brick road toward creative Oz. However, no sooner than I took the first step toward my life-long dream, I felt an uneasy quiver in my stomach. From the beginning, something felt dishonest, disingenuous. I dismissed these feelings as nerves or fear, and I resolved to keep true to the dreams of my youth.

I continued this for a few years, convincing myself that the dissatisfaction that I felt was simply the dues everyone must pay to cross the River Styx from the shore of the mundane into the land of artistic expression. What is more, I made early advances in the industry.  I had been signed to a top agency in Atlanta and I had booked my first leading role in an independent film. It would be this film (which died on the cutting room floor: RIP) that finally unveiled the truth I had been refusing to acknowledge. The truth is I am not an actor. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the three months spent filming in North Carolina, and although I made incredible friends of my cast mates and crew, everyday felt like a show within a show. I felt like a person acting like a person acting like a person. I had become nothing more than a character in the fictional play that was my life. Acting never once felt honest. I never once felt like myself.  My heart simply wasn’t in it. I realized then that it wasn’t passion that was keeping me in the industry: it was pride. I didn’t want to quit because I didn’t want to fail. But if you are successful at something you don’t love, don’t you fail by default? 

The realization that I am not an actor breaks my heart, still. It feels as if I am losing an intrinsic companion forever or as if I am divorcing a part of myself I once loved. Truth is, I don’t know who I am if I am not an actor. I have been so sure for so long. When I knew nothing else, I knew that. Now, the idea of not knowing terrifies me. I have spent my entire life with my sight focused on one path, and suddenly, I have turned around to be confronted with the realities of infinite possibilities. I continuously ask myself, “If I am not this, then what am I?” “If I don’t want this, then what do I want?” Choices can be overwhelming, especially when I feel that I have already wasted invaluable time chasing a dream that changed. I feel pressured into an immediate decision for no reason other than to avoid wasting more time. I feel the weight of failure because I walked away before I made it all the way. I feel frozen by all of the possibilities I never knew existed, which are suddenly right in front of me, and I don’t know what to choose. It’s difficult.

Quitting isn’t an easy decision if you aren’t a quitter, and I like to think that I am not a quitter. Still, there comes a time when you have to silence your ego and make an honest decision. If you have an honest change of heart, it is okay to change your mind. The decision may hurt you, intimidate you, and at times out right terrify you, but passions evolve, and the worst thing you can do is ignore your passion for the sake of your pride.

Go until you know, and then go with what you know.  

Furthermore, for what it’s worth, figuring out what you’re not is the best way I know for figuring out what you are. I am not an actor. Okay. I know that now. I still want to tell stories, and I will. In what capacity, I can’t say for sure. I am still figuring that out. I have more questions than answers at this stage in my life. I’m no longer young enough to know everything, so for now, I will close my eyes, take a breath, listen, and make a decision on a new path.

Where it will lead?

Well, I won’t know until I go, but if I don’t come back, don’t send for me.
If I don’t come back, I’m finding my way.   

Trapped

Trapped!

By Gregory Henn 

 

The other night I was watching a Magician perform a death-defying stunt.  He entered a coffin and had his hands and feet shackled down.  Next, the coffin lid was laid in place and hammered shut.  Then, a giant crane was brought over so that the coffin could be hooked onto it and subsequently lowered into a nearby grave.  As I sat and watched it, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “this feels a lot like life…” 

 

Whether we recognize it or not, our lives are shaped by our circumstances.  Jobs, Bills, School, Debt, Health, Family, Relationships; they all mix together to form a chaotic orchestra of conditions that sooner or later make up the reality we will face on a daily basis.  And while I have to admit that there are some good circumstances we can face, the vast majority of them are negative.  These negatives can come from anywhere at any time, but it’s my belief that they all cause us to experience the same feeling: being trapped.  

 

Too often we tend to think that since this (fill in the blank negative circumstance) is going on, then all these other unfortunate side-effects will fall into place, keeping us right where we are, forever.  Something in our minds immediately seeks out and visualizes the worst-case scenario.  Maybe we have heard one too many horror stories, or seen too many people we know and love fall apart under the pressure.  

 

But isn’t it interesting that while we’re neck-deep in varying degrees of worry about the unplanned future we often forget that many circumstances are often temporary?  In fact, in most cases, it’s the momentary discomfort and unease that winds up being so laughable in hindsight.  Yet when we’re in the midst of it, no one better is laughing!  

 

Think for a minute; how many times have you gotten to the other side of a situation only to tell yourself, “I can’t believe I ever worried about that” or “Wow, that really wasn’t as bad as I thought”.  We know this happens, so why is it so difficult for us to start with that in our minds?  Isn’t it interesting how every time you get sick, you somehow instantly forget what it’s like to feel healthy?  It’s almost like our bodies trick us into thinking we’re going to be faced with this outcome for the rest of our lives…

 

The Magician’s coffin gets lowered into the ground.  The crane is unhooked and the audience watches in anticipation as assistants begin to shovel dirt into the hole, further sealing the Magician’s fate.  Eventually their shovels are replaced by a tractor that begins to dump dirt by the scoopful.  Deep inside you begin to get claustrophobic and nervous.  Pretty soon, you realize that the Magician is rapidly running out of not just air, but also time…

 

We all know what we’re “expected” to do with our time on Earth.  Earning money, getting a job, and starting a family are just a few of the “core” basics.  But how those things are achieved is largely up to the individual.  We all want to end up at the same place, but we’re all taking different routes.  Because of this, it’s fairly common for our circumstances to bring their unwanted ugly stepsister “comparison” along for the ride.

 

When you stop to think about it, the current fabric of our society is built on over-night success.  We see examples everywhere from news-reports that have funny interviews that spark catch phrases to videos going viral of mom’s wearing toy masks.  Isn’t it strange that in one week, a person can go from virtual obscurity to national icon?  Viral “success” quickly lands us on TV with celebrities and we’re given our own little pop-culture identity.  This can happen to virtually anyone, and when it does, we can’t help but take a look at our own lives and instantly feel inferior.  Why couldn’t WE think of something clever enough to get us recognized?  Why are OUR lives so sad and depressing that we’re not capable of rising to that level of instant stardom?  

 

Seeing others rise to such heights of popularity or notoriety can cause us to feel dissatisfied.  How come we have to go about working our mundane jobs, or going to the same boring classes we went to the day before, being no closer to achieving the happiness we feel is due to us?  It becomes all too easy to feel like we missed our calling or that if we don’t get a move on our dreams soon, we’ll run out of time and be relegated to eternal monotony.      

 

When we begin to feel like our circumstances aren’t allowing us to soar as high as we might like to, we quickly develop a “why not me” or “why them” mentality.  We want to know what magic formula they found to escape their situation and launch their star to the top.  But the secret is, there is no secret…

 

Or is there?  

 

The wait has been tortuous.  The dirt is piled up so much now that the audience believes there is just no way in the world any normal man could get out of that box and climb to freedom.  And yet, something stirs.  A hand begins to break free of the dirt and thrusts itself up towards the sky.  Then, a second hand follows accompanied by relief from the audience.  Finally, the Magician stands up, out of the prison he was formerly locked in, having escaped the death so many of us assign ourselves before our time…

 

Too often we are unable to see the overall picture of a situation.  We only focus on the aspects that are affecting us negatively and we dwell on that.  “My job’s too hard.”  “I don’t get paid enough.”  “I’m stuck in this relationship.”  “I’m never going to find a new place to live.”  Do these thoughts really help us get further along in life?   

 

Instead of taking the defensive view of life, what if we were instead more positive in our way of thinking?  Instead of looking around at all we don’t have, what if we were more thankful for what we do have?  What if we stopped to realize that there are people out there who don’t have jobs or opportunities like we do and would be thrilled at the opportunities we take for granted?  What if we recognized that for every person we wished our lives were more like, there was someone who felt that way about us?  

 

I think its time we ditched the negative mindset and saw our circumstances for what they really are.  Not obstacles in our way, but as the means and teachers to help us grow.  In fact, the reality often is, we’re only “stuck” in a circumstance because we haven’t demonstrated the ability to learn from it yet.  We keep making the “same mistakes” or falling into the same “bad habits”.  Maybe next time instead of just wishing it all away or letting it consume our lives, we can really get to the root of the problem, look at it from the proper perspective, and shed free the weight that holds us down.  

 

We’re only bad at the things we’re not willing to work on.    

 

The magician stands, amidst applause from the audience.  Truly, he has done a remarkable thing.  Or has he?  Deep down we know this has all just been an illusion.  We know there are secrets.  Now comes the part where I tell you that the show was Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed.  It’s a show on Netflix that reveals how tricks like this are pulled off.  I don’t want to spoil everything for you, but I will say that while we assume the magician is stuck in the coffin buried under all of the weight of the dirt the whole time, he’s already out of the box, resting comfortably, ready to make his grand emergence long before the first scoop of dirt ever hits the top of the box.

Your Story III...

This is a real story submitted by one of you, and it really gets me. I've been guilty of saying comments like this to my friends who are naturally thin and here's a look out of their lens.. 

________________

For some reason over the years my confidence in my appearance has gone down drastically. I was a happy child who just wanted to play with my friends until around the 7th grade. I don't really know when I started to look at my body in the mirror but I know that it was before the 7th grade because I have a vivid memory that really triggered my thought process. I'm tall and thin, I always have been no matter what I really eat. I just don't gain weight like my friends do. At times I'm grateful but mostly I feel it as a curse. In 7th grade my gym teacher called my mom asking if I ate regularly because I was so skinny. I think that was the day I started hating that word. Why is it wrong to call a girl fat but somehow calling a girl skinny and saying you can see her bones isn't wrong. I remember my mom explaining that I ate a healthy amount of food with balance, she thought it was a kind gesture that she had reached out but I was embarrassed. From then on I would notice my friends saying how skinny I was and that they could wrap their hand around my wrist or pick me up and how incredible it must feel. I started feeling guilty that I didn't like the way I looked because it seemed it was the body type everyone wanted besides me. All I wanted was to be normal and to not be able to see my bones. My freshman year school I was at the mall with a few friends and we went to a store, they asked why I wasn't trying on any of the jeans because I had said earlier I needed some. I told her because they didn't come in my size , they were all to big for me. She laughed and said god I wish that was my problem as if it was the best thing in the world. All I wanted was to fit in. I tried so hard to be like everyone else but whenever I thought I was close someone would make a comment about my weight. It made me more aware of it and I hated my body more. I told my friends once that I didn't like the way I looked and they got mad at me and thought I was totally selfish because I was naturally skinny. I remember going home and crying because I couldn't even talk to my friends because they thought my problems weren't valid. I still struggle with my self esteem because even though I'm in college its hard to find the people I can be open about it with. Everyone has self-esteem issues and most people don't realize that what you see as ideal others don't want that particular body.

 

Own It

Beautiful. Talented. Wonderful. Fun. Unique. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to say these words — and others like them — about our friends? It’s because these words are true. We see those close to us in ways that they don’t always see themselves: simply as they really, truly are.

But now let me turn the table. When you look at yourself in the mirror, do you easily think of yourself as beautiful, talented, wonderful, fun, or unique? If you’re anything like me, I am guessing those are not the first words that come to mind. Maybe instead you hear something more in line with ugly, untalented, mediocre, boring, too much, or not enough. Those are all lies, friends. I know what you’re thinking: why is it so easy to believe those negative (and very untrue) things that pop first into our minds? Because we’ve let those lies tell us who we are for so long that we have begin to actually believe them.

Much like the way we approach our friends and express the positive, true things about who they are, we have got to begin fighting for ourselves. But how can we do that?

  1. Remember that you are a miracle! You are an incredible combination of genes, bones, skin, a brain, and a perfectly unique personality. You are able to live and move and breathe and sing and think and dance and create. That is a miracle; you are a miracle.

  2. Rebuke the lies. I know, I know, it’s easier said than done. But when a negative thought starts to creep into your mind, I challenge you to replace it with something positive and true. If you look at the scale or in the mirror and think, “I’m just so fat” (I know it’s not just me) I dare you to replace that with, “Well, that’s just a number. My body is strong and able and beautiful.” Or when you start to believe that you’re not good enough at one of your hobbies, tell yourself, “I love doing this, and I am so glad that I get to do it!” Lies are subtle but effective, so try to be on alert for when they may begin to trickle in... and kick them to the curb!

  3. Turn to Scripture. It is there that you will find the ultimate truths of who you are, all because of whose you are. You were created by the Master Artist, the One who painted the mountains and oceans and placed every star in the sky; the One who made man and woman in His image and calls them His beloved kids.

    • He knows you — “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:14

    • He loves you — “For God so loved the world

    • You are a victor — “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him

      who loved us.” Romans 8:37

    • You radiate light — “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be

      hidden.” Matthew 5:14

    • You are a new and beautiful creation — “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new

      creation. The old has gone, the new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17

      So that is our challenge this summer: to speak life and truth over ourselves just like we do with our friends. To love ourselves enough to stop inviting the lies to come into our homes and make themselves comfortable. To recognize that our true identities are found in the love that God continuously lavishes upon us.

      You are beautiful, talented, wonderful, fun, and perfectly unique. Own it. 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX9oWOdZccA&feature=youtu.be

Your Story II...

This story was submitted a while back and I feel like it may be relatable to many high schoolers, it definitely reminded me of a few scenes in my own life...

_______________

So my story starts eighth grade ish and my dad left his new wife (after my mom) for a new "friend" its summer i graduated eighth grade and he takes me my sis and my bro to this strangers house who I thought would be a man who was his friend. I was so scared and shy. Then I realized oh he's got another girlfriend great. Well idk why, but for some reason she didn't Like me very much so since my freshman yr of high school to my junior year she was so mean to me. She would call me fat and dumb and when i turned 17 she didn't even want any one to sing Happy bday to me and my sis(we're twins) I don't know why she treated me this way. But it was awful. She was nice to my sister but she was mean to mostly me and sometimes my brother (who has autism) so that really bothered me. I felt horrible about myself every time I went over there just to see my dad. I came home crying every weekend when I went home to my mom. I didn't know what to do so I asked my dad if he would talk to her and ask why she doesnt like me. The next time he says oh she likes you she don't know what your talking about. Well I found out later that he never even talked to her. My own father lied to me. So around Christmas they wanted to 'hash it out' with me so she was nice to me but only for like two days, then she went right back to bullying me. So me and my sis stopped going over there. She wasn't going to change and I didn't wanna put up with it. So we saw our dad and went out to dinner instead. Eventually she became mental with facebook threats and calls so he left her. It was horrible. I'm so glad she is gone forever. Since my sophomore year of High school I have lost weight but not because of her calling me fat because I wanted to for me. I've learned that if someone doesn't treat me right or is mean to me then to remove myself from their life cus we all have the right to have the good people stay in our lives and have the bad people out. - Meghan

Volition

The first line you read is not the first line I wrote. That is an important note to make with my writing. See, even that sentence is a third edition (as too could be this one).
          
     “It is important to make that note of my work.”
       No. Do better.
             “That is an important note to make with my work.”
     Closer. But no.
     “That is an important note to make with my writing.”
               Yes, this will satisfy. You may proceed.

This is the painfully peevish process by which I write and by which I live. The truth is simple. I am afraid to get it wrong. I know what I have to say, but my fear of constructing the wrong arrangement of words often keeps the cursor beating against a blank screen. I have confidence in the idea, in the inspiration, and I know it needs to be said.  Still, there is a native whisper in my mind that says, “if it isn’t perfect, it isn’t worth writing.”

But that’s not true. Wouldn’t you agree? Perfection is subjective and can never be universally agreed upon. I concede this truth, but, still, I fear not being good enough to be as good as I can be. Too many times too late at night I welcome the whispers of doubt to a dialogue of self-deprecation. These cruel conversations echo sentiments bestowed upon me by others I’ve known in my life. We have all encountered the carriers of a lost soul and disadvantaged heart that confuse being cruel for being cool. It is no wonder now that I have adopted similar malice for myself. This is not an excuse but an explanation. People told me told that I didn’t deserve to be happy. That was their shame. I believed them. That was mine. I internalized, bringing in what ought to have been left out in the cold. What is more, I am beginning to understand that the responsibility is mine. There is an expiration date on blaming others for my own unhappiness, and that day has dawned.

You know, I pride myself on being the friend my friends call whenever their cruel little whispers bend their minds. My friends speak of the same uncertainties and self-doubts that keep me up at night. What do I tell them? I tell them that they are going to be okay. That they have time. That they are going to get where they are going precisely because of where they are now. That now is necessary. That this moment, with all of its realities (rather they be hope, pain, joy, fear, or complete chaos), is indispensable in equipping them with the very knowledge, very strength, that will enable them to get where they are meant to be.

And I believe every word. But somehow these ideas I trust haven’t applied to me. I have accepted this “no one is perfect” platitude as valid and forgivable… for everyone except myself. I have been a good friend to my friends, but I am realizing that I have been a terrible friend to myself. 

But I am getting better. I am falling asleep sooner. I am fighting back against the wicked whispers.  I am battling with all that I have to win over doubt and realize my full potential. I am doing the best I can, with what I have, where I am. And that is good enough.

Finally, I’ll close this letter with a discovery I made recently – a discovery that has allowed a fairer perspective by myself on myself. A dichotomy exists between what I am and who I am. What I am is what I was born – the qualities (many of which I would not have selected) that I cannot change. My skin color. My looks. My mind. Who I am is who I choose to be. Who I am is how I choose to use what I am. I cannot change what I am, but I can use it to strengthen who I am. And by my own volition, I can work to embrace my intrinsic imperfections for what I think they may just be – good enough.

Swimsuit Season...

Well, spring is definitely upon us, and while I love the budding trees and more hours of sunlight each day, there is one thing Spring brings that I am not nearly as fond of: bathing suit season. Shopping for swim suits or trips to the beach bring up all kinds of insecurities and thoughts around the things about my body that I don’t like, and oftentimes I end up feeling...

Ugly. Imperfect. Unworthy.

I am all too familiar with the fact that we all struggle with body image and self-worth. We have grown up with in a world where insecurity taunts us from every direction, from the number on the scale, zits that pop up out of nowhere, the concept of thigh gap and, yes, shopping for swimsuits. It’s hard to not let the insecurities and negative feelings get to us, right? I wish I could tell you that it disappears as we get older, but it doesn't (or at least hasn't yet). With age does come wisdom, though, and with that the ability to better distinguish a truth from a lie. These lies — that we are ugly, overweight, unwanted, not enough, worthless, untalented, hopeless — they are just that: lies. They are things that we hear, read, and even begin to believe, but they are not the truth.

The truth is that you and I, we are beautiful, just as we are. The things that we deem as flaws or imperfections, the things that we wish we could change... all beautiful. Even if we don't always love them, they are what make you you and me me. Perfect in our imperfection, and fearfully and wonderfully made.

Psalm 139:14
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

Psalm 139:13-16 (MSG)
"Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother's womb. I thank you, High God - you're breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration - what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow... all the stages of my life were spread out before you. The days of my life prepared before I'd even lived one day."

Replacing the lies we hear with the truth can be so much more powerful than we often believe (and even more so when those truths are coming straight from God). We often become what we believe we are, so let's get after it together! Rebuke the lies and tell them to get behind us. They don't belong in our heads, and most certainly not in our hearts, so let's ditch them on the side of the road and keep moving forward in truth.

And when we are feeling beautiful and good about ourselves, we don’t need to be ashamed of it. If you or I want to document that moment by taking a selfie, we shouldn't feel guilty about it. You are beautiful, I am beautiful, and may we not forget that real, true, lasting beauty isn't external anyway; it radiates from within. Love yourself, flaws and all, and then you'll best be able to love others around you.

So rebuke the lies. Buy the bathing suit. Take that selfie. And be you, bravely. 

 

 

 

-Gennean

Your Story...

I pulled this story from the "Featured Story" list that I have & I wanted to share the simple story with a powerful, relatable message:


"My story started when I was in the 6th grade.. I was not a normal sized girl. I was bigger in the chest area and it made it impossible to find clothes that I felt confident in. I had P.E every Tuesday. The teacher was so rude. He made a comment when I was doing stretches, about my weight. That was a major breaking point for me. It came to the point where I'd stay home from school to avoid people looking at me. I felt that I was a fat girl that no one wanted to be seen with. When I did go to school, I'd cover up my arms with long sleeve shirts. It would be 90 degrees outside and I would have a long sleeve shirt. I didn't feel beautiful. I didn't feel wanted. Then came along a guy. That became my bestfriend. I was at lunch one day and he sat by me. He asked me why I had on long sleeves and I wouldn't tell him. I was ashamed. Ashamed I didn't feel beautiful in my own skin. I told him why. I cried and he just hugged me and told me I was beautiful. My best friend is what made me unveil myself. I am beautiful just the way I am. I finally believed it. By telling my story, I have became more confident in myself and I hope that other feel the same when they share their story."


I really love this story because its so real and relatable. I used to do the same thing actually... I would wear hoodies every day, no matter the temperature because I was hiding what I was ashamed of, which caused me to act out in that shame. It's crazy how one person being kind to you can change your whole perspective and self-respect. 

I encourage YOU to be that one person for someone else!! 

I would LOVE to keep hearing your stories! Don't forget to submit on the stories page :) 

 

Love y'all.. 

 

Be a Man – The Crying Game

Be a Man – The Crying Game

By Gregory Henn

 

The other day I was watching, of all things, the Disney cartoon Robin Hood.  It’s a movie I had grown up with and naturally I was very fond of certain moments.  One such moment is the scene where Robin Hood is on the verge of being executed after the archery tournament.  Then suddenly, he is freed and chaos erupts at the festival.   The large chicken character, Lady Cluck, is targeted by several of the rhino guards, and a call is made to “Seize the fat one!”  What follows is simply beautiful: The Notre Dame Football fight song rings out as the heroic chicken rampages through a stampede of rhinos like a mighty running back trying to make it to the end zone.  It’s such an amazing moment in an already amazing movie, and as I let my feelings wash over me, I started crying.  

 

Now, I wasn’t sad per say, but I think I was just extremely nostalgic for a time when things were simpler.  I actually re-played the sequence and got all the same feels the second time through.  But as I let the rest of the movie play, I began to feel slightly embarrassed.  It seemed largely silly, I told myself, that I could let a cartoon chicken attacking cartoon rhinos cause me to weep.  I instinctively began thinking of some rugged and tough activities I could do after the movie to offset my emotional outburst, but then I stopped myself.  You know something?  I was glad I was crying.  And then another question instantly filled my mind: I wonder if other guys feel the same way?

 

You see, as men, we face a very real problem.  For reasons unknown, one of the most absurd and yet commonly held beliefs in our society is that it’s not “OK” for a man to cry.  Somewhere throughout history, it became not “manly” for a guy to simply show emotion.  People have gotten it into their heads that when a guy starts feeling sad he need only “man up” and get on with life.  Does this strike anyone else as odd?  In an attempt to try and understand it, I had to go back…WAY back…to my childhood.  

 

I’ll come right out and admit that, as a boy, I cried a lot.  The tears were always (mostly) justified and I never felt like I was doing anything wrong.  But then sometime around junior high, I started looking up to older guys who I wanted to emulate.  Whenever one of them would appear to get sad, I’d hear people say things like, “come on, just be a man!”  Almost instantly, crying stopped seeming like an appropriate outlet for male emotion.  With just a few choice words, crying became an activity reserved for girls and little babies, and eventually began to exude feelings of weakness and shame.  After all, the men I looked up to were “tough” and left their tears unshed, even in pain.  That was the image of manhood I believed in and strived for in my life.    

 

Now whether they’ll admit it or not, I think other guys have probably gone through this same experience.  And while it might feel initially good to be able to resist your natural urges and appear outwardly strong, I can tell you first hand, that it does more damage than good.  You see, what people fail to mention is that the emotional stunting that can occur as a result of these simple “man up” phrases, is devastating.  The truth for my life (and no doubt other guys) was that by suppressing my tears so much, over time I actually lost the ability to cry at all.  I can safely say there was a period of time between ages 13 and 21 where a lot of sad things happened in my life, but I didn’t cry once.  8 years, and not a single tear shed.  

 

Not being able to cry meant a lot to me over those years, but it was never a good thing.  It meant that I was seldom honest with myself and with others.  It meant that I valued the presentation of my outer appearance over the truth of my own inner feelings.  It meant that rather than deal with things in my own heart, I passively handled things through other emotional outlets like music and various forms of media.  It meant that I was unable to show empathy to others who needed me.  But perhaps most troubling, it meant that I had the worst time relating to women. 

 

Once the emotion of sadness was squelched in my heart, other emotions quickly followed.  Making and keeping girlfriends was nearly impossible.  Try as I might, I just couldn’t connect with them emotionally.  And this continued on even after I eventually did have a good cry.  For a long time in my life, the longest relationship I ever had lasted less than two months.  I don’t think that’s because I’m not a cool person, but because when it came to being open and vulnerable in a relational sense, I just couldn’t do it.  Everything was surface level, and trying to really express myself felt awkward.  Underneath all of it though, the true irony is that I can safely say that “manly” was certainly the last thing I ever felt.   

 

Fast forward to now, and I can happily say that I am starting to fully understand just who I am in the complete range of my emotions.  And while I certainly don’t just cry at a moment’s notice (unless we’re talking good Disney movies), I am at least able to be open and honest with myself about when I want to.  There’s been another change too.  As I sit and reflect about what makes a man a man, I no longer see someone who never sheds a tear.  Instead I see a man as being someone who is so in tune with himself that he feels secure enough in his identity to show emotion when he chooses.  And it’s only in hindsight I can say that that’s what I should have been looking for the entire time.  

 

Can we agree on something?  Its time we stop telling other guys, especially boys, to “man up” in the face of emotion.  When a guy cries, he’s expressing an emotion true within himself, and contrary to popular belief, showing it doesn’t make him weak.  I reject the notion that a guy, upon reaching a certain age or level of maturity, has to suddenly act like he has it all together.  I reject that a guy should feel shame in turning to others for emotional help.  I reject that a guy needs to suppress his sadness in favor of saving face in front of his friends.  And ultimately, I reject the notion that a man who cries is somehow anything less than a man.  

 

I hope you will too.