A Letter to My Fam

Since starting college, I have found my “fam”. At least, that is what we call each other. My fam and I are not blood related, but we are family by choice.

I came to school this year knowing no one. I was grateful for a fresh start but I was also scared because I was losing my support system. I was forced to trust myself and rely on my instincts being in a new place with all new people. I grew up with a great mom and I believe in how she raised me, but it was not survival that I was concerned with, it was my chosen family.

There are all of these cliché sayings about how you cannot choose your relatives but you can choose your family. And until now, I always shrugged those off as just more quotes to hang on the wall in your home.

But within only days of moving in, I found my family. My roommate (I will call her Kelly for privacy purposes), who might as well be my twin, introduced me to two of her high school friends (they will be called George and Turner for privacy reasons). Kelly, George, Turner, and I bonded right off the bat. Suddenly, and amazingly, I was accepted into their fam.

As the days went on, I became more comfortable and less lonely. The four of us are very different from one another and we all have different situations that have made us who we are but we mesh well together. I was different because I came from Atlanta and I was a different “type” per say, than the people they were used to. But George and Turner took me under their wing and Kelly became my mom away from home. (Not in a negative fashion of course, just a loving one).

My fam would do anything for each other. Even though we do not all agree sometimes and we have very different personalities, when the rubber meets the road I have no doubt they would do anything for me and I only wish that as they read this, they know I would do anything for them.

When I was injured and sick they took care of me by choice, they made sure I was ok, and they went out of their way to help me without me having to even ask.

This week I have been reflecting on how blessed I really am to have my fam. George and Turner have a suite mate (Jake for privacy reasons), and Jake also has become a part of the fam.

Many do not realize the value that friendship holds in others lives. I am so incredibly lucky to have these great roommates and people in my life because without them I would not have made it these last few weeks. Friends are the family that you choose, and friends can save you life. In college, you are surrounded by people 24/7 but it can be so lonely if you do not have a “fam” like mine. Many of my classmates that I graduated with are struggling to find that group of people that they fit in with so well. I found those people within days of moving into my new home here in college.

I can never repay my fam for what they have done for me so far, and I hope they know that I would do the same for them in  a heart beat. I hope they read this and realize how great of people they actually are because many would not have given me the time of day when I was in need.

And I hope that you, the one reading this, find your fam too. I hope and pray you find even just 1 person who makes a difference in your life when you thought you had no one. I hope you can be that person to someone else because you can make all the difference in the world.

So Kelly, Jake, Turner, and George, thank you for being my fam. Thank you for being my chosen family. And thank you for making these last few weeks fun and exciting, even in a bad situation.

Be a glow stick

It is probably something odd to think about but glow sticks have always kind of amazed me. There is a bunch of ‘magical’ liquid within this cylinder piece of plastic that must be bent and shaken to actually work. Even as a kid it just baffled me that something so plain and odd-looking must be distorted in some way to be beautiful. I think that people are the same way. Sometimes we have to break before we shine.

In the world today, we are taught from a young age to mask our pain. We are taught to keep it hidden and ‘”fake it until you make it”. But, I believe that pain is what makes us unique. Our experiences make us unique and therefore, pain is a part of that. Pain is a part of our story.

 When I felt alone and broken, many told me that I just needed to move on. They said that I should not cry or be mad. They said I needed to get over it so I would not draw attention to myself. Looking back, that hurts me to my core. Pain is real and it can take over your heart when you use all of you energy to hide it. Many days I held in tears the entire day and I would go to my room at night and explode. One I started crying I could not stop. That was my form of healing though. Everyone heals differently. Everyone expresses emotions differently and thats is ok. That is ok. 

I wish someone could have shown me what a glow stick meant. I wish someone would have told me that it is ok to be bent and broken because that is how I would shine. These words you need to hear. I want you to know that your pain is important and it is NOT meant to be swept under the rug. Be a glow stick. Let your light shine through overwhelming pain. Be the night- light you need to keep living. Stay strong.

Scars are tattoos for the fearless

This past week I had the privilege of being a camp counselor at a children’s camp for kids with amputations and limb deficiencies. Many people have asked me why I would ever do that and what made me qualified to work with such kids. I just tell them that I was called to do it. I have a passion for people, especially children. Many of the other counselors there were all employees of the children’s hospital and graduate students looking to work with prosthesis who were trained in orthotics but I knew little about the subject. I just knew I wanted to be there and help the kids and help them see their potential.

When I arrived I felt kind of out-of-place, and not very qualified for what I thought these kids would need. However, I was very wrong. The children ranged in age, girls and boys, with varying profiles and backgrounds. But, they all have one thing in common; they are all fearless. Their ‘disability’ and diagnosis did not stop these kids from anything. They climbed the rock wall, swam across the deep-end of the pool, zip-lined, played sports, ran across the field, played tug of war in a mud pit, participated in archery, and completed daily routine activities. They had a sense of independence and adaptation to what their own circumstance was and how they would overcome any obstacle.

The camp ground we stayed at has the slogan: “where obstacles become triumphs”, and that is exactly what each child did.

Each child and each counselor chose a “discovery” that suited them best. Some took swim lessons, come took cooking class, other partook in video production, and I was a part of the art discovery. In my discovery, we drew pictures, made dream catchers, painted a puzzle piece and more. But one hand written picture captured my attention, and my heart, in particular. It was drawn by an 8-year-old girl who had surgery because of her deficiency. The picture was titled “scars are tattoos for the fearless”, with a drawing of herself and the scar on her leg.

The drawing brought me to tears because at such a young age, she had this understanding of courage that many adults do not have. She saw herself and the children around her as fearless and strong. She grasped at 8 years old that her disability made her stronger. Her obstacle gave her the daily opportunity to claim a triumph.

While these kids are challenged physically, they have emotional obstacles to overcome as well. They want to have great self-esteem/confidence and they all want to feel beautiful just like you and I do. They want to feel pretty and “normal” (what normal is, I’m still not sure). They seek love, and they need other people. People need other people. Sometimes one of the girls in my cabin would say that she wishes she was beautiful. Any every time I would tell her that she was one of the most beautiful girls that I knew. Scars, prosthesis, and all. And I said that if someone around her disagreed, they didn’t deserve to know such a strong young women.

Generally, many of the kids at camp have a surgical scar of some sort and others have scars from falls or accidents as a result of the deficiency or amputation. But many of my friends, and people who I know have scars as well. Some scars come from self-inflicted wounds, years of abuse, or a tragic experience. And some scars come from surgery and physical pain due to illness or injuries. When I was younger, I wish someone would have told me that my scars were just tattoos of courage. I wish that someone would have told me that my scars make me unique instead of ugly or unattractive. I wish someone would have told me that my scars are a sign of strength. My scars are a part of my story.

I don’t think this message truly sank in until I saw it hand written by an 8-year-old girl at camp. She taught me more than I think I could have ever taught her in one week. She showed me what fearless looked like. and she told me the words I needed to hear.

Tattoos of Courage

Tattoos of Courage

Love set me free

To Write Love On Her Arms uses a slogan that I believe everyone should engrave on their hearts. “Love is the movement”. Love is the movement that clashes with fear, hate, shame, and guilt. Love is what shines inside of you. Love shines through the container, while hate corrodes the container it is in. Everyone not only deserves love, but we crave it. Every human being and living thing on this planet longs to give love, and receive it. Love is free, but for some reason we seem to only want to give it at a cost. Many times we give love expecting more than the same in return. We will accept it but not give it freely.

When I came forward about my own childhood trauma 2 years ago, I was met with shame, disbelief,  self hatred, and a bottomless pit of pain. I came forward, yet my voice was taken away from me by the adults I was supposed to be able to trust. I was forced to speak to people I did not wish to speak to, and I was ashamed of myself for coming forward in the first place. I immediately regretted speaking out, and I began to regret being alive. I began to tell myself that I was not worthy, I began to tell myself that I should be ashamed of what happened to me. In my head, I deserved to die for what I did because I caused others pain, more than just myself. I wanted to die rather than cause my family any more heartache or hardships than we had already been given. I created even rockier waters than we were already sailing on at the time. I felt isolated and alone, with no one there to reach out to me. My self hate was beginning to trump my self love.

I began to feel like my story was not mine. I felt like my voice had been taken from me and I had no control. I longed to be the “old me”, I wanted to go back to “normal”. Everyone around kept telling me that “things would only get better”, “the hard part is over”, “it will be ok”. But no, it was not ok, and really, it didn’t get better, I just began to heal. I was 16 and I was alone. I didn’t want to be alive anymore. But my salvation was love. Love from my significant other, and love from friends I never would have met without enduring the pain I endured. I began to heal because that love that was given to me without a price to repay. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as anxiety, and I had to learn how to be “me” again. I had to decide who I was now, and who I wanted to be. I had to choose to make a trauma something to learn from and something I could use to help other people.

My mom taught me as a kid that everything happens for a reason. She taught me that Jesus would carry me through the hard times, and that he would never forsake me. But I was angry with him and I was angry that I did the right thing but it was backfiring on me. I lost a part of my family, and I lost a piece of myself I will never get back. So, I filled that piece with anger and guilt. I had to learn, and am still learning, how to fill that lost piece with healing and love. Self love and love given to us is what heals our hearts. Affection creates a band aid, but love stitches us back together. Through counselling and a new found support system, I learned how to not only give love, but accept it as well. I have done a lot of my recovery and healing with the help of those around me, but at the end of the day, it was my choice to stay alive. It was my choice to get my voice back. It is yours too.

As I look back to 2 summers ago, I did not want everyone to tell me “it only gets better from here” because that was a lie. I wanted someone to tell me that they love me. I wanted support from my family and I wanted to feel love instead of regret. Once I came forward, I became lost in the shuffle of who I could or could not tell, who I would have to hide it from, and who I no longer felt comfortable to be around. Love was the last thing on the list to be dealt with. I didn’t want a mountain of reassurance and broken promises, I wanted someone to tell me how brave I was, and how I shouldn’t be ashamed of doing the right thing. I needed to hear “I love you unconditionally”.

After a lot of praying and asking “why”, I began to understand why I had to go through, and why I am still having to go through, a painful process. I was made unique, and I was made with the desire to help others. “Love is the biggest dream inside of me.”

I found strength inside me to never give up. I found hope inside me to keep believing that this is all for a purpose. I have a purpose. Life is worth living. “You are loved, and made to be loved, and made to give love, and to experience a thousand wonderful things”- Jamie Tworkowski

In a painful situation, we seem to get carried away in our pain, and in our own worries. But we forget that we are on this earth to love people, not to shame or judge them for being honest.

I have come to dislike the phrase “you have to love yourself first before anyone else can love you”, because that is a lie. Sometimes it takes someone else’s love to show you that love is real. Sometimes it takes someone else’s hope to give you hope. People need other people. We need each other.

Love came down and rescued me. Love came down and set me free.

Why being thankful is beneficial

At the book signing for “If You Feel Too Much” by Jamie Tworkowski, there was a teen in front of me who took off her prosthetic leg and asked Jamie to sign it; while the faces in the room were of shock, Jamie kindly took the leg and signed it and got to know her a little bit better. She lost her leg when she was a baby and now has too many health problem to keep track and she gets bullied at school for the way she looks. She told her story and started to cry because Jamie looked at her with amazement and not with judgement or disgust. It made me thankful to have what I have. The little girl said she felt alone and isolated because of her disability, but Jamie told her she was never alone. It sounds cliche when adults tell kids and teens that “it could always be worse” or “there’s always something to be thankful for” , but tonight, that resonated with me. Everyone has baggage and obstacles in their lives but this little girl cannot take for granted everyday tasks that you and I might. She welcomes people with grace and wants to feel the same amount of love that she is ready to give. Everyone deserves to be loved. Everyone deserves to give and receive it with an open heart. Being thankful is not only counting your blessings, but it is not taking for granted grace and hope. She fights for friendships and the feeling of  acceptance. Thankfulness is a quality that you have teach yourself to have. It does not comes easy, and sometimes it takes seeing a little girl take off her prosthesis to understand the blessings that you do have, and how the love from Jamie or any person in her life, could change the way she sees the people in her world.

Keep Writing

My hope is that this blog will reach each and every person who needs a helping hand. While I do not claim to be any professional writer or motivational speaker, I have had my fair share of experiences (which I will talk about in other posts) which have shaped me into who I am today. Some bad and some good, some light and some heavy. I do not wish to be a hero but  I wish to be a helper, and give a listening ear to anyone who needs a little assistance in what they are going through. Jamie Tworkowski (the founder of To Write Love on Her Arms and author of “If You Feel Too Much”) wrote that sometimes beauty comes from pain. And sometimes it takes pain to produce something beautiful in a person. To anyone who reads this and needs a listening ear or resources to help them share their story or overcome any obstacle, please comment or message me. I will not judge and your privacy is of the up most importance. I hope everyone who reads this knows that is it okay to not be ok.