Join the Fight, End the Fight

When I began blogging, I wanted shed light on good things going on in the world. Today I break my blogging fast with what may seem counter to that mission. Today I’d like to talk about cancer.

One in three Americans are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. If you don’t know anyone who’s fought, died or survived their diagnosis, chances are at some point in your life you will. Maybe it’s not someone you know, maybe it’s you who has or will be diagnosed with some form of cancer. Scary thoughts for some of us, but this is reality.

As I began thinking about this topic I started to think of the people I knew with cancer. I thought of an inspirational high school principal, a fearless school counselor, a strong co-worker, a confused friend, a young dancer, a friendly neighbor and the people I might have known if they’d survived just a few years longer.

I could tell you the basic stories of any one of these individuals as I’m moved by what each one has to offer; however, telling these heartbreaking and sometimes heartwarming stories do not change the facts. Retelling their stories won’t end the fight against cancer even though it’ll get hundreds and thousands of likes on a Facebook photo.

Thankfully, awareness of different cancers and cancer as a whole is pretty high. Most people get that it’s bad. Organizations like the American Cancer Society and The Komen Foundation are working to fund research to cure or end cancer. Considering the 33 percent chance that one will develop cancer, their causes should hit close to home.

One of my first blogs featured the St. Jude’s Research Hospital with one of my favorite tag lines: “Give thanks for the healthy kids in your life and give to those who are not.” With cancer, you never know when or if you or a loved one will get that diagnosis. If I were to modify the phrase, I’d say “Give thanks for the healthy people in your life and give to help them stay that way.”

On Friday, April 25 I will be participating in the Relay for Life at KU. If you find it in your heart to make a donation, please click on the link below. This isn’t about me reaching my arbitrary $100 goal. It’s about all of us standing together against a disease that affects most Americans either directly or indirectly. Please stand with me.

Thank you

To donate to my Relay for Life fund, click here.

Bluebird smiling at me

Today I can’t help but break my online silence to tell you a story about two women who I grew up with and continue to look up to today. The first, my grandmother, introduced me to the second, Shirley Temple. I’m not sure when we first met, but I’m sure I was younger than Shirley was in most of her movies.

Grandma had grown up with Shirley and had always seemed happy to watch another Shirley Temple movie with me. Although by now my obsession with historical documentaries is obvious, I specifically enjoyed ones about Shirley. Even as grandma got older, Shirley remained young with perfect curls.

Sometimes I think Grandma introduced me to Shirley to inspire me. I know she enjoyed the dancing, the music, the light-hearted qualities that were as relevant in the 1930s and 40s as they are today. But even more, I know Grandma wanted me to dance and sing and be happy – like Shirley only with straight hair.

Grandma passed away more than six years ago. I can recall that day vividly. But she didn’t leave me without someone to turn to. She left an entire box of Shirley’s movies on VHS tapes, but those aren’t nearly as useful as the memories I have from them. Maybe a young child star isn’t the best person to turn to for advice, but when I need a smile or a hug from above, that’s who I turned to. Her dances with Bojangles are my favorite.

And what’s incredible is that my friend Shirley did much more than entertains millions.  Really, she had it all. A career of entertainment, politics and charity boards, a family and retirement. Grandma saved me from emulating a celebrity my own age without the foresight to see what that life leads to. Instead she showed me someone who worked for most of her life and still managed to lead a long, healthy life.

Today I woke up to the sad news that my grandma’s child star and mine passed away. I have no doubt that Shirley and Grandma will be singing “Animal Crackers in My Soup” with Jesus and tearing up heaven’s stairs with tap shoes.

Shirley served as an extension of my grandma after grandma left. She inspired me while I was young and continues to today. I will continue to be amazed by the optimism exhibited in Shirley’s work. Like I’ve heard her sing many times before, “You’ve got to S-M-I-L-E to be H-A-double-P-Y.”

Things they told me about alcohol

I turned 21 this week. Weird, right? It’s strange, but true. Another fun fact…Before then, I’d never tasted alcohol that wasn’t in a rum cake. And although I’ve enjoyed trying new tastes and cooking with new substances, I’ve enjoyed reflecting on what my friends told me about alcoholic beverages.

“You’ll understand when you’ve tried it”

This confuses me now more than ever. The drinks I’ve tried have been good. They’ve gone well with my meals too. It’s just a drink. What I don’t understand is what I was supposed to understand. Was I supposed to be hit with an urge to go party? Was I supposed to drink until I couldn’t feel my teeth? I’m not really sure what I was supposed to understand. Maybe I’m doing it wrong.

“I don’t think you’ll like (enter drink here)”

As I mentioned earlier, the closest I came to underage consumption of alcohol was rum cakes. Of course, I’d been around people drinking, I could smell different things. But that’s not a full-proof indicator of what I’ll like or dislike. So far beer is the most commonly stated as something I will not like. I haven’t tried it yet. Please wait to reserve judgment until after I do on that one.

“Then you can drink legally”

Ummm…. I’m not really sure about these people, mainly because I’m not sure if they know me very well. I’m not a break the rules type of person. That’s about all I have to say about that.

“Be careful”

This is my favorite because it makes the most sense. Here’s this substance that’s been illegal for me to possess for the first 20 years of my life, try not to go crazy. That I understand. Living in the dorms for a short period of time exposed to me the experiences of unknowing, unwise, underage drinkers. I saw a friend or two stumble past the lobby held up by their friends. I heard the stories of headaches and hangovers nearly every Sunday. Careful, I guess you could say I’m that. Maybe I’ve just learned from others’ mistakes. Either way, I don’t plan on going overboard any time soon.

If there is a moral to my story, it’s this: turning 21, trying alcohol, it doesn’t inherently change lives. Other factors may contribute to that. Changes to my life in the past few days really had nothing to do with alcohol.

I also want to take a moment to mention my friends who were always gracious when I refused alcohol. Although I think my decision to wait to be legal may have confused some, they never pushed the subject and always had an entertaining piece of “wisdom.”

A Healthy New Year

The most common New Year’s resolution revolves around exercise and weight. Before I go much farther into the discussion of weight, read my good friend’s opinion here. I think she covers it better than I could anyway.

I like me. I think I look pretty good. But I feel nothing like I did when I worked out every day. Along the way from there to here I’ve run a couple of 5Ks and taken a few interludes of healthy eating and exercise and they felt great, but they didn’t last.

So this exercise thing…

This year I’m resolving to run a 10K and exercise more often. (It’s in writing and on the Internet… I can’t back down now.) In my mind this makes sense. I didn’t question it. However, when I let others know about my resolution I hear comments like “Why? You look great as you are!” and “You really don’t need it.”

As I’m planning for my body feel as strong and powerful as my mind thinks it is, why is there this perception that healthy is only something for people who don’t like their bodies?

Who said that you only exercise if you don’t like your present weight?

Who said eating healthy is only for people who can’t afford to gain weight?

Somewhere along the way we’ve taken this lifestyle and given it only to the insecure and overweight. Have we forgotten that it’s the path with the longest life and fewer diseases? Have I mentioned that a healthy diet and exercise gives you more energy?

Let’s move past this misconception about a healthy lifestyle and start thinking about what we want for ourselves. I don’t know about you but I want that feeling of powerful exhaustion after a workout and satisfaction after I eat a homemade meal. It’s not about weight, it’s not about appearances; it’s about the way we feel.

I encourage you wherever you are on your life’s journey to feeling great. It’s a happy New Year, y’all! Let’s make this a year worth remembering.

Why I stand with Phil

By now you’ve probably heard the situation with Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, GQ Magazine, and A&E. I’m not going to rehash the arguments or the realities of the situation. I will note that he is no longer suspended from the show. Rather than beat a dead horse, let’s look at this from a different perspective.

If you’ve seen GQ Magazine even once in your life, you know it’s not the most likely to interview a man with a shirt on, a long beard or camouflage clothing. If we’re also speaking to the general opinions of the publication and its writers, I’d guess they’re not the same as Robertson’s and his family.

So a man walks into an interview presumably with a reporter who holds different beliefs and the power of the pen over him. I will also speculate that he knew at some point his religious beliefs would come up.

Let’s think about the reporter a minute. I’m assuming Drew Magary, the writer, is an intelligent reporter. He probably did quite a bit of research to prepare. Surely, he found that several members of the Robertson family are preachers and hosted a Christian music award show. Phil is even a spokesperson for IAmSecond.org, a Christian organization which advocates for a God-first outlook on life.

Magary’s job is tell the most compelling and engaging story. His job is to make subscribers read the magazine. Politics and Americans being as they are, Magary had a few polarizing topics he could have asked about, same-sex marriage is one of them.

So, the stage is set. The pressure is on. If Robertson’s read the news in the past year, he’s probably seen the way public opinion and the laws are leaning. And yet, when he’s asked, he carefully stands on the same platform he’s stood on since he became famous. He didn’t change, he didn’t crack, he didn’t cop-out.

I can’t imagine the amount of pressure Robertson must have felt. He probably knew there’d be backlash, that his opinion was unpopular and that he’d be under even more public scrutiny. And yet, while we live in a world where our politicians—the people we vote for specifically to stand for something—switch sides and fold under pressure, the person we find standing up for something is a reality television millionaire.

Remember that saying our moms and teachers would say: “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” Or there’s this one: “What’s popular isn’t always right and what’s right isn’t always popular.” Again, I’m not going argue for or against Robertson’s comments, but doesn’t this apply to our lives?

How many times did our parents tell us to act on our consciences or stand up for what we believe?

Robertson acted on what he believes to be right even among those who believe it to be wrong. He stood while most would probably fold.

I don’t know how I’d react under the pressure Robertson was under. I don’t know what I’d say if I were asked the same question knowing it’d be published in a national publication and on the internet.

I stand with Phil not because of the contents of his comments, but because of the strength of his character. Regardless of the situation, he remained himself. No games, no beating around the bush. The reporter received an answer true to Robertson’s belief system and true to Robertson.

 

Also, that ranks Phil Robertson and Jennifer Lawrence as the two most genuine people of 2013.

 

What happens in December…

Nothing makes me miss my childhood more than the holidays. Something about waking up on Christmas morning won’t ever be the same—maybe because I actually sleep on Christmas Eve, but still. Although there are many things I’ve learned since childhood, there are plenty of things I’ve learned from grownup Christmases alone.

Giving is more fun anyway

The unwrapping and enjoyment of gifts at Christmas lasts a whopping 20 minutes; however, the choosing, the wrapping the delivering and of course the excitement watching during the unwrapping and having the satisfaction for a job well done last far longer.

Of course I love the shopping, but the reactions of my friends and family when I chose the perfect gift is priceless.

Redeeming myself from a childhood of brat-hood

I don’t remember a Christmas without gifts, decorations and family. I’ve been blessed in that regard. As a kid, I didn’t recognize that. I think I was a bit of brat. But now I’ve had a chance to look at the world a little more broadly I realize that I could be helping.

Just ask my roommates about how I’d like to give back to kids without Christmases. I wanted to adopt every angel on the Salvation Army’s Christmas tree. Too bad the roommates and my budget wouldn’t agree to that.

Make the food, don’t eat all of it

Christmas food rocks. Fudge tastes delicious. Cookies and milk, classic. Christmas candies can’t be beat. As irresistible as they are, they shouldn’t all be eaten by one person in one day. Why do you think half of the America resolves to go to the gym more often for New Years? (That’s not a real stat, y’all.) Save us all the stomach ache and grumpy post-junk food coma and pace yourself. That should be my motto.

Truth is, I seem to re-learn this one every year. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to help myself. So much chocolate…

Relax a little

And I do mean a little. I work a lot and I know I’m not the only one. It makes sense to take advantage of the opportunity, but our families are far more important. That’s the real opportunity—time with the people we love. Whoever that is for you, I hope you take that opportunity and make the most of it.

This season is coming to a close as quickly as the year. Hopefully, you’ve learned your lessons and have this holiday thing down to an art; if not, may another year find us both a year wiser.

 

Finally finals week

In my brief hiatus from writing, several things have caught my attention; many of them are worth considering and writing about. I found myself wrapped up in the last week of classes before the always-daunting finals week. That is the issue most relevant in my world; therefore, that is what I’m choosing to write about today.

If you are from one of the schools already enjoying your Christmas break, congratulations on your survival and please don’t distract the rest of us.

Finals are tricky, partly because everyone has a unique experience. Some people have exams, others have papers and more still have presentations or performances. Regardless of the method dominating your finals week, you find a way to get through it unharmed. If it’s any help, below are the keys to my finals week success.

Drink lots of water

Coffee is usually the beverage of choice, I know. There are some things coffee can’t do, like keep you hydrated. You’ll feel better if you switch off the coffee every now and then to drink some water.

Skip the junk food

While we’re attacking the finals week staples, let’s talk about your diet. I know it’s a lot easier to have pizza delivered than peel an orange, but resist the urge to have yet another fast food experience. Fast food makes you tired while fresh foods give you natural energy. Choose the orange, you’ll be able to stay alert for longer.

Plan your week

If you have multiple things due within a few days of each other, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and resort to doing nothing productive instead. Write down what you need to do and when you need to have it done by. For example, if you have a test covering several chapters, commit to studying two or three chapters per day until the day of the exam. Create a plan and hang it up where you can see it. Hold yourself accountable to the timeline. You might find you have more free time than you thought. Then again, maybe not.

Added bonus: as you finish things, cross them off. You’ll feel accomplished and remind yourself to keep going. As things get done the remaining tasks become more reasonable and doable.

Dance

My favorite part of finals week is the study breaks. Every semester I come up with a playlist of upbeat and empowering songs. Before a final, after a few hours of studying and before food breaks I take a one-song-long dance break.

In the past I’ve listened to “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson, “The Show Must Go On” from Moulin Rouge and “Feeling Good” by Michael Buble. This year “Wake Me Up” by Avincii, “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys and “Overcomer” by Mandisa are all on my list.

Whatever genre gets your blood pumping and puts a smile on your face, that’s what can keep you motivated. The music will get you up and moving around which can help you stay focused longer.

If music isn’t your thing, take a stretch break, a walk around the building or a yoga break. Stay physically active so your mind can rest for a few moments and get back to work.

Good luck with finals. I’m sure you’ve got a few tricks of your own and they’re all worth it. At the end of the week you’re done with this semester! Let’s hold off the celebration for now and try not to get too lost in the internet. We can survive this week. And more importantly, we will survive these finals!

Be thankful for fleas

In case you haven’t noticed, this month Americans have been super thankful. The evidence is all over Facebook. Thirty days of thankfulness posts almost overshadow the infamous Facebook drama and pictures of my friends’ kids.

You know, I could join my peers in giving you a list of things I’m thankful for. After all, I created this blog to share positivity and thankfulness. But I’d never have the time or space to give you a complete list of things I’m thankful for. I tried once to come up with a comprehensive list, but after a week of adding more than one hundred items, I concluded that my list would never be complete.

So instead of telling you to be thankful for the blessings in your life, I’m going to share a story I heard a few weeks ago.

During World War II things happened. People did things society normally doesn’t ask them to do; for one Christian family that meant hiding a Jewish family in their home. After some time, the Gestapo discovered the families and all were sent to a concentration camp.

The mothers were separated from their daughters and the fathers sent away too. But the two Christian sisters stuck together. They’d managed to sneak a Bible in and for some reason weren’t caught.

Sickness and disease ran rampant in the camp, but the sisters remained. Bugs gnawed at their skin and their clothing. They shared a space in an overcrowded barracks among others held prisoner. The guards didn’t bother this barrack often so the girls tended to stay inside where they were marginally safer.

One day the two girls sat reading their forbidden Bible. They came across 1 Thessalonians 5:18a which says “Give thanks in all circumstances.”

The younger of the two girls looked at her sister and asked, “Does that mean we should give thanks to God for the fleas?”

Although the question may have been asked rhetorically and with a tinge of bitterness, the two girls did thank God for the fleas.

One sister would not survive the war. However, the remaining sister would later find out that the reason the camp guards didn’t come into their barrack often was because of those pesky fleas. The guards would do horrible and awful things to the residents of the other barracks, but they didn’t want to get fleas on their uniforms so they avoided the barrack where the sisters lived in particular.

Indeed, give thanks for the fleas.

The moral of the story? I’ll let you decipher that one.

Maybe it’s just a neat story from a dark time in world history. But then again, maybe it’s not. Maybe we should be giving thanks for those things that torment us because we don’t know the reasoning why. Maybe the things that cause us trouble, or even pain, keep us safe from worse outcomes.

Instead of making endless lists with of obvious blessings, I’m going to be giving thanks for the “fleas” in my life. What about you?

Happy Thanksgiving, friends; may it keep off the fleas for a day.

 

“Four score and seven years”

“Four score and seven years ago…” Few phrases ring on American ears with more recognition than the beginning of the Gettysburg Address. Nov. 19th marks the 150th anniversary of that speech by a great president.

I urge you, if you have not already, to spend some time on the learntheaddress.org. Filmmaker Ken Burns has assembled a site with a variety of interpretations of Lincoln’s short and sweet speech.

But I want to point out one little piece that makes me chuckle every time. “The world will little note or long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

First of all, I think that the fact that I’m writing about it and a digital movement is dedicated to it proves the world remembers. President Lincoln couldn’t have predicted that of course, but time brought a few things that President Lincoln couldn’t have predicted.

And second, we must remember our history. Brave men and women have fought for freedoms long before we had time to reflect and be thankful for them. With Thanksgiving coming, now’s as good of time as any to remember our freedoms were fought for and protected many years ago.

“We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 

A SADD story

Once upon a time when I was nothing more than an innocent, unsuspecting high school student, I received a visit from the Students Against Destructive Decisions president. Ok, this wasn’t entirely unusual. We were friends anyway. But that meeting changed my life.

Ms. SADD president asked me to meet with some representatives of an anti-drug, -alcohol and –tobacco non-profit in our county. What followed seems like a whirlwind of activity now. In the months that followed Ms. SADD president and I missed a few days of school, wrote a proposal and talked to a lot of people about making a change we felt passionate about.

We exposed the tobacco hypocrisy of our school district. While teachers taught students the dangers of using tobacco, cigarette smokers at football games smoked between the concession stand and the band—two of the areas most highly trafficked by students and younger children. Even during basketball and indoor events, the 30 feet just outside of the doors were jam-packed with cigarette smoke.

Although I’ve never had a problem with people making their own decisions, I’ve always had a problem with decisions forced upon me and others. So Ms. SADD president and I set out to change that. Our hard work culminated into a presentation for our local board of education.

Eventually we got what we wanted. A sign on chain-link fence at the entrance to the football field is my legacy. It states that there is no smoking past that point. Another sign at the edge of the parking lot in front of the school’s entrance portrays the same message. Some may see them more as a suggestion, but I see them as a sign post on my life’s path.

SADD ended up becoming one of my passions and also an outlet which allowed me to go to a camp with my best friends and help with events that, if nothing else, had an extreme impact on who I am today.

Last week I gave yet another presentation about tobacco. This time I exposed India’s tobacco education problem. India is the third largest producer of tobacco and has the more oral cancer cases than other nation. Out of a world full of topics and information, that’s what I chose to study.

I’ve talked before about how the past leads us to our present and I believe it’s true. If I hadn’t said “Yes” to Ms. SADD president and agreed to the guidance of the SADD advisor, I don’t know what my high school experience would have looked like. Instead I can tell you that I enjoy working for causes and that I want people to make informed decisions that don’t infringe on others’ decisions.

Thank you, Ms. SADD president and everyone involved with that project. It taught me a variety of skills I continue to use and develop. You taught me the value of being passionate. Thank you for that.