Vegging Out

The holidays are the perfect opportunity for a cheat day (week).  Luckily, I think there’s more to health than calorie intake, so by all means, forget about portion control and eat up!  If you are unaware of my model of health, it accounts for facets of well-being outside of our physical body, and you can read more about it hereUse the holidays as a time to recharge mentally while you veg out physically.

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Christmas Motto: hot cocoa, blanket, fire side, kisses… the great indoors

Being thankful is a state of mind, and the holidays are a great time to re-evaluate your blessings.  It’s so easy to get caught up in negative thinking.  Social media has really perpetuated this problem.  We see peoples’ social media lives and immediately make comparisons to our reality.  Comparisons are human, and it’s okay to make them.  However, you need to recognize the distorted realities that are being portrayed online, and you need to learn to be okay with your own reality.

Focusing on what’s good in your life is a great coping skill.  This doesn’t mean ignore the bad – trust me we all have mountains to climb.  But why think about the bad if you aren’t doing so constructively?  Rolling it around in your head until you feel ill helps no one.  So when you aren’t actively solving your life’s problems, turn your attention to your many blessings!

Recognize that being thankful starts with the small things.  It’s easy to be thankful for a promotion or the car you saved up to buy, but realize that waking up today was a gift in itself.  Seeing the festive decor, hearing your loved ones voices, and tasting the pie… just to be is magical, and to be well in life’s turbulence is nothing short of miraculous.

In our fast-paced world, what an incredible blessing it is to be able to gather around the table and share a meal.  Enjoy your time with family, friends, or even just yourself – I’m not telling you how to live your holiday; I’m just reminding you to live your best life!

From my family to yours, happy holidays!

#APerfectFit

A Thanksgiving Story

This week I took some old clothes to the Goodwill donation box and had a powerful reminder of how minute my “problems” really are. The weather hadn’t called for rain that afternoon, yet dark clouds formed and cold droplets were falling hard. I was grumpy, complaining to myself about how cold and damp I’d get in the 5 foot walk from my car to the dropbox. I was in a bad mood already because I’d had to stay in town for an exam and wouldn’t be able to leave for home until the day before Thanksgiving. I almost skipped my errand and went straight home, but then the rain slowed down.

I moved the first load from my trunk and shut the metal flap, still obsessing over how annoyed I was by the weather, this chore, and my to do list. I gathered the rest of my clothes and dropped them in, too. As my hand rested on the handle seconds from sending these away, I heard a man calling out, “Ma’am please, please wait! Could I look through those before you shut it?” Sadly, my first thought was for my safety, but when I turned, the man I saw was fragile and looked desperate but not unkind. He was running across the parking lot, followed by his wife who moved a little slower. She clutched a bag from the nearby fast food joint, and she wore several layers of torn clothes that were doing nothing to save her from the cold and damp.

“Thank you ma’am,” the guy was saying, bowing his head in front of me. “My wife needs clothes so bad.”

She just kept saying “thank you,” with a look of hope and happiness on her face.

“There are some old flannels,” I said, handing her the one on top, “I hope they’ll keep you warm.”

I got in my car, and now I was feeling sad. My heart felt like lead in my chest. And I did something many of us have done. I began to ask God why.

Why didn’t You call my attention to these people before I dropped the first load of clothes down the chute?

You see the second load had a few flannels, but it was mostly dresses. Completely useless for this woman. The first load had contained sweaters. And even better, it had contained an old coat – a puffy, warm coat that would have protected her from the elements this winter. All I wanted was for this woman to have that coat, but since there was nothing I could do, I gave my grief to God and tried to turn my attention elsewhere.

This isn’t a feel good story. Sure, she’s a little warmer, but she needed much more than she got. I’ve thought about her and her husband frequently since I saw them, praying for a change in their circumstances. This story is a reminder. We get grumpy when things aren’t going our way, and we forget about the bigger picture. If you’re reading this post, whether you’re on a cellphone or tablet or computer or even smartwatch, maybe this story will give you pause the next time you’re grumpy over something small. Because this couple was so far from grumpy. They were happy beyond measure to receive cast off clothes that I had whined about taking the time to give away.

I hope this post finds you recognizing what an immense blessing it is to wake up and have to decide what to wear, under the vents that keep you warm and the roof that keeps you dry. It reminded me that being thankful is easy when you realize nothing you’ve got in this life is a guarantee. Everything is a gift. I hope this post finds you gifted beyond measure, with a heart of gratitude to match.

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours.

Hello Great Big World

Today, I walked out of my last class as an undergraduate student.  For a minute, I was elated, but all too quickly, I became panicked.  Then, as if out of nowhere, a soothing calm sank into my soul.  In 14 days, I will receive my diploma and graduate from Clemson University with a B.S. in Psychology and a minor in Communications.  Two weeks from today, I will turn the tassel and have to embrace “adulting” and its finery.  I have always been the girl with a plan.  For once in my life, I’m not.

I haven’t found a job, and I haven’t applied to a graduate program.  This is incredibly unlike the wide-eyed freshmen me that walked onto Clemson’s campus in 2012.  I came to Clemson prepared to graduate in 4 years with any major as long as my prerequisites for occupational therapy were in order.  Afterwards, I was going to receive my Doctorate in OT at Belmont University in Nashville, TN (class of 2019).  I was going to specialize in pediatrics and work at a children’s hospital, eventually running the therapy department.  It was a solid plan until I realized I hated OT.  It felt monotonous and dull, and I’d just been interning for a month.  I watched my plan spark and sputter and eventually burn out.  It wasn’t worth living the life I’d imaged if I was going to be living a life I hated.

So there I was, two and a half years into my master plan, with no idea what my next steps should be.  Thankfully, I have an amazing God, the best boyfriend, and a school with an impeccable career services center.  I became the first psychology major from Clemson to pursue a cooperative education program and landed an internship with BorgWarner, an automotive manufacturing plan in Seneca, SC.  I got to spend 9 months working in their Human Resources department, and they let me get my hands into everything.  I worked through the hiring process, coordinated wellness initiative, collaborated with our safety team, managed our KPI tracker, and so much more.  It turns out, I have a talent for people.

Armed with this knowledge, I came back to school this Fall to complete my degree.  It turns out I should have been a business major.  However, in their own way, psychology and communications have prepared me to pursue a career in this direction.  I’ve studied people for four (and a half #blessed) years.  I’m ready.

But for what?  That’s a question I can’t answer yet.  I’m still waiting on God to show me the rest of His plan for my future.  See the thing that’s changed about me during my undergraduate experience is not losing my sense of direction and purpose, but rather finding it from a much better source.  I guess in a way this is my testimony.  What I would like to share with you is something pretty simple that it seems to have taken me 22 years to learn: I am not in control, and thank God for that.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

So to those of you asking what’s next in my life, I no longer dread your question.  I have lots of thoughts and ideas about the future, but right now, I’m waiting for everything to unfold.  Your prayers and kind thoughts are appreciated as I embark on this exciting new phase!  And if you haven’t today, take a deep breath and rest easy knowing the best is yet to come.

Perfectly Imperfect 365 Days of the Year

An open letter to anyone who has ever felt like they were “not enough”:

My friend Courtney recently left for Swaziland to serve in the Peace Corps for 28 months.  It was a place I couldn’t locate on a map before April, but now I think of it often.  In the weeks before she left, we spoke about what would be different about this country from ours.  While we both believe that at the core people are people with similar desires and motives, an ability to be good and do good, we knew there would be cultural differences.  It was during one of these conversations that she asked if I’d ever heard of Perfect365.  I hadn’t, but I became immediately disgusted.

For those of you who don’t know, Perfect365 is an app that allows its user to enhance selfies to be, well, “perfect.”  You can slim your face, raise your cheek bones, and widen your eyes.  You can apply makeup – from foundation to eyeliner to mascara.  You can change your eye color.  You can create a new photo with startlingly white teeth and inappropriately smooth features that in no way resembles a human.

[Side note: I have done pageants, and I have professionally edited photographs of myself.  However, I love the face that looks back at me at 7am with bed head.  It’s ok to have professional photos and to look great in them.  It’s not ok to feel like every single photo you have ever posted needs to look like it was taken in a studio.]

This is what society has done to American adolescents, and even adults.  We have created such a desire for unachievable “beauty” that we need apps to photoshop our filtered Instagram selfies.  If that doesn’t make your heart ache for the 13 year old who sees her face in the mirror and can’t see her natural skin as beautiful, you might be part of the problem.

Just to put that in perspective, we are taking selfies with our smartphones, editing them into a stranger, and posting them on social media to be validated by our acquaintances double-tapping on the screen.  We are doing this while other people in our communities, our nations, our world are going hungry or cold or sick tonight without respite in their sights.

I am begging you to love yourself.  You should not rely on the likes you receive or the followers you have for validation.  You should not rely on makeup or photoshop to create a face you like.  You should not rely on the label of your clothes, the numbers on the scale, or even the grade on an exam to create a definition of you.  These things are superficial and fleeting, here today but maybe gone tomorrow.  They are part of the material world we live in, not part of what defines you.

God created you in His image, and He loves you for precisely who you are.  Physical faults you find looking at a mirror are irrelevant when you leave this world.  Your inner beauty is what God’s eyes see, and no mistake you have made is surprising or unforgivable to Him.  You are beautiful for the person that you are, so be a person you are proud of.

If nobody has every told you, let me be the first: you are beautiful.  There is nothing you need to do or say to be beautiful if you can find love for yourself that is not based on something material.  Do not let your hair, your weight, or your house be what makes you feel good.  Hair can fall out, pounds can add on, and that house can burn down.  If you define yourself in things of this world, your definition of self is fragile and so easily lost by a breeze of bad fate.

I have a sticky note that a (different) friend named Courtney placed on my bathroom mirror a year ago, and I read it every day to make sure I haven’t forgotten.

Sometimes people are beautiful not in looks, not in what they say, just in what they are.

If you are truly blessed, you will find someone on this earth who can celebrate you for exactly who you are, but more often than not, other people are going to tear you down.  They are going to find reasons you are not enough.  Some days you might even find reasons you are not enough.  For God, you will always be enough.

If Christianity is not your faith, this message should still resonate with you.  Build the foundations of your self-image and worth on solid ground.  For me, my faith is that rock, and it is what I turn to when I start to forget my worth.  For you, it can be something different, and that’s okay, too.  Just make sure it isn’t something you will lose when the tides in your life wax and wane.  I don’t think anybody gets to go through life without at least one high tide, and it’s hard to keep your head above water if you can’t love yourself.

We live in a world where, from a young age, we are competing to have followers.  We are counting the “likes” on our photos.  Thanks to Facebook, we can now count the “loves” “hahas” “wows” “sads” and “angrys” – as if we didn’t have enough to think about.  People clicking a button (approximately 0.05 seconds of their time) has become such an important source of validation that our own faces are no longer “enough” for our social media accounts.

It started with Photoshop.  I was probably in about 4th grade when I begged my parents for this software.  To what end did I need it?  Well, my friends had it, and they were able to crop themselves into photos with Hilary Duff.  This was important to me.  What I (and the many parents who relented to adding this software to the home computer) did not realize was that my friends were in training to slim their waist line, enhance their breast size, and spray tan themselves later in life.

Photoshop isn’t user-friendly, though.  At least, I have never been able to master it.  Know what’s super easy?  Perfect365 and other apps like it.  It identifies the face in any image uploaded to it and gives simple options for the user to pick from.  Having issues with your mouth?  There’s a mouth button.  Want to widen your smile?  Slide the bar to the right.  Want to whiten your teeth?  Slide that bar.

On the left, my face; on the right, Perfect365. Of course, you can use the app in less obvious ways, but for full effect, I used every enhancement option there was.

This is the reality of life in 2016, and it is nothing like the smiling faces of the Jetson family.  Society is pressuring us in so many ways and through so many outlets.  If you are struggling to feel good about yourself, there are a million places you can point fingers.  Peers, TV, magazine, Facebook, Instagram… Every advertisement wants you to buy a product so you can be more like the perfect actor in their ad.

Stop blaming others when you feel bad about yourself and look inward.  You are the only person responsible for making sure you know that you are enough just the way you are.  We can try to create more positivity for and about each other, but at the end of the day, you are in charge of how you feel.  If you can love yourself, you can take on anything this world can throw.  Just remember, the best is yet to come.

#APerfectFit

I challenged some friends to skip their makeup for a selfie and see their real skin’s beauty. Your turn!

Job 5:9

He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.
Job 5:9

So many amazing things have happened in my life since I decided to neglect my blog, and it strikes me as odd because I had so many posts to write when very little was happening to me.  Thanks to the kind encouragement from friends and even from some strangers who have become friends, I have decided to write again.  While you will soon hear my Miss Clemson University story, I want to start with my most meaningful endeavor – Clemson Miracle.

My journey with Clemson Miracle started as a freshmen.  I signed up for Clemson University Dance Marathon (as it was then called) with some sorority sisters; I wanted to see what it was all about.  To my surprise, it was about so much more than dancing, and I fell in love.  Clemson Miracle (as we are now called) is part of the national Dance Marathon (DM) movement.  Each year, we fundraise for our local CMN hospital, which happens to be GHS Children’s Hospital in Greenville, SC.

We raised $17,152.63 for the kids (FTK) at my first DM, and I knew I wouldn’t want to rest until we reached even higher goals.  You see, the Dance Marathon is a celebration of our efforts.  Yes, we teach a morale dance, but we do so much more.  We have families share their stories, we play games, and we provide a variety of entertainment to everyone who stands with us for 12 hours.  We stand and dance and celebrate for the thousands of kids across America who are confined to a hospital bed today because we hope and pray they will leave that bed tomorrow.

One of our miracle children, Manning Grace, at the first DM I attended (2013) and the last (2016).
One of our miracle children, Manning Grace, at the first DM I attended (2013) and the last (2016).

My sophomore year, I applied for the executive board, and I had the chance to serve as corporate chair.  In other words, I was suppose to be bringing in the money.  I guess you could say we did okay bringing in money, and that year we raised $30,262.57 FTK.  There is beauty in the way college kids can come together and create change in their local community.  Of course, we were not stopping there.  We were going to get bigger.

Our miracle child, James Mason, at DM 2014.
Our miracle child, James Mason, at DM 2014.

My junior year, we set our highest goal yet.  This year we dreamed of raising $50,000, and we wanted it.  We were at a distinct disadvantage, though.  Nobody knew what DM was, and once most students heard “dance” and “12 hours” and “Saturday”, they backed away.  I had the pleasure of serving as Donor Relations chair, which means I had to convince college kids to give up their Saturday.  We changed our name to Clemson Miracle, because we felt creating miracles was our true purpose.  We were going to light the campus on fire with passion, and we were going to create change for our kids.  We raised $41,914.64, which was shy of our goal, but we would not be deterred.

Our miracle child, James Mason, at DM 2015.
Our miracle child, James Mason, at DM 2015.

(An important aside for you:  This is an undergraduate student organization.  Everyone involved has full-time commitments outside of Clemson Miracle, and Clemson Miracle is in itself a full-time commitment.  Being on our executive board is time consuming.  We are active every day of the year, and we push – never settling is why we have gotten where we are today.  There is no shame in not reaching lofty goals.  Dance Marathons across the nation are taking aim and achieving unbelievably more than even large corporations, like Wal-mart.  It is only possible through faith, vision, and passion.)

Our miracle child, Brinkley, playing with the tiger at CM 2016!
Our miracle child, Brinkley, playing with the tiger at DM 2016!

This brings us to 2015, the year my life changed entirely.  I ran for Executive Director, which is the same thing as saying I ran for president, of Clemson Miracle.  I knew I had a lot of growing to do if I received the title, but somehow, I knew I was up for it.  It was divine intervention; I just woke up one morning and felt called to apply.  Miracle of miracles happened, and I received the position.

Being Director of an organization is hard.  I knew coming in that my job was to take the 20 very different personalities of my (amazing) executive board and unite them in one cause.  We all had very different jobs, but we all needed to keep driving in the same direction.  I was the voice behind the scenes reminding everyone that they could do more.  I was the mediator when two positions crashed into each other and needed to get back on our track.  Yet, at the end of the day, I was unnecessary, and that’s a strange feeling.  It was especially weird after holding very active positions the two years prior.

One of our advisors gave me a piece of advise at the beginning of the year.  “It is the sign of a great leader if you can get the flu the day of Dance Marathon, but everything runs fine without you.”  I took that to heart.  I put aside the piece of me that prefers to do it on her own, and I grew the piece of me that delegates.  I helped assign the essential tasks, and I helped provide deadlines.  Then, I stood back, and I watched the most incredible executive board step into their roles.  They amazed me; I just had to trust.

Our miracle child, Mia, and her sister, Mailey - 2016 marks 10 years in remission for Mia!
Our miracle child, Mia, and her sister, Mailey – 2016 marks 10 years in remission for Mia!

Every minute, 62 children enter a CMN hospital, and on February 13, 2016, we would find out if we reached our goal of $62,000.  We flipped a total of $70,027.82 that day, but the donations did not end with the event.  The grand total going to the hospital is $71,252.96.

Pause and really think about that number.

Total reveal 2016
Total reveal 2016

That’s 29 sleeping chairs so parents do not have to leave their children.  That’s 26 specialized cribs for children with special needs.  That’s 16 vein viewing machines to ensure less times sticking kids for blood work.  That’s 222 conscious sedations, a procedure used to prevent the pain of spinal taps that insurance will not cover.  That’s 42 special breast pumps for mothers with babies in the NICU to ensure their babies are getting all the nutrients they need.  That’s 158 infant CPR mannequins to teach parents the proper technique to resuscitate a child with heart of breathing difficulties.  That money is a means to make miracles for families.

(Another aside: We report net profit, not gross.)

So why do we do it?

We dance for more birthdays.  We dance for kids to have a childhood.  We dance for parents to have support.  We dance for miracles to happen.

Because every child deserves a childhood.
Because every child deserves a childhood.

I have learned so much in this past year.  It has been one for personal growth, and I found out I am capable of so much more than I imagined possible.  I learned that God truly does immeasurably more when you let Him lead, and I know His plan was for us to reach these incredible heights.

After 4 years, walking away from Clemson Miracle feels like ripping a part of my soul out, but I know I’ll find other ways to contribute.  I’m going to be okay.  Last weekend, I selected the next Executive Director, and she is going to lead us to even grander heights.  I feel certain of that, even though that decision easily ranks in the top 5 hardest life choices I have made to date.

So a huge thank you to Clemson Miracle for molding me for the past 4 years into a much better version of myself!  And a huge thank you to all the parties who helped make it happen…

To our Families:
You guys are the reason we keep going.  You guys are the reason we will not stop.  Thank you for sharing your stories and keeping us motivated.  You are truly the bravest and kindest of people, and I am so blessed to know each and every one of you.

Forever proud of the way Ali celebrates Haley's life. Haley would be so proud of this queen, and I am so thankful to celebrate her legacy with you.
Forever proud of the way Ali celebrates Haley’s life. Haley would be so proud of this queen, and I am so thankful to celebrate her legacy with you.

And to my Family:
A huge thank you to for instilling the need to challenge society’s norms and the strength of character to do something about it.  You have never lost faith in me, no matter what my latest project is.  I am so grateful to have your love.

To our Miracle Makers:
Your generosity made these achievements possible.  Do not doubt the impact your donation had here in the upstate.  Even a dollar can create change, and by donating to this cause, you had a direct impact on a family.  You’re amazing.  Please never stop partnering with us; you can be a part of this journey.

To our Dancers:
I cry each year at DM because it blows me away how incredibly gracious the student body at Clemson University is.  Thank you for giving up your Saturday.  Thank you for demanding donations.  Thank you for hugging our sweet miracle kids and making them feel special.  Just thank you.

Thankful our student athletes are willing to give up their time to high-five our miracle kids.
Thankful our student athletes are willing to give up their time to high-five our miracle kids.

To the 2015-2016 Executive Board:
You ladies and our one gentlemen were phenomenal.  I do not trust others easily, so know it is a true sign of your capability that I gave you your position.  You are each capable of even more, and I challenge you to never stop pushing in life.  I love each of you and hope you know you can come to me if ever you need a friend.

Clemson Miracle 2016 Executive Board

To our advisors:
This year, you each stepped up by scheduling meetings with chairs, and that opened my schedule to do so much more than other executive directors had time for.  I knew I could count on you ladies at any time, and your love and support was so heavily relied on.  Thanks for being the mentors I did not even know I needed.

(left to right): me, Erin Helbling, Jenn Parker, Julie Fleishman, & Kelsey Rock
(left to right): me, Erin Helbling, Jenn Parker, Julie Fleishman, & Kelsey Rock

To Jenn:
You have believed in Clemson Miracle from the beginning, and your reaction when we blew our goal away this year still brings tears to my eyes.  You have been the best friend, mentor, and shoulder I could have asked for.  I love you so much, and I am so grateful that this amazing organization brought you into my life.  You might not realize how much change you have made in the world, but it is truly incredible the impact you have had as just one person.  You embody being the change you wish to see in the world, and I cannot wait to watch you continue to create new normals in the upstate.

Embracing the GHS Children's Hospital's annual giving coordinator after our total was revealed.
Embracing the GHS Children’s Hospital’s annual giving coordinator after our total was revealed.

To the 2016-2017 Executive Board, whomever you may be:
I already know you are going to obliterate our achievements this year with bigger achievements of your own, and I can’t wait!  I speak for my entire exec when I say do better than us.  We want you to recognize our mistakes and grow Clemson Miracle from them, and then, we want you to encourage the same from the next group.  Do not let us stagnate and never be satisfied.

Body “Shaming”

Shame (n): a feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong (Merriam-Webster)

I recently read an article about the difference between fat-shaming and skinny-shaming.  Although I respect everyone’s opinion, I found myself completely bewildered by some of the statements it made.  The general idea was that fat-shaming remarks stick, whereas skinny-shaming remarks might hurt but will be forgotten.  I want to share my take on this whole idea of “shaming” someone for their body.

As defined by the dictionary, shame involves a feeling that you have personally done something wrong.  We shame each other for our physical bodies on a regular basis, and for some reason, society perpetuates the cycle.  If you wear plus sizes, you have done something wrong; if you wear a double-zero, you have done something wrong.  There is no way to win when we tell people their body is something they should literally feel shame over because shame implies you acted incorrectly.  That’s right, there was an action that you took that was wrong, and in this case, that “action” is your body.  Your very physical being is wrong.

Anyone with a little self-confidence can see that this is absolutely absurd.  You did nothing wrong by being born into the body you currently reside in.  You might have mistreated that body by feeding it fattening foods or neglecting to feed it entirely, but you did nothing wrong by residing in it.

The idea that fat-shaming sticks more than skinny-shaming is also obscene.  There are women struggling every single day to make themselves eat a meal, and those women are very often underweight.  Do you think they do that because society’s skinny-ideal did not stick with them?  No.  It’s exactly the opposite.

We can argue and debate whether fat-shaming or skinny-shaming is worse all day long, but that’s just silly.  Body-shaming is wrong.  Feeling sad or guilty or embarrassed because you woke up in your own skin this morning is wrong.  Let’s stop shaming each other, fat or skinny or in-between.  Do not look down on someone because they have a few extra pounds, and do not look down on someone because of a protruding collar bone.  Instead, lift those people up in prayer.

Do not be ashamed of your body.  Love it.  You will not take care of something you do not love, and by taking care of your body, you can make a difference in your own life.  Look in the mirror and accept that person.  Yes, you might could lose some weight, and yes, you might could gain some weight.  The truth of the matter is no two bodies are going to be alike, but a healthy body makes for a happy heart.  Do not feel ashamed of your body.  Feel proud.  It got you this far in life, and if you love and take care of it, just imagine where you will go.

#APerfectFit

Love Thy Neighbor

Growing up, I often felt out of place in church.  I was raised in the heart of the Bible belt.  I lived in a small southern town in Georgia where there was a church on every street corner, with every denomination represented at least once – but most of them in multiples.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like the worship service itself; I have always found comfort in the Bible and a good sermon.  My issue was with the congregation.

Sitting on my pew, I saw self-righteous man after self-righteous man with head held high.  It was the kind of church where nobody admitted to sin, nobody admitted they led a less than Christian life, but everybody was ready was to point out any lapse in someone else’s lifestyle.  I took fault with that; it didn’t seem the Christian thing to do.  Kids in my youth group would belittle me because my family had missed a service and theirs had perfect attendance, but those same kids were the ones doing drugs behind the school.  Church down south was a place to act like you had your life completely together, even if yours was falling apart and you really needed people to pray for you.

When my parents gave me a choice, I stopped attending, and although I’m sure people talked badly behind my back, I did not care because I was kind to people in real life not just fake kind at the service.  In college, I gave some thought to attending a church, but I never had anyone to go with.  I’m sure that wouldn’t stop a kid who grew up going, but I was still in a place where I didn’t feel at home in front of a pastor.  Finally, Easter of my sophomore year, I attended Newspring church with a group of friends.  I fell in love with church again.

Newspring might get a bad rap for being a megachurch, but I’ve never felt like I’m just another person there.  Everyone is welcomed with open arms despite their appearance, background, race, etc.  It’s a place where sinners sit with sinners and love each other despite any differences.  When someone has a problem, be it marital issues or drug addiction, they are given council and love from their fellow man, not disdain.

He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.
John 8:7

Our church recognizes we are all sinners, and our congregation cares for each other despite that.  To me, that’s how a church should be.

I shared all of this with you to say that I feel at home in my church.  I feel safe, accepted, and loved in my church.  The shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has robbed the world of this sense of safety.  My heart is so full for that congregation, and I cannot imagine the pain and disbelief those who were there are experiencing.  They did what good Christians should.  They opened their doors to others for worship, and they did not cast anyone out because of his race or his strangeness.  They shared their safe and loving place with anyone who chose to walk through their doors, and this man took advantage of their kindness.  He robbed them, and the rest of our nation, of the sense of security we feel going to worship.

From cursory glance, this crime seems racially loaded, and it very well might be.  My prayer for this nation is that we will not continue to let the hate of some create hatred for many.  I pray America’s Christian community can come together in light of this event.  Instead of letting it push races further apart like police violence has, imagine if we could let this bring us together.  This crime might have been against a traditionally “black church” like the press keeps pointing out, but I view it as an attack against the Christian community at large.

Do not let this crime do what its agitator intended.  Do not let this crime become a battle of races where black churches hate white churches.  Let this crime unite every church against those who would tear us down.  Let it inspire us to love more deeply our neighbors, to cherish our time on this earth together, and to openly pray for each other.  We are one nation under God, and I think it’s time people start remembering that.

#PrayforCharleston

Behind the Makeup

What you do, the way you think, makes you beautiful.
Scott Westerfeld

I have a confession to make: I don’t wear makeup every day.  In fact, I don’t wear makeup most days.  I wasn’t always like that, though.  When I was in high school up until my sophomore year of college, I didn’t think I could leave my bedroom without putting on a full face.  That included foundation, blush, eyeshadow, eyeliner, and mascara.

I don’t know what made me think it was necessary.  Perhaps it was because I received more positive attention when I looked my “best” or maybe it was just because this behavior was modeled to me by my mother.  Either way, I felt like I had to have on makeup to be the best version of myself, and I certainly needed to have it on if I wanted to feel confident.  Lawrence changed all of that.

My sophomore year in college, I met Lawrence, and he changed my life with a brilliantly simple statement.  He said what every boyfriend should say.  It was a particularly crazy day in college, and I didn’t put on makeup that morning.  After a long day on campus, I went by his apartment to relax and watch a movie with him and his roommates.  I’m sure the first thing I said when I walked in was, “I’m so sorry I look like this.  It’s been a crazy day, and I didn’t have time to put my makeup on this morning.”  That’s paraphrased, but what I said doesn’t really matter.  It’s what he said when he looked up at me that counts.

“You look beautiful.  I don’t know why you bother to wear makeup anyways.  You don’t need it.”  The way he said it was so casual, so matter of fact.  It was like this huge truth that the world had never told me, and here he was unveiling it in passing.  He had no idea he had just completely changed my life.  He still doesn’t know that he changed my life, and he probably never will unless he decides to read this post.  To him, it was just the truth, and that’s what made it so impactful.

After that, I quit wearing makeup every day.  I had to ease myself into it because for awhile my face just looked so naked.  I forced myself to stick with it, and day by day it got easier.  I began to love the face I saw in the mirror and realize it was beautiful in its own right, and that gave me a feeling of confidence and empowerment.

Lawrence continues to unwittingly reinforce my new behavior.  I know he doesn’t do it on purpose, but almost every time he says I am “beautiful” it’s on a day when I didn’t put on my whole face.  He seems to reserve that word for days I rolled out of bed and came over instead of days I dressed all the way up.  Sure, he’s said it a once or twice when I’ve been all done up, but he usually says “you look great” or “hot” or “nice”.  That’s why I haven’t shared all of this with him.  It would break the magic of him not knowing how much it means and just saying it because he thinks it.

Don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes it’s a lot of fun to put on makeup and a cute outfit and feel super pretty.  Makeup is just an object, and (like food) it is neither innately evil nor good.  I just want to clarify to the world that I don’t always look like my pageant headshots.  In fact, I pretty much never look that way unless I’m about to go on stage.  I want to encourage every woman to try giving up makeup for a couple of weeks.  It’s not easy when it’s something you’re used to, but it’s worth it if you can learn to love your face and feel beautiful without alteration.

The media is always going to tell women how they should look, and it’s always going to create unrealistic expectations.  Audrey had it right when she said that “happy girls are the prettiest”, so learn to be happy with who you are!  Learn to love the way you look because of your imperfections.  It would be such a boring world if everyone had perfect symmetry, tiny waists, and high cheek bones.

So there you have it.  Now you know more about me than my pageant glory, and I have shared one of my most personal stories with the worldwide web.  If it can help just one person realize makeup isn’t what’s making them beautiful, then it was totally worth it.

PS. Y’all pray for me because starting on Saturday I’m going to have to put on my whole face every day for a week, and I’m just not sure how I feel about that.

Birthday Princess!

“Pick the day. Enjoy it – to the hilt. The day as it comes. People as they come… The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present – and I don’t want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future.” Audrey Hepburn

The moment I woke up yeserday morning, I felt so incredibly loved. It’s such a blessing to have had 21 years on this earth, and it’s incredible to see how many people took the time to think of me. I can only hope God blesses me with another year to try to have a positive impact on those I meet. I thank everyone who thought of me yesterday, who reached out with a text or call or facebook post. I thank the friends who kept me company and made me feel like a princess. I don’t know what today will bring, let alone this next year, but I can’t wait to watch God’s plans unfold. Cheers to 21 and the adventures it brings!