Thursday, December 31, 2015

Peace Out, 2015!

Planning 2016 in my new passion planner
The end of 2015 is upon us and as always at this time of year life has spiraled beyond my control. 

But that's okay. 

2015 is the year I've been more present. Not always but more so than before. Practicing mindfulness has magnified my thoughts and actions so that I've learned to counteract the negative. 

As I type this my dad is sitting in the emergency room where he was rushed to this morning. Third year in a row and it's always in the back of my mind but I just hoped this year was different. Did I also mention I have an upper respiratory infection? 

My thoughts would have run the gamut of why would this happen now? To why can't our lives ever go right? It's not fair we can't go out now! 

Instead I think to myself I'm grateful that my dad is doing okay because it could have been worse. I'm thankful that I only worked half a day today so I could rest before picking up my mom at the hospital. I'm grateful for the health of my family. 

I look back on the past year and don't think in good or bad terms. It was neither good nor bad. It just was. 

I've learned to embrace the bad with the good instead of resisting it. I've learned to look at situations in a different perspective where I choose my reactions carefully. Trust me, I've failed many times but celebrate when I react wisely. 

Goodreads says I've read 44 books in 2015 when I only challenged myself to read 30. People often ask me how I manage to read one book with my crazy schedule but I don't think about it. Reading is like eating. I must fuel my brain with books. 

Out of the 44 I've read I have to say Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear made the most impact. Since I borrowed it from the library I took copious notes in my journal and reference them almost daily. 

With my writing and photography I've learned from Liz Gilbert that "there is no dishonor in having a job. What is dishonorable is scaring away your creativity by demanding that it pay for your entire existence." I'm not so restless at the cube farm after reading her book. I don't have to quit my full-time job to unleash my creativity in my writing and photography. I create because it is sacred to me and only me. 

This year I was told by three doctors I couldn't run any longer. I went to three doctors hoping I received a different answer because if you've read my past blog posts running is my crack. Running burns off the crazy. I truly believed I would be running half-marathons in my eighties alongside my grandchildren. 

In June I could barely walk and suffered from acute sciatica. I found out my running exacerbated my degenerative disc disease of the L4 and L5 along with my childhood scoliosis. Seeing my curved spine on the x-ray was proof enough. I can't run. Ever. 

No one could see how deeply I grieved and mourned the loss of my "anti-depressant." I hide my suffering well. But Ray noticed how I longingly watched every runner we drove by on the streets. Ray heard the anguish in my voice when I'd tell him which friend ran which marathon. 

I gained twenty pounds in the months afterward as I sunk into a deep depression. The pain was unbearable on most days. But I was tired of being in pain and being a pain the ass. I researched extensively on sciatica and degenerative disc disease to better understand my limitations. 

As 2016 looms in the horizon I can say that speedwalking, elliptical training, stationary bike, battle ropes, punching bag workouts, sparring with Ray, and clean eating have helped me lose 11 out of the 20 pounds I've gained. But I'll talk more about that in another post. 

Another loss that resulted from my DDD was shooting long events and weddings. My heavy cameras are too heavy for my back to bear. I didn't grieve this loss so much as I did my running. You see, sometimes your body will reveal where your true creative voice lies. 

Portraiture, specifically, families and newborns, is where I can freely create my art. It is where Elizabeth Gilbert describes as having an affair with my creativity. (Head over to my photography website to view my latest sessions by clicking here. ) Had my back not gone out on me I would have continued to do weddings for the money, cheating myself out of my true creative expression. 

That's what I meant by embracing the bad with the good. I don't attain that runner's high I was so addicted to but it wasn't the end of the world for me. I became creative in my workouts and managed to lose 11 unhealthy pounds. I can't make money from shooting weddings but I'm forever free from the high stress and anxiety that pervaded my mind each time I shot one. 

My arms are wide open for 2016 waiting to catch all the abundance, joy, grace, prosperity, truth, beginnings, endings, and love it has for me. 

Wishing all of you, no, I'm DARING all of you, to dream BIG in the next 365 days! 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Gratitude In The Mundane

I sit here on the last day of November arguing with time. How dare you go by so fast! Give it back! 

Looking back on this month I could sit here and focus on the things that I lost, the things that pissed me off, the things that caused so much stress, and the things that didn't go my way. 

But I won't. 

My ongoing struggle is expressed in this quote: feeling gratitude in the common days and recognizing blessings in the ordinary opportunities. 

You see, the words "common", "ordinary," and "mundane" infuse my heart with fear. I believe those words lead to complacency and to me, that's horrifying. 

When I told my boyfriend Ray how scared of I am of being complacent in life his response was, please, you've got too much mouth and too much attitude to be complacent. I suppose that mouth and attitude should be focused more on recognizing what I'm thankful for than what I'm fearful of. 

I can say with certainty that my gratitude is a requirement even through the exigencies of life. It's imperative that I remain in this constant state of thankfulness when my heart isn't quite there most of the time. 

My awareness of this is progress and for that I am grateful. It helps me to pull back whenever my emotions are in turmoil and take deep meditative breaths until I can sit in the present moment. I've learned that the way I react to situations or my interpretation of them create undue stress. The kind that incapacitates me during this time of year. 

I've managed to practice self-love and self-care even when it offends or hurts others. #sorrynotsorry

This year I cut off all ties to every single emotional vampire trying to sink their fangs into me. I can now navigate through life with more energy instead of feeling drained from their poison. 

Accepting certain situations has also made a tremendous difference in the way I approach my day. I can't run any longer so instead of resisting that reality I've created several workouts on the treadmill, elliptical, and stationary bike to meet my cardio goals. Sure, speed walking outdoors doesn't give me the adrenaline rush I crave but seeing my body get fit again alleviates the doldrums. 

Yes, there is much to be thankful for. So many people in my life I am beyond grateful for and it goes without saying. 

What I have to remember is that Thanksgiving isn't a once a year holiday but a daily practice of staying in a state of gratitude in the midst of chaos, or peace, or stress, or the mundame. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you now and always. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Happiness Doesn't Look Like Yours

"Don't underestimate the force." 

Darth Vader's voice jolted me out of the mind-numbing work commute letting me know I received a text. (Yes, my ringtones are all Star Wars soundbites. Don't judge.) My longtime friend sent a text letting me know she's been thinking of me. A volley of text messages ensued between us, but one of hers made me pause. 

"I've been praying for you. Hoping that you find a little bit of happiness with your demanding life." 

Had she been sitting in front of me I would have probably flailed my arms and crossed them to a T. 

Pause! Time out! 

I had to let her know---I am happy

I sat in my cubicle texting my friend with solid certainty. I mean, yes, I'm miserable in my day job but that's MY problem. Yes, I'm super busy despite retiring from shooting weddings and events. Yes, my aging and sick parents are a constant source of worry and anxiety. Yes, I don't have enough funds to book my New York trip at the moment. Yes, my aunt and uncle just passed away realizing too late I should have spent more time with family. 

Despite all of that there is always an underlying happiness, a constant source of joy, that keeps me grounded with gratitude in the present moment. My friend's text helped me realize that I could be as irritated as heck coming home from a long day at work but still be happy.  


It happened some time this year when I dropped all expectations of my tribe. In doing so, I freed myself from the frustration I felt toward others. Ray's job isn't to make ME happy. My kids' existence won't make ME happy. Rylee's presence doesn't make ME happy. My friends can't make ME happy. None of them complete me and they shouldn't. 

You see, I make ME happy through self-love and self-care and self-respect. My source of pure joy is generated through silence, meditation, prayer, and being in the present moment. Sounds hokey doesn't it? But it's true. 

My response to her text was: Haha thanks girl. I am happy. Very much so. But that goes with loving God first & foremost. Everything else just comes 2nd.

I finally learned to be happy despite my circumstances and the human beings around me. I love how it took a friend's text to help me see that.  I'm also aware that my version of happiness is difficult to comprehend for some people looking into my life. And that's okay.

Coincidentally, the quote below was waiting in my inbox that morning and I shared it with my friend because it encapsulated precisely what I was trying to convey in my text.  

This is also one of my favorite quotes from Wayne Dyer. I didn't truly get it until this year and wish more people learned to like who they are. 

My happiness may not look like yours but don't ever underestimate the force of self-love. Most of all, never underestimate the loving force of the One who's greater than all of us. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Investing In Experiences Yields Greater Results

“Invest in experiences, not material things.”

Those words in bold letters jumped off my e-mail and seared my heart while I read my street photographer friend’s newsletter in my inbox. 

As I caught up on reading blogs/newsletters on Labor Day weekend, Eric Kim’s entire newsletter radically shifted my mindset.

It seemed as if the universe was confirming the nagging pull to purge myself of my stuff. I’m tired of the clutter in my home including the overcrowded compartments in my head.

And then late evening on Labor Day I answered the phone pleasantly surprised that my sister was calling me. Auntie Ene died, she said, her voice breaking. I remember asking her twice who just died because in those brief moments the deluge of regret was too much to bear. My cousin took my aunt into the emergency room that evening for a minor ailment and within half an hour she went into cardiac arrest.

My Auntie Ene who lived in San Diego has been trying to see my dad since his sickness. He’s homebound and we deemed it too difficult for him to make the two hour drive down to San Diego. Every time my cousins coordinated our schedules and arranged a visit between my aunt and dad, something always happened. One time my mom had shingles and another time she was sick. On and on the year went without a visit between my dad and aunt.

In our arrogance with time we assumed my aunt and dad would finally see each other at my niece’s birthday party on September 12th. We were all looking forward to it. I had a busy photography month in August but now that I retired from shooting weddings I thought okay, September is the month I’d catch up with family.

But my aunt died five days before my niece’s birthday party never seeing my dad again. All I’ve heard since then was how she kept telling my cousins how she had to see my dad before something happened to him. None of us, not even my aunt, expected her to pass away before my dad.

It's emblematic of humans to handle our tomorrows with a careless disregard for its fleeting moments.

All the trite cliches came to mind: tomorrow isn’t promised, life is short, spend time with your loved ones, family first, don’t take time for granted, etc.

Every day since my aunt’s death, Eric Kim’s words have been on constant replay in my mind. They came to a rising crescendo at my niece’s birthday party when the little ones had no idea who I was and forgot my name! It’s been that long since they’ve seen me. The older ones said they haven’t seen me in a long time since I’ve stopped going to the family parties. With full-time work, photography on the weekends, and helping my parents I've missed several get-togethers and shindigs.

The day after my niece’s birthday party my sister and I visited my grieving cousins in San Diego. I had no expectation of my uncle recognizing me since he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. I walked into the house I used to spend my summer vacations in years ago and my uncle greeted me by name! I raised my hands in the air with a yes, grateful for the Instant recognition in the briefest of moments.

Fissures scarred my heart with the knowledge that I let my busyness rob me of valuable family time. I want my little nieces and nephews to know me. I want to be there for my cousin who is now so lost without my aunt and consumed with caring for my uncle.

What would my life look like if I invested in experiences and not in material things?

That’s where I’m at right now. Struggling to find the rhythmic flow of my life without losing sight of what's important.

A good friend recently inquired on my photography session rate for a family portrait of 14 the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving. Two weeks ago I would have squeezed that portrait shoot in. Now? I politely declined knowing that I would be scheduled to work on Black Friday and celebrating my dad's birthday that Saturday. Who knows how long we have left with him?

On the flip side of this my homie, street photographer Rinzi, begged to differ on Eric's words, telling me sometimes we have to invest in material things to be able to invest in experiences.

I understand where he's coming from. He invested in his camera and gear to experience the success in his street photography.

But for someone like me who fails in managing my life effectively I tend to invest in wayyyyyy too much STUFF. One word: debt. I missed the mark all these years and I plan on changing that. I doubt that once I'm on my deathbed I would lament over not having enough material things.

For now I'll focus on attaining a harmonious balance in my investment of experiences over material things. Maybe, just maybe, my little nieces and nephews will know me by name next year.

Sidenote: You can read Eric Kim's newsletter below by clicking on the link.
8 Life Lessons I Learned After Spending 3 Months On The Road

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Faith Over Fear

I feel it. The urge, the push, the itch. Call it what you will but it's a holler for change. The kind of change that preempts complacency. 

My good friend sustains me with encouragement every day and sharing this video with me is one of her ways to keep both of us motivated. 

It starts with action. 
It begins with intent. 

I am ready for change. 

Faith over fear. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Mondays Don't Have To Be So Bad

My friend, Ed a.k.a. Rock da Mullet, posted this on his Instagram this morning. I was sluggish and defiant as per my usual Monday attitude. Prolonging the inevitable commute to work I scrolled through my Instagram feed, read this post, and my Monday-hatin'-a$$ was promptly realigned. 

There's this coworker at the cube farm I try to avoid daily especially on Mondays. You make the mistake of asking how she is and you receive a drawn-out sigh with how miserable Mondays are. How can you fight that toxicity? You can't. It taints your entire Monday that it saturates every day of the week. 

You think you have enough positive vibes to influence debbie downers of her ilk by encouraging her to view life differently. Instead you become just as negative and drama-filled as she is. I've learned my lesson. Stay far far away from that poison. 

So today I will focus on why I love Mondays. Because honestly I'm ready for a change and I can't make that happen if I'm surrounded by negative and toxic people. Life is too hard as it is. 

Positive affirmations for this week: 

1.  I am ready for change
2. I attract amazing people. 
3. I create my reality. 
4. I have what it takes to make positive changes in my life. 
5. I deserve the best that life offers. 

May your Monday be just as grand with new possibilities! 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

My Son's Job With The Developmentally Disabled Taught Me How To Live With Gusto

A few months ago my son, Tristan and his girlfriend, Becca, invited me to an art show put on by their work, Injoy Life Resources. They are both full-time life coaches for adults with developmental disabilities. 

I told them I couldn't make it. After photographing an event in Murrieta that morning my back pain and ear infection were almost too much to bear. But during the hour and half drive back from Murrieta I felt a strong urge to drive to Whittier and surprise Tristan and Becca. I'm still glad I did. 

I watched their members sing at the top of their lungs to songs that now remind me of them, especially Sara Bareilles's "Brave." I never liked that song until I watched Rob sing it loudly from his wheelchair. Who, afterward, repeated "I'm so glad I got out today. You never know what can happen tomorrow." I was infused with so much joy that I forgot my back pain and ear infection. 

Their members showed me how to LIVE with gusto. They didn't act as if they had disabilities or limitations. 

So I asked myself why am I always surrounded by people without disabilities acting as if they did? Why do the people I interact with every day complain/whine/bitch/moan about how much their life sucked or weren't excited about anything? 

A few weeks ago Tristan and Becca spoke at church about their work at Injoy. I've had many conversations with Tristan about the difficulties he's faced in his job. He insists it's rewarding and his passion is clearly stamped all over his face as I watch him with his members. Tristan agreed to be my guest blogger this month wanting to share his talk from church to raise awareness for people with developmental disabilities. 

My name is Tristan for those of you who don't know. I'm turning 24 at the end of this month and I've been coming here to New Heart for almost three years now. I grew up here in La Mirada for most of my life and I currently work at Injoy Life Resources. It's a different location from Becca's but the same company. I've been working there for a little over a year and a half and that's pretty much what I'm here to talk about today.  To advocate for the community that  I work with, to share their struggles, their triumphs, their stories.  

Most of you who have talked or met with me know that I am very shy and an introvert.  It's how I've been all my life.  And believe it or not I was a lot worse when I was a kid.  So just for me to be up here speaking in front of all of you is crazy.  I would never do this in a million years.  But because I'm so passionate about the community I work with, I wanted this challenge. 

Growing up I had little to no interactions with other children or adults with developmental disabilities.  In elementary school I remember 2 maybe 3 interactions with them and they were very brief.  During middle and high school, I had absolutely no interactions.  The special needs classes were always kept separate and far away from the other kids.  So up until I turned 21, people with developmental disabilities have always been this big "unknown".  Whenever I saw someone with special needs it was always scary for me.  

So before working at InJOY, I've had quite a few jobs.  I worked at Subway straight out of high school at the age of 18 for 3 years as an assistant manager, worked at Jamba Juice for a few months in the summer, and then for the City of La Mirada at Splash.  And they were all customer service jobs and I hated them.  

I found out about InJOY through Becca.  She had been working there for years and told me all of her stories.  So naturally I was very very hesitant at first.  But at the time I really needed a job so I said if I apply and get the job, this is where God wants me to be.  I scheduled for a tour, applied right after, and when I got home they called me to schedule an interview.  So I did the interview and got the call during a small group with Pastor Danny that I got the job.

So for those of you who don't know what InJOY is, it's a day program for adults with developmental disabilities.  There are two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  Each session with 30 of our members ( adults with disabilities).  And for each session we have Life Coaches who are paired with 3 members each.  Each coach has a co-coach and their 3 members as well.  So every co group has 6 members and 2 coaches.  

Every week Monday throughFriday each co-group goes on outings 3 days a week.  One of those days being to the grocery store, the beach, Downtown Disney, various malls, and all other fun places around the Bellflower area.  The other two days are spent inside doing cooking class once a week, art, music, and computer activities.  

So right now a year and a half later I'm working as a full time Utility Coach (UC).  As a full time UC I have the privilege of seeing both sides of InJOY.  I get to work with all of our members, both morning and afternoon, and I get to do behind the scenes office jobs and random tasks.  

But before that I was a part time life coach with my own 3 members.  On every single outing, we get looks from people, it never fails.  That was something that made me really uncomfortable at first, but have grown to get used to it.  I've seen parents pull their kids closer to them as we walk by.  People move away from us when we sit down to have snack.  

But I've also had good experiences.  People have come up to me and thanked me for the work I do.  People have asked if they can help when one of my members is having a behavior.  Or when we purchase something at the store and the cashier is really friendly and talks with our members.  

But unfortunately I've experienced the bad way more than I've experienced the good.  So in that, one of the greatest lessons I've learned with my time at InJOY is that this community are people too.  Just like you and me.  Because I didn't view them as people before.  When I first started working at InJOY that wasn't how I saw them.

People ask me why I work at InJOY, or why have I stayed as long as I have, or that I should be paid more for all the stuff I have to deal with.  Because I do have to deal with a lot at work.  I've been punched, slapped, pinched, bruised, spat at, pushed, choked, verbally threatened, cussed at, pee'd on, pooped on, had clothes soiled with feces thrown at me. 

I've chased someone half a mile down the road eloping from our building. I've been sent to the clinic trying to stop a 6'1" 400 plus pound man from running into the street and messed up one of the muscles in my ribs. I see members hurt themselves in front of me by slapping themselves, full force, all over their body, biting themselves on the arms or legs and taking chunks of skin off or re-opening scabs because that's how they express themselves when they're mad.  If not daily at least once a week.  

I am in the restroom or changing room for at least an hour out of the day helping our members who need that support.  And I still work here why?!  Because of my growing passion and love for this community that is MISUNDERSTOOD.  Working here for as long as I have I've been fortunate enough to see members who have progressed so much in my time being there.  

For them being able to write their name for the first time, or to wash their hands, or to tolerate being in a group with other members around them when they hated being around other people, or just them tolerating being at InJOY.  It's not for my own personal growth but theirs and it's definitely not about the money.

So you've heard all of my stories and experiences and I wanted to finish by encouraging you guys to continue loving people from all walks of life.  And specifically with people with developmental disabilities we could now start by just being more aware of them.  There are a lot of group homes in a lot of neighborhoods that you and I live in.  I've been to a few group homes and it looks like a normal house on the outside but it's a completely different environment on the inside.  

So maybe being active in finding out if there are any around you or visiting InJOY and see what a day program actually looks like.  Or just saying hi to them in the community.  Members love meeting new people.  

But even if you feel like you aren't ready for that, just simply changing your mindset on this community, and seeing them as human beings.  Not having pity on them or feeling sorry for them, but seeing them as fighters is the most powerful thing you can offer them.  
Becca DeFiesta speaking about
her work at Injoy.
Tristan Flores conveys his
passion for the special needs community.

(To listen to the entire talk by Susan, Becca, and Tristan you can click here.) 

Below is a moving video by Gungor. The song "Light" was written when they discovered their second child was born with Down Syndrome. Her name is Lucette which means light. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Gay Friend Dumped Me When I Became A Christian

Deb & Liz exchanging rings at
their wedding last year.
You can view more pics here.
Yesterday was a monumental day in history. Marriage was legally granted to ALL human beings thanks to the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling

I cried in my bed when I heard the decision over the radio, cried on the way to work, and bawled when I got to my desk at the cube farm. They were tears of pure unadulterated joy. 

For me the decision represented the result of perseverance in the fight for equal rights. I have heated discussions with my boyfriend about our responsibility to take action, to stand up for a cause we believe in regardless of how high the odds are stacked against us. 

This ruling wouldn't have happened if people remained complacent, or worse, ambivalent. This shift in history wouldn't have rocked solid ground if there was a collective attitude of "Well, what can we do to fight the system?" 

Change happened because people took action and persevered to fight for equal rights. 

Last October I photographed a good friend's wedding to her longtime girlfriend. I didn't call it a "lesbian wedding" it was my "friend's" wedding. It was a day so saturated with love I kept blinking back my tears of happiness behind my camera. Their wedding was one of the most unique weddings I've photographed because they structured it according to the things that made their relationship grow. 

Deb and Liz avoided the traditional wedding elements and created their own. Instead of cake they had pie because man, does Deb love pie. Instead of a DJ and dancing the guests were treated to a night of serenading. I won't go on, you can check out my blog of their wedding, but I drove away from their wedding enveloped in goodness

How could their beautiful love be so wrong? 

Since yesterday's news, thoughts of someone special to me occupied my brain space. When I cried seeing how vibrantly lit in rainbow colors the White House was I sent loving thoughts toward him---wherever he was. You know the question: who was that one person who got away? 

My answer to that question was never an ex-boyfriend. It was my former best friend, Phi, who happened to be gay. Again, he was never my "gay friend" he was simply my best friend whom I loved so much. 

He and I met in 2000 when I worked in an independent pharmacy in a predominantly LGBT community in Long Beach.* We hit it off the moment we met and our friendship formed a deep bond. Besides being my music festival buddy we shared a common love for art and books. When he went through a break-up I listened to his pain. When my then boyfriend lied and cheated on me he was my anchor. 

If anyone questioned our odd friendship no one ever brought it up to my face. But we were an odd couple. He was a young 20-something gay man hanging out with a 30-something single mother of three kids. Our friendship was seamless and it just flowed. 

In 2003 I became a Christian much to my surprise and I'm sure Phi's dismay. He and I had long discussions on spirituality and faith, searching for peace in our hearts. Phi witnessed my agonizing soul-searching journey and knew the last thing I wanted was Jesus. I didn't know the last thing I wanted was actually the one thing I needed. 

It was shortly after my conversion that Phi cut all ties with me without notice or explanation. I understood his reasons because I've seen and heard the ugliness of Christians' stance on homosexuals. 

But it still hurt. 

Since we didn't have a chance to discuss why we couldn't be friends any longer I can only assume that he feared I'd turn into one of those hateful, vitriolic, judgmental Christians. And you know what? I don't blame him. I've seen it with my own eyes and have struggled to love them as I would my neighbor. 

I didn't have the chance to reassure him that I wouldn't change and that my capacity to love grew abundantly since experiencing the unconditional love of Jesus. I never had the chance to explain to him that I, too, have been marginalized by God-fearing Christians. 

I couldn't share with Phi how my "loving" Christian friend sat me down after my second divorce to tell me that I could never marry again or be accepted in any Christian church because I'm forever an adulteress. To back up his truth he pointed out the following bible verses: 

Luke 16:18 Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 
Mark 10:12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."

If I had the chance to share this story with Phi I would have told him how I shrugged at this now ex-friend and simply said okay. Phi and I would have laughed (maybe), rolled our eyes (definitely), and then hugged each other (absolutely). 

Had we remained friends today I would explain to Phi that I have no time pointing out other people's sins because I'm focused on my own sinful plate; nor do I have any right to judge others as I've made my share of mistakes which I've learned/repented from. 

I'm sure he'd get a kick out of how a handful of my well-meaning Christian friends spent their precious time trying to change my mind about not getting married again (for the third time), yet, experienced marital issues themselves. (I know because they later confided in me.) 

I've heard all the debates, arguments, opinions, and truths which have caused mad chaos and hatred amongst friends and on the Internet. All I know is that I can only navigate through life knowing that Jesus loved the marginalized and I can do my best to exercise love and forgiveness toward others. 

It might be simplistic to some and incredibly wrong to others but haven't we witnessed recently how much #lovewins? I used to be a hateful, bitter person but love, and learning to forgive, have divested my life from the oppressive darkness that plagues a poisonous heart. Sure I struggle with those who are different from me and hold opposing beliefs but acceptance of those differences moves mountains. 

Wherever Phi is I hope he celebrated yesterday's victory as well as he did 12 years ago! How I wish I could have shared the moment with him the way we used to. 
Dear Phi,
Remember this painting? Yes, I still have it! I gave it to
my daughter, Maricelle, (I know she's an adult now) to hang
in her apartment but I took it back last year when she moved
to New York. My boyfriend, Ray, surprised me one day
by hanging it up along with my race medals on our office wall.
I'm not talking out of my a$$ when I say I think of you
every day. This painting is the only part of you I have.
I miss you. I love you. Be well. Be happy. 

*Name of pharmacy and Phi's last name are intentionally omitted for privacy reasons. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Affirmation and Validation

Yup, I was that woman in the quote above. I thought I was a straight up bad a$$ for not requiring validation. When you grow up in a family who's incapable of providing positive affirmation or validating your worth you learn to cope in one of two ways: 1) you seek affirmation with a fierce hunger or 2) you live life on your terms without needing validation from anyone. 

I veered toward the latter. Had I fallen for the former my need for validation would have been debilitating, preventing my photography business from flourishing or squashing the courage to publish my writing when my editor invited me to.

I've grown deaf to anything my family says, negative or positive, and I couldn't care less for their approval. Operating in this way liberates me, allowing space for learning how to take my failures and turn them into positive outcomes. I've watched seekers of validation paralyzed with a lethal dose of self-doubt and fear that they couldn't leap with faith over the chasm toward their dreams. 

Dream killer. That's what I dubbed the need for validation and really, who needs that? Not I, I told myself with a smug pat on the back. 

As I chugged along in life people hopped on board pulling on the brakes to slow my roll. I ignored a few but there was one who grabbed my attention letting me know my way wasn't always the right highway. 

I don't know how many times Ray tried to tell me that I didn't know how to say thank you or show my appreciation. To say I was offended was an understatement. How can he NOT know? 

You didn't even say thank you. A simple thank you would suffice. You don't appreciate what I do. 

WHAT! THE! ....

Many arguments took place before I finally got it. Oh. (Facepalm) 

My lack of requiring validation has handicapped my ability for affirming others. By others I mean loved ones. I assumed my actions, not my words, expressed gratitude and appreciation. But in recent enlightened years I realized a simple thank you really does impact deeply. I owe that enlightenment to the people in my life who are proficient at doling out words of affirmation. They are my teachers. 

Last March the organization I volunteer for, My Refuge House, held their annual benefit fundraiser and I was invited by the former Executive Director, Crystal Sprague, to photograph the event. Crystal is more of a good friend than "someone I work with." Her heart for the marginalized, abused, and exploited resonates with my own so that we've intertwined throughout the years.

When I do the things I love using the gifts God placed in my hands to make this world a better place an unmitigated fervor drives me like a fiery engine. Time isn't wasted with my need for affirmation or validation for my work. A quiet joy rests inside me knowing my work, however small, serves and helps others. 

It would be remiss of me if I didn't tell you I was plagued with self-doubt or torment wondering if my work was good enough. Am I making a difference? Could I be doing more? I wish I didn't have to work at the cube farm so I can do something meaningful. How can I quit my full-time job? Then what? I'm not trained as a social worker. 

But I know these thoughts kill dreams too. I continue to volunteer in the fight against human trafficking because it's what I'm called to do. Period. 

After photographing the My Refuge House benefit fundraiser last March Crystal handed me a gift bag containing the shell and card pictured below. I didn't open it until I got home but as I drove away from the venue I felt the familiar fullness of contentment that comes after I've served others. I felt grateful for being part of something bigger than me. 

Crystal's words penned in the thank-you note made me pause in wonder. For there in the card were sentences strung up with words of affirmation and validation which I didn't know I needed to hear. 

It's such a joy to work with you all these years. You are more gifted than you know or believe, but I've enjoyed seeing you slowly begin believing in yourself. You've given so much time and efforts for our girls and I hope you know, you have truly impacted lives, even if you've never met them. I love you. ---Crystal

Since receiving Crystal's thank-you card the deafening roar of self-doubt is now an inaudible whisper. Tucked into my Filofax I carry the card with me as a daily reminder to give words of affirmation and validate those close to me. I'm grateful for the people (too many to name) in my life who have taught me how to do well in this mode of communication. I'm okay with not hearing words of affirmation or validation for the rest of my life. Crystal's words will last a lifetime.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

End It Movement

Vocation is the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need

When I posted this picture on my Instagram I wrote "Besides photography and writing I have a calling: fighting against human trafficking."

Life can be tough sometimes but underlying the struggle and stress is the "deep gladness" of knowing I'm here for a purpose. I floundered for a bit wondering what my purpose in life was but my calling found me in 2007. 

It was through the birth of My Refuge House that I discovered my abolitionist's heart burning fiercely to DO something. 

Knowing what my purpose was meant happiness didn't live outside of myself. I don't burden Ray, my kids, Rylee, my friends and my sister with my unrealistic expectations of happiness. They don't make ME happy, (Okay, now I'm beginning to sound like Pharrell.) 

February 27, 2015 marked the second year I participated in the End It Movement to shine a light on slavery. It might seem trivial to some marking a red X on my hand to show people that modern slavery exists.

But there's one thing I've learned in the eight years I've volunteered my time in the fight against slavery and that is no effort is trivial. 

I want to thank everyone who joined my team and donated their hard-earned money to shine a light on slavery. It's so true, together we can end it. I hold fast to that belief. 

I encourage you, my lovely readers, to listen to your heart and discover what your calling is. We can all meet "the world's deep need." 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wednesday Quote

I have a Moleskine insert in my Foxy Dori traveler's notebook dedicated specifically to quotes and words of affirmation. I print and paste them into it or write them down. When I came across this one I immediately wanted to tattoo the words somewhere on my body. 

The quote aligns perfectly with my 2015 life manifesto and reminds me that I create my story. I envision Andrea Balt as a drill sergeant yelling into my ear when fear grips me as I watch the sheeple existing from one day to the next. It's okay that I do things MY way even if it totally goes against the norm. 

Honor my truth, right? 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Prickly Red Cactus Who Lived In The Cube Farm

A typical day at the cube farm
w/my Foxy Dori and seven-year-old
Franklin Covey.

"I love my job." 

I see those words as I scroll down my Instagram feed and jealousy ravages the inside of my gut like vicious piranha. Shame follows, then admonition for being so lame. Stop it, I tell myself. Be grateful you have this job. 

But it's not the job I love I argued with myself. Buck up and shut up my Self argued back.

Missy Engoy, one of my favorite people to walk this Earth, has a gift with transforming thrift shop containers into loving arrangements with succulents and cacti. At her house one night she held up a reddish prickly cactus between her dainty fingers with pride. 

This reminded me of you, she grinned, it's fierce. You're fierce. I hope you aren't offended. 

I laughed. Heck, I've been called worse. 

When she handed her finished creation to me I squeaked a little, laughed, and blinked away a few tears. For in my hand I held the embodiment of Nannette at the cube farm. Had the cactus and mug not collapsed in the car on my way to work I wouldn't have noticed the sentence on the inside of the mug's rim: It's the work I hate. (Insert my bahahaha here.) 

Every time I looked at the cactus I finally felt understood. I didn't have to fake the funk of being happy and positive in the dreary place that pays my bills. I didn't have to hide the regret for being a wuss and not pursuing the work I loved when I was younger and fearless. (Actually, as a young mom I wasn't altogether fearless so I take that back.)  The red prickly cactus gave me permission to be my prickly self. Silently I'd wield my pen at my computer monitor with a yippee-ki-yay-mother *bleep*-er! 


A few days after my little red cactus claimed real estate at the cube farm Ray sent me a text about a 56 year old man in Detroit who walked 21 miles to work for the last decade.


The article from The Daily News praised Robertson for "...making the 42-mile round-trip trudge through some of the roughest neighborhoods in Detroit to his job in Rochester Hills, Mich., since his Honda Accord broke down in 2005." 

And there you have it. I was beaten with the humility stick after reading how Mr. Robertson sleeps for a few hours before he repeats his 42-mile round-trip to work and has never called in sick. He makes $10.55 an hour which isn't enough to save for a car or afford insurance. His co-workers live far from his home so carpool wasn't an option. 

You could read the rest of Robertson's story in the links above but let me juxtapose his plight with mine. Oh wait, I don't have one. I drive a 45 minute commute to work in a car that has a heater and an air conditioner. I make more than twice his hourly wage with an option to take a vacation or call in sick or work from home if I'm sick. I live in Southern California where the weather hardly falls below fifty degrees. 

I don't have to walk in rain, sleet, or snow. I can swing by a Starbucks drive-thru on my way to work to warm up with a coffee and enjoy an oatmeal breakfast. 

I get to work and boo-hoo it as I log in believing my a$$ could do better elsewhere. Yet, I'm surrounded by beautiful and kind-hearted people who alleviate the cube farm doldrums every day. I have a sit-stand desk and a walking station to use in the afternoons. Yeah, tough life, huh? 

If Mr. Robertson heard me complain I'm sure he'd tell me to buck up and shut the hell up. I wouldn't blame him. After a week of watching the media air his story I now gaze at my red cactus with a new perspective. 

Each of Missy's creations are born out of love with a mama's concern for her "babies" to go to a good home. I doubt she meant for this fierce red cactus to stay with a crazy, self-absorbed bitch. 

My prickly red cactus now basks in the glory of hope for the future I'm determined to change. I won't stay at the cube farm forever. I now know what I want to be when I grow up but I'll write about that when I make it happen. And believe you me, I WILL make it happen. 

But for now we can continue to be our best at the cube farm and love our job! 


If you're like me and suck at giving gifts let me recommend Missy and her lovely creations. Head over to her Web-site: good morning cactus and tell her I sent you. No, you won't get any discounts for dropping my name but she'll know you're a good character. 


Update on James Robertson. My heart broke when I read that he had to leave his home because of death threats. You can read that story here