March 28, 2014

Friday Finds

Every so often I like to share wonderful things that I've found across the blogosphere and the internet. Here are a few that I've come across in these last couple of weeks.

What it means to be Gracefully Assertive (via iBelieve Relationships)

-This is a timely read as I am on the brink of adulthood; being assertive does not necessarily meaning being aggressive. 

In Which You Are a Beloved Warrior  (via Sarah Bessey)

-I can't describe the emotion that welled in my heart as I read this (in a good way!) As I learn more about the concept of identity (more so, who to put my identity in), these are the kind of posts that make me want to shout for joy!

"I am Second" interview with Sean Lowe (via I am Second)

I'll admit that I am a fan of The Bachelor; there are a few aspects of it that I don't understand nor do I agree with, but it's still fun to watch it with friends. That being said, I've only been a viewer for a few seasons, but I have to say that Sean is definitely my favorite thus far, and I considered him a front-runner for Emily when he was originally on The Bachelorette. I can understand the confusion as to why a man who claims to live for Jesus would be a on reality dating show, but I honestly thought he brought a fresh perspective to an environment that's often polluted with a lack of maturity and can be superficial at times. In any case, this is his "I am Second" video and hopefully you'll enjoy it as much as I did. I'll definitely be sharing more of those as time goes on!

Regretting Vulnerability (via [In]Courage)

I have definitely been in this position multiple times. A lot of it was this past summer, while some of it was also very recent. Not everyone is safe to share your heart with, and that's OK.

When "About" becomes "For" (via [In]Courage)

At first glance the title might be surprising; let me reassure you that it doesn't just apply to those that are married, but can apply to almost every and any type of relationship. It gave me a lot of insight into certain dynamics within my family and how I choose to navigate the rocky patches when we hit them. It also enlightened me on what habits to avoid. 

Have a wonderful weekend!!

photo credit: spettacolopuro via photopin cc

March 24, 2014

Music Lovin Monday

Yeah-Joe Nichols 

This guy is easily becoming one of my favorite artists!

Cop Car-Keith Urban

I didn't know how I felt about this at first because there's another one by the same name out there, albeit by a different artist and a lot more risque. However, it grew on me and I've learned to appreciate it.

This Is How We Roll-Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan

Ok, I just absolutely love this song. On that note, I saw both of these guys back in June and they were amazing!

Not A Bad Thing-Justin Timberlake

If there's ever a song on how to pursue a woman, this would be one of them. And I thought "Mirrors" was my favorite....

Rascal Flatts-Rewind

This one came on my country Pandora station when I was in Arizona, and given that I had a tiny smirk on my face, my mom asked me if this reminds me of someone. I denied it, but it turns out that she was right.

Gimme Some of That-Thomas Rhett

This song reminds me of someone as well, but for different reasons.

Have a great week!

photo credit: victorcamilo via photopin cc

All video credits go to Youtube

March 13, 2014

Finding The (Invisible) Line: Ten Years And Counting

Many are already aware of the fact that I don't talk (or even write) about having Cerebral Palsy very much. I've told myself that I don't want to be the postergirl for the handicapped, nor do I want it to be the main thing that defines who I am. I kept convincing myself that for that reason, there was no need to bring it up and openly discuss it. But after reading an article on The Huffington Post, I began to realize that when it comes to disabilities (whether they're physical or otherwise), the media often shows only one side of the story: sometimes it's completely cast it a negative light, and other times it's dripping with optimism and a happy-go-lucky vibe. And while I'm all for being positive, I find it troublesome when that's all that gets highlighted because it doesn't tell the whole story. Granted, not all news articles and segments have time for the big picture, but I think it would be more helpful in public understanding if both sides of the coin were displayed.

This is not a public service announcement. This is not a pity-party. This is me realizing that while I refuse to lean on having a handicap as a crutch, it has and still does affect me. This is true in both good ways and bad ways. But rather than write this as a laundry list, my hope is that this might encourage and educate people about celebrating differences and doing the absolute best that you can in whatever obstacles or setbacks that you have to face.

I say ten years because it was around the age of eleven or twelve that I became fully aware that I wasn't exactly like my peers. Before then I had a pretty idyllic childhood,where life consisted of Disney movies, hanging out with friends and family, and just being happy. Then very slowly, reality began to creep in, and it was a tough adjustment.

It was a chain of events, and many of them from that time I can't recall in specific detail. What I do remember was how it felt; like a black cloud settling over my head, especially when I started to learn that the world (and the people in it) are not always kind. I heard the word "confidence" a lot while having absolutely no idea what it meant.  I couldn't understand the point of riding a separate bus when I physically had no problems in terms of getting on and off of it. It was all new and strange and I was completely naive throughout all of it.

Back then, I desperately wished to be valued and validated, and to be reassured that I was enough. My mother once explained to me not too long ago that she was never angry or frustrated with me, per say, but more so that she couldn't do anything to make it all better. And while on the surface it looked like I was begging for it, I just wanted to be told that it was OK to feel hurt, sad, and/or lonely. On the other side of the fence, it's easy to sit next to your child, friend, etc and automatically want to solve whatever problem they're dealing with. It's natural to want to take the pain away. The toughest part is that you can't. You can only support them and be open to what they need. That might look like putting your arms around them and letting them vent, regardless of how ridiculous they sound or how trivial the situation is. it's not about being strong or being a hero; it's about being there.

For those who believe that self esteem doesn't exist, think about what it would be like to have your peers, probably strangers who don't even know you, call you a variety of nasty names or tell you that your legs need to be fixed. Imagine the hopelessness inside of you when you feel the urge to take a razor blade to your wrist or pop a bunch of pills because there seems to be no end in sight. Feel the sting when you're repeatedly told or shown (whether it be on purpose or not) that you're unlovable. And all you can muster is a barely audible "what did I do wrong? I never meant to hurt anybody." And this is all happening when you're just thirteen.

Though I often took it for granted, there were a lot of people who took care of me throughout middle school and high school. My brother stood up for me a lot and I had a number of friends who were willing to hand out an ass kicking or a shoulder to lean on if need be. For where I was at in my life, my church family was amazing, and many are still guiding me today. Allowing a space for a sense of faith and spiritual nourishment has proven to be necessary, though it would take me almost nine years to grasp what that all meant. My teachers and mentors were all very encouraging.

I had been physically defying the odds since the day I was born, but my senior year of high school was a turning point. When I expressed interest in going to Iowa, most of them thought I was crazy. You're not going to last a semester, some said. You're going to get lost and will be a number, argued others. Yet I had spent the last eighteen years being told what I was and wasn't capable of, and I was ready to go in a different direction. Plus I just had this peculiar feeling that it was a place that was meant for me, which I now know is true

Leaving home my freshman year was like breaking out of a cage; I had both my independence and the opportunity to be somebody completely different then in the past. Walking around campus took some getting used to, where my legs would ache from the mileage and I'd remind myself that I was getting "sexy calf muscles." On top of that I hardly got any sleep due to not  want to miss out on any of the excitement. The first two weeks of school,  kept going and going until I was literally sick from physical exhaustion. I'd only opened up to a few people about what I had and why, though others were starting to notice that something was going on.

Over the years, I would repeatedly run into a brick wall whenever I failed to take care of myself.  When I did Dance Marathon sophomore year, I physically passed out because my body couldn't handle being in motion (let alone being awake) for twenty-four hours straight. I have no idea how I was able to go out almost every weekend after I turned twenty-one, and more so drink as much as I did without getting alcohol poisoning. Being stubborn has been a trait of mine since infancy; if I'm that determined to do something, I won't stop until I accomplish it. That being said, if I feel that I'm not ready, I won't let anyone convince me otherwise.

 Navigating the party culture was another obstacle. In the beginning (and for part of junior year) I wanted to run around and be wild. I was curious, hungry to do everything and feel everything. Yet there were a lot of assumptions made (again) regarding my ability to handle it, and that created some tension between my new friends and I for a while. There were those who didn't get it, and instead of not caring about what people thought or said, I felt like I had something to prove. While I have some natural independence and have always been a bit of a fighter, I did adopt somewhat of a tough girl, you-don't-mess-with-me attitude. I didn't want acquaintances to assume that just because I looked sweet and friendly on the outside meant that I could be easily taken advantage of. In other respects I started to get defensive about my thoughts and feelings, sometimes doing whatever I could to keep that part of me hidden. I wasn't trying to be someone that I wasn't, I just hated wrestling with one side versus the other.

I used to think that I was angry at God for making me the way that I am, both physically and emotionally. Had I not been born prematurely, maybe things would be different; I might have had more experience in certain regards, especially with relationships. I would be able to give as much as I take and not feel useless when it comes to helping others. As I've gotten older, I see that it's it's not God that I get pissed off at, but the ignorance of the culture that we live in. There are more opportunities now than there ever have been to go out and educate yourself, whether it be by research or just talking to someone that has to cope with whatever you don't understand. And yet it seems like hardly anyone does. I know this because I constantly run into strangers where the first thing out of their mouths is "oh my god you're so short!" Sometimes I ask why being petite is such a big deal, and sometimes I try to explain that it's because I was born prematurely. Feel free to chalk it up to not having a filter (or being drunk) but that doesn't make it any less annoying.

I've found that the best way to live in spite of all that is to learn how to truly value myself as my own person. I've wrestled with self-love for the last decade because I thought it meant becoming narcissistic or acting like I was better than others. I don't like the idea of making a list of traits or qualities because those things are always changing or evolving. My strengths, weaknesses, and passions may not be the same tomorrow as they are today. It was not a question of what to do, but how to go about doing it.

And then just recently, I came across something from a friend that put it in perspective.He's a good person who is very genuine and has a good heart. This was not directed at me personally, but it had such a profound effect that it moved me to tears:

Remember God your creator thinks of you as his masterpiece and has great plans and purposes for your life, even today. Live this day with confidence knowing that! As we encounter people in our lives today, help us to look beyond their outward appearance. Help us to love and believe the best about them. 

I don't know why it brought out so much emotion in me; perhaps it has to do with something so cliche being presented in a way that's so simple and yet still very beautiful. Love does not have to involve a million different reasons. Value does not have to involve a million dollars. Identity does not have to be about a million different opinions. It all boils down to being human, but also being a creation of God. And in the moments when even those don't seem convincing, sometimes loving yourself might just be the act of taking a step backward and to stop trying so hard, at least beyond what you know you're capable of. The bare definition of self-love is self-compassion.

As I'm just a few months away from graduation, I'm now coming to another crossroads, which is both scary and overwhelming. When you're on the edge of what truly is the rest of your life, you realize that your decisions do have consequences, and what you decide can either set the course or ruin it. There is no specific set of circumstances that allow you to start over, such as going to high school or college. You have to be the one to make things happen for yourself and create your own opportunities. God does have a hand in it, but that doesn't mean you have to become a sitting duck and let amazing possibilities pass you by. Ask, seek, and be proactive.

I'm not overly worried about the future or am trying to plan this next chapter out to the letter. However, I have witnessed friends and family make second choice decisions because they were either afraid of getting hurt or believed that they were doing the right thing. I'm not in their shoes so I'm not going to fault them, but I see the unhappiness and I see the regret. I don't want to look back five years to a decade from now and experience those feelings, which is why I have to be honest with myself about how having CP will play a role as I go out into the real world. In college it's one thing to brush it aside because people are so close together and can lend a hand if I need any help. Outside of that, it's a different story. 

As much as I'd like to believe otherwise, my physical circumstances will partially determine what kind of job I'll have and where I'll end up living. It has and continues to help shape my standards for relationships and what goes on in the context of those relationships. I need people around me who will encourage me to be the best that I can be, but also who will understand that I do get frustrated and am critical of myself at times. It definitely relates to how much time and energy I can put into projects or commitments. To clarify, none of this is about fear or taking the easy way out. It's about being self-aware and pursuing what I truly want, while also being realistic. And it's not just solely about what I want, but what I need as well.

Which is why I try not to dwell on being an inspiration; I'm not going to proclaim whether or not I'm a role model  because I can't control how people see me. I do still wrestle with depression, though I now accept that I'm allowed to have both good days and bad days. Sometimes I wish that I could conceal my emotions better or not be so sensitive. What I've been through on the outside does correlate with how I treat others and how I react to specific circumstances.

 I would much rather be an example of love, kindness, and putting good back into the world than what I'm able to accomplish with physical strength or perseverance. I know that I am a light, but hopefully not an idol or an expectation to live up to. But ultimately if my words and my actions push or motivate somebody, then so be it. As long as it has a positive impact, then that's what matters the most.

One of the biggest blessings to come out of the last ten years is that I've become very intuitive and self-aware. I love that I'm quirky and still look at life with childlike wonder, but have the ability to retain a lot of wisdom and have grown in maturity because of that. I definitely pay attention to detail and and have begun to stop caring about how cheesy it is to be able to remember the most random things. A lot of that has come from having to watch what goes on instead of actively participating, especially as a kid. It all made my feel isolated for a long time, but I've come to appreciate it in the long run.

I've come a long way, but there is so much more to do. I am beyond grateful for the people that have helped me get to where I am in this moment, the friends and family who've seen past the surface and just let me be "Al." I feel more connected to my parents, particularly my mom, who I haven't always seen eye to eye with. I don't know what this next chapter in my story, but I plan on going into it with my eyes, arms, and heart wide open. 

I won't say that I'm lucky, because I don't really believe in luck. Rather, I'm blessed; my life is a gift, and I don't intend on wasting it.

photo credit: happykiddo via photopin cc

March 05, 2014

Rag Dolls and Humans

Trigger warning: sexual aggression, feeling trapped

This poem is based off of a variety of experiences, all of which occurred while I was in college. The most recent ones were not too long ago, one being the weekend before my birthday and the other the weekend after.

Rag Dolls and Humans

“Hey Doll”

“sexy”, “baby”, beautiful”

Just a few of the words the come my way

I try to be flattered, but I’m not

Because there is no meaning behind it

They don’t realize I have a name

Which they ask for later on, but rarely give their own

Their face partially hidden by the lack of light

Smelling of soap, bourbon, cheap cigarettes

Or the cologne they wore in high school

We move together

And friction becomes fire

Of which I am about to get burned

As his hands move to places

Despite my insistence of boundaries

Places that have been likened to a car, a key lock

Or various types of food

Despite my indications and resistance over the loud music

He either can’t hear or refuses to

And so I am a rag doll

At least in this moment

As he pulls my hair and picks me up

Pulling me close and holding on with an iron fist

Using kisses as a seal of power rather than affection

Marking my face and neck

I look into the sea surrounding me

People drunk on lust and liquor pitchers

I want to feel that same euphoria

That thrill which seems to be like a flick of a switch

But yet there is nothing aside from wanting

Wanting to feel what I can’t

I can only wish that I were with someone else

Someone who doesn’t put me through physical pain

Like a rag doll

And that’s how I understand that I am human


I break away into the chaos

To be pushed into the presence of someone I’ve poured my heart out to

He’s leaving as well

“Can you help me get out of here?”

“You’ll be fine”

I’m scared and I wish you would take care of me

I try not to picture that blue-eyed happy look he gives me

Whenever we see each other in one of these places

Through my tears as I walk alone

I don’t allow a breath until I have locked the door

Tripping over my own shoes from fatigue

Looking in the mirror

I see a wreck

A beautiful one

Not because she’s pure or perfect

But because she’s human

One created by God

Who knows how to be strong

Because once again, she has survived

We’re human

We, the ones who’ve dealt with aggression and assault

A power struggle

A decision of power and competition

Not a consequence for unfortunate decisions

We’re human

We get to decide our limits, our wants, and our needs

Unspoken signals don’t mean a damn thing

Dancing is not an invitation for crossing lines

Kissing is not a pathway to the bedroom

Respecting my body is not a trade-off

Because I am not a rag doll

I am a woman

I am a creation

I am a human being

After I initially published this, a couple of readers wrote to me, expressing concern and hoping that these things hadn't actually happened to me. One implied that none of it would have had I taken enough measures to keep myself safe. Ironically, I wasn't alone when most of this stuff took place, minus the time that I had to take a detour to a gas station because a drunk guy kept trying to force me to hold his hand and then let him come home with me, and I was only a block away from my apartment building. 

I have to wonder what staying safe even means anymore. Does it mean only going out in public when the sun is up? Does it mean walking around while avoiding talking to people and even making eye contact because they might hurt me at some point? More than anything, does it mean sitting around and letting life pass me by, ultimately isolating myself from the rest of the world? I'll admit that I don't always make the best decisions, but more so because I'm impatient and just want to get out of that environment for the time being. I have really strong instincts, so if I sense that something isn't right I usually won't go that route. 

But I shouldn't have to be that worried about walking a block a half, and I shouldn't have to spend money to avoid idiots who can't keep their words or their hands to themselves. I do go out on my own some nights, and to be honest it tends to be easier to just do that and find people rather than stress about where we're all meeting and when. I should be able to go get a drink and watch a hockey game without looking over my shoulder. But realistically, it's not that easy. 

I feel like I'm able to let most of it go, but collectively these experiences continue to stay with me. Part of my aggressive, "tough girl" attitude doesn't just stem from growing up in a family of athletes, but also because I want to let people know that I'm not one to be easily convinced or manipulated. I'm still incredibly skittish and hate it when people sneak up on me, even if it's all in good fun. And if there's one thing that bothers me the most, it's being grabbed or touched by complete strangers. I don't care if my height (or lack of it) makes me look supposedly adorable, that does not give another person the right to treat me like a toy doll. 

But I'm just as concerned for the younger generations as I am for the current one. This includes but is not limited to my baby sister, who is high school, and two cousins who will be going to college this fall.  I shudder to think of them going through any of what I did but they other part of me has a feeling that they'll witness it to some degree. Heaven forbid if that's the case, I want them to know that it's never their fault. If someone says or does something to make them uncomfortable, they have every right to feel that way, regardless of how "normal" or common it is. And in the heat of the moment they happen to make decisions just for the sake of wanting to get out of a situation, it doesn't mean that what they did was wrong. They are not defined by the clothes they wear or what they do or don't do with their bodies. They're no less loved, cherished, or beautiful. 

Which is why I stand by the choices that I've made, though a lot of them were not the best. I refuse to let a culture force me to live in fear because of what could or has happened. 

We all have a responsibility to listen to our instincts and keep ourselves safe in the best way that we know how. That being said, there is also a responsibility of ensuring a safe and healthy environment for those around us, specifically by respecting the boundaries that have been set by others, and realizing that we don't deserve certain things just because of who we are or what we do. Relationships are cultivated, not forced. Sex should be a mutual decision, not a right or a demand. 

I like and appreciate men. I've met many who are absolutely wonderful and special to me, which is why it's hard to genuinely get involved in activism. I want to make a difference, but I don't want to spend all my time and energy being angry or upset. When I'm passionate about something, it's hard to separate myself from that, and I'm glad that I'm at least aware of it. 

We all have different gifts which are used for the same purpose. I will continue to write and I will continue to speak when necessary. It may not look like much, but at least it's something. 

photo credit: Frederic Poirot via photopin cc