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Essay by Neandra Fernandes a the word changes high school scholarship recipient

Essay by Neandra Fernandes a the word changes high school scholarship recipient

High School Scholarship Essay by:
Neandra Fernandes
As a Black girl, stereotypes are present in my life every day. Since kindergarten, I have been enrolled in a program called METCO (Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity). METCO is a voluntary desegregation program that buses inner city students to suburban schools in attempt to give Boston students better educational opportunities and to help diversify predominately white institutions. At my high school, Lincoln-Sudbury, I am surrounded by many faces that do not resemble mine. Out of the one thousand six-hundred students that attend Lincoln-Sudbury, there are only ninety METCO students.
During my time at Lincoln-Sudbury, I realized how many stereotypes people had about the color of my skin. When one METCO student would get in trouble or was not completing all of their school work, some teachers and peers would act in ways that suggested that all METCO students behave this way. I took it upon myself to challenge these beliefs and ideas that all METCO students are the same and that because I am Black I am incapable of succeeding academically like the resident students.
At Lincoln-Sudbury High School, many of the METCO students do not take very rigorous courses due to very few teachers pushing them to challenge themselves. Meanwhile, non-METCO resident students are more encouraged to challenging themselves by taking honors or AP classes. In order to break this idea that Black people can not thrive academically, I too took honors classes. Since my freshman year, I took honors Spanish, Science and Math classes. Although being the only Black student in my class was sometimes difficult, I knew that I was breaking the stereotype that METCO students are not fit to take hard classes. In these classes, I worked very hard by staying after school which would make my days even longer. I also met with teachers during all of my frees. I did any extra work that my teachers allowed to help keep my grades up. Soon, teachers began to recognize my hard work. I never gave up, even when the hour and a half bus drive to school and home took a toll on me. I knew that I would be paving the way for other Black students who also want to challenge themselves and those who want to break from the stereotype of what some people think a METCO student is like.
Before I got involved in extracurriculars at Lincoln-Sudbury, I was often mistaken for other Black students in my school. Getting called another name because you both happen to be Black hurt my self esteem. It made me believe that I was not looked at as Neandra, but as just another one of the Black girls in the school. I noticed this and instead of letting it carry on, I branched out by joining clubs and participated in school activities. By being a member of the Mentors in Violence Prevention, a club that brings awareness to abusive relationships, I was able to create a name for myself. Other students began to recognize me from their classes and saw how active I was in the school. I made friends with students outside of METCO and became involved in the school community. Teachers and students got to know me for me, not just know me as a METCO student. I also performed a hip-hop dance at my school’s talent shows to let the school community know who I am outside of the classroom . Also, I continued to play the violin in high school and dedicated four years to the orchestra. I was even an active member of the first ever METCO Student Council at Lincoln-Sudbury. My peers and I worked intensely to bring awareness to how METCO students were being treated and served as the voice for the entire METCO class.
By becoming involved at my high school, people began to treat me as an individual, not stereotype me into a group. I was able to create a name for myself and my own identity, which began to make people see me for who I am. I continue to try to break down social constructs of what society thinks about minorities because it is very important to me that all METCO students, or minority students in general, have their own identity. I am proud to be a Black student, so I must show the world what I am capable of.
I want to create a path for incoming minority students who may feel frustrated because others denied them of their own originality. I want to empower other Black students and help them feel like they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. My experience with students and administration at my school neglecting to value me as an individual motivates me to change the culture of the school and the ideas they may have about METCO students by doing what others may not expect from a Black student. Challenging these ideas were never discouraged out in the open. It was not the words of the people who had misconceptions of METCO students that made it clear that there was a divide, but it was the actions or the lack thereof. There were a handful of staff that truly supported the METCO students, but the number of those who did not was much greater. I knew making a name for myself and excelling academically may have not been what some people wanted, but I knew that I had to make a change. I did not want to change the culture of the school for myself, but for the upcoming students. That is what motivated me to push my peers and push myself to be the best that I could be. Now there are more METCO students getting honor roll and branching out into different activities.
Yes there is still work that needs to be done and we will continue to fight for the METCO program. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
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Live Courageously 2017: Overcome Fear – Accomplish Your Goals

Live Courageously 2017: Overcome Fear – Accomplish Your Goals

Live Courageously 2017: Overcome Fear – Accomplish Your Goals

What is the one thing standing between you and your goals? You may think it’s lack of opportunity or time or resources. Or maybe you haven’t met the right people or had the right offer yet. Perhaps the stars haven’t quite aligned for the door to open. But I think the only thing standing between us and accomplishing our goals is fear.

Some people actually struggle with fear of success. Down deep inside at the subconscious level, we feel like we don’t deserve success, or we won’t be able to maintain it. Sometimes we’re afraid of how success might change us or affect our personality or relationships. Will we be different people after we’ve reached our goals? If so, who exactly will we be? And will we actually like the person we’ve become? If we struggle with any of these feelings, we might sabotage our own success and never achieve our dreams.

Additionally, as we are pursuing our goals, it’s not uncommon to encounter naysayers and dream-stealers who discourage and distract us. Maybe they mean well and don’t want us to be disappointed if we fail (because they failed too), so they try to spare us from the pain of failure. But in the end, if we are afraid to wholeheartedly follow our passion, we end up disappointed anyway, don’t we?

As you can see, fear is something we must push through in order to accomplish our dreams. If we live in fear and allow it to overcome us, we cannot expect to reach our goals. We must be determined – even courageous – to follow our life’s purpose. We can’t let fear cripple us or discourage us from even trying.
Instead of fear, we need faith. Faith helps us believe that our purpose is worth chasing after and that success is possible. Instead of being timid about our mission, we need to foster a passion for it which will inspire others and shut down the naysayers. Rather than doubting our calling and fearing failure, we must discipline ourselves to develop our gifts, talents and abilities. We’re fooling ourselves if we think our dreams will just happen miraculously. The truth is, it takes a lot of self-discipline and self-development to reach our goals.

We must resist feelings of fear that try to paralyze us and hinder us from achieving what God created us to accomplish. Our determination must be stronger than our fears. We must feed our faith and starve our fears by resisting negative feelings and defeating thoughts. We must intentionally replace negativity with strength, love and determination.

If you are someone that is still trying to discover your life purpose, it will take courage to discover what your calling is. It’s easy to just coast through life aimlessly, but it sure isn’t fulfilling. Finding your purpose takes intentional action and patience. And once you find your calling, fearlessly step into it with all your heart, embrace self-discipline to develop it, and courageously resist any negativity that tries to discourage you from accomplishing your mission.

- a the word changes contributor

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Don't Give Up

Don't Give Up

DON'T GIVE UP

It can be really hard to keep going when you’re not seeing results. For example, if you’ve ever tried to lose weight or finish your college degree, it can sometimes seem like you’re making little to no progress month after month, year after year. You wonder if you’ll ever get the weight off or obtain that degree. Your enthusiasm and motivation dwindle. You feel like things aren’t moving in the right direction. You become discouraged and grow tired of doing what is right. So what do you do?

When I feel like giving up, I remember this scripture: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

This writer compares doing good to planting and harvesting. We all know that you can’t plant a seed in the soil and expect to see fruit the next day. That’s ridiculous! But isn’t that what we do sometimes? We eat right for a day or two but see no movement on the scale, so we give up. We start investing in our dream of finishing school or starting a business, but when it’s slow progress, we throw in the towel.

But what should we do instead? Well, what do we do with a plant? We must water it each day and make sure it gets plenty of sunshine. We also have to give the plant time to grow and mature; then we’ll see the fruit.

Now, let’s break down the last part of this verse; when we do good …

  1. We will reap a harvest or see results. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it – blessings WILL come if we continue to do what is good and right. This is a promise that we can be sure of.
  2. At the proper time. This can be the tough part, and it requires that we have patience. We may think it’s time for some blessings and answers to show up, but we need to trust that God will release them to us at just the right time.
  3. IF we don’t give up. Whether we reap our harvest or not depends on whether we give up or not. We cannot quit and expect to see rewards; we have to resist the weariness and the desire to give up. Since quitting disqualifies us from reaping our harvest, let’s choose to continue doing what’s right and good!

And don’t buy into the lie that all the work and effort isn’t worth it. Don’t give in just before all the working and waiting pays off. Remember that in time, doing good will bring about rewards and blessings.

Finally, surround yourself with other positive-minded, persistent people who are also on a journey of doing good, waiting, and not quitting – people who are full of hope that their labors WILL result in realized promises. Who knows? You may be able to encourage them to keep doing the right things even when it gets hard … and they will be able to inspire you to do the same.

- a the word changes contributor

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UNSTOPPABLE: Deaf Women and Their Triumph

UNSTOPPABLE: Deaf Women and Their Triumph

‘Unstoppable': Deaf Women and Their Triumph

"Follow your dream and you can do it. Don't put it off...keep trying. That's what I did."

That's the advice Diane Wofford offers to anyone facing disability or hardship in any capacity.

Her words carry an even greater weight when examined in light of the mountains she's moved throughout her life, both personally and professionally.

Diane was born deaf, but has refused to let that define her, let alone limit her.


Having worked tirelessly for more than two decades as an entry level human resources employee within Disney's college programs, Wofford is now an international representative for Disney World, and loves every minute of it.

But it wasn't an easy path by any means.

Societal stigmas regarding the deaf and hearing impaired were culturally pervasive in 1960, and Wofford experienced the unfortunate misunderstanding of the disability throughout her childhood and adolescence.


Her parents never wanted her to learn sign language, but insisted upon helping Diane speak audibly, working daily to ensure that was the case, showing Diane pictures and urging her to pronounce various words.

"My mother showed me some pictures and made me pronounce the word...like "ball,” and "water.” We went over (them) every day," Wofford recalled.

Meaning well in a very different time, Wofford’s parents did everything they could to help their daughter navigate her disability. The young girl learned by feeling her parents’ necks as they spoke as a means to physically sense the vibrations associated with speech, while her mother consistently helped to relay common words or phrases and how to verbalize them, typically utilizing household items.


Touching the dog as it barked, the television as it played, and records as they crackled were all means by which Diane was taught to tangibly associate sound with meaning.


She also credits her childhood friend and neighbor, Susie, for helping her feel music and read aloud.


Reading lips is Diane’s primary means of taking in what others are saying -a skill

she began learning at the age of two-, though cochlear implants help tremendously.


“With my cochlear implant, I can hear more sounds like birds chirping, kids playing/screaming at the playground, somebody playing music in their cars, sirens.  I have the Cap-tel phone but I hardly use the phone. It's difficult for me…,” Wofford said.


At ten years of age, she began to get help from a speech therapist. No doubt exhaustive, working with a speech-language pathologist furthered Diane's development in terms of communicating verbally.

Despite her progress, Diane's dependence upon hearing devices, coupled with their unavoidable visibility, drew unwanted attention, and the consistent barrage of questions regarding her reality as a deaf person took a toll.

"People stared a lot...they kept asking me questions every day....like why am I wearing a radio? Can you hear me? Can you listen to music?," she noted.

As she grew older, the limitations many people placed upon her seemed to grow exponentially. Diane was told she would never be able to do things common to most, such as take a phone call, attend a public school, or drive a car.

But she did all of those things, and much more.

Even doctors would later tell her that her children would most certainly be deaf. She has raised four children, all of whom have remarkably lacked any hearing impairment whatsoever.

Wofford fondly recalls an empowering epiphany she experienced during a college and careers course:


"When a lady read her story that she wanted to be a deaf teacher and said that kids cannot talk or do anything, I realized that she was so wrong. I raised my hand up and told everybody about what I've been doing and (about) my hearing. They asked me questions and I answered them. The professor gave me an A++. It was a good feeling,” she noted.

Soon after, Wofford applied for a position as a word processor at renowned Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Upon passing the required typing test, she finally secured a position in their human resources department in 1977.


Diane began juggling a slew of responsibilities in the college, international, and professional staffing departments, where she worked vigorously as a typist of everything from letters and reports, to time cards for nearly three decades. Bear in mind that this was no small task by any stretch of the imagination (how fitting), as Disney World has long been one of the larger corporations in existence.

Wofford could have easily allowed the piercing stares, seemingly incessant questioning of her abilities, and perceived limitations to discourage any entertained thoughts of chasing dreams, but she pressed on.


She found a way to shatter every glass ceiling that threatened to keep her encased, managing to do so while raising a family and  furthering a promising career simultaneously.


It is that very same drive which compelled Diane to exceed her given job responsibilities, fueling a refusal to settle.


Always seeking out new assignments to undertake, her work ethic and willingness to pursue whatever tasks were available, while also volunteering to assist with varying events outside of her realm of responsibility, did not go unnoticed.


“‘I’ve been recognized a lot by (my) superiors...I just work harder,” added Wofford.


It is only fitting that the same woman who proudly raised her hand to respectfully declare what the deaf are capable of that day in the college and careers course, would scratch and claw her way to a prominent title with arguably the most recognizable enterprise in the world.


After 25 years of continued progress within the human resources department, Wofford was offered the position of International Representative, a far cry from the helpless afterthought she was once viewed as through the skewed lens of societal “norms.”


How appropriate that her arduous journey led to a company whose overarching vision and foundational principles are pushing the boundaries of possibility?


In September, Diane Wofford will celebrate her 40th anniversary as an International Representative for the happiest place on earth.


Moreover, she'll continue to celebrate life itself in perhaps the most appropriate setting, as a dreamer and overcomer.

- a the word changes contributor

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Deaf Women Who Have Changed The World

Deaf Women Who Have Changed The World

There's two kinds of people: the ones who let obstacles become roadblocks, and the ones who use them as staircases. We want to highlight the following amazing, tenacious women who changed the world. They also just happen to be deaf.
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Note From Founder: We All Have A Voice

Note From Founder: We All Have A Voice

Last year, I attended a training with the Office of disabilities in my State.  The training discussed access in the employment arena for persons with disabilities.  It was an eye opening experience for me!  

There were two sign language interpreters at the training providing sign language for a deaf woman in attendance.  They took turns signing for her.  She was an active participant in the training.  She was asking thoughtful questions and providing insight and understanding into the life of a deaf person.  What struck me most after leaving that training was the fact that if a sign language interpreter was not available for this woman she would not have had the ability to actively participate in the training. Her voice would have been silenced.  Silenced not only because she needed a sign language interpreter to understand what was being said but also because she needed a sign language interpreter to communicate to the hearing community what she was thinking, feeling and understanding.  

We all have a voice in this world and nothing should keep us from using our voice.  Nothing!  I left that training wondering what I could do to make sure that the deaf community’s voice is heard.  

Ironically, several days after the training I was at home working.  The television was on in another room but I could hear the commentary.  They were quoting statistics about the lack of access to sign language worldwide for people that are deaf.  That was shocking and I knew that I wanted to do something about this. That is what preceded this burning desire in my heart to make a difference for those who may be silenced due to their lack of access to sign language.

Child Hunger and Higher Education are still charitable endeavors that the word changes will support but as we have said from the beginning “there will also be times when we are lead to support other causes.” http://www.thewordchanges.com/blogs/news/18988907-the-word-changes. This is such a time!

While we recognize March as Women's History Month, we wanted to go a step further and acknowledge those women who are able to achieve greatness while being deaf. So we are kicking off our new cause: We All Have a Voice with a blog post about deaf women who have changed the world and then we will continue on this month with blog posts highlighting the remarkable lives of deaf people.  This year, we look forward to partnering with an organization that brings resources to the deaf community and allows them to live out their true purpose, so stay tuned!!

Finally, please share your story about your relationship with someone in the deaf community. We would love to hear from you.


Peace and Love,

Antoinette, Founder of the word changes

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Speaking Up

Speaking Up

“He had me over the railing of our balcony holding my neck and saying if you ever leave me I'll kill you. I was pregnant and didn't know what he would do to me if I told anyone, so I kept my mouth shut for the longest time. That scared the s**t out of me. Like, he had done a lot in the past but that time woke me up. I had to do something or both me and my baby boy we're gonna die.”

            21 and seeking love is what started this relationship. This man came into her life right after her heart was broken by a previous 5 yearlong relationship. She had mutual friends with this man and they began hanging out quite regularly. He listened to her, stood up for her and treated her like the center of his world. Their relationship turned from friendship to love as he began taking her on spontaneous dates. He complimented her whenever he got the chance and most of all, made her feel safe. She knew if she was out with him, no one could say or do anything bad to her because he would immediately come to her defense. “Now when I think about it, I think I probably should've been a little more aware that the way he stood up for me was way too aggressive but it felt good ya know? To have someone care that much that they will flip out on random strangers for even giving me a look.”

            Their relationship was perfect for the first two months but by month 3 they moved in together and she started witnessing more of his true colors. “He drank a lot more than I thought he did. He was funny and awesome until he had one too many and then he became a whole different person. He would get so angry and start yelling at me pretty hardcore. The first time he laid hands on me he just grabbed me and shook me while screaming in my face. It scared me so bad but he apologized over and over the next day and actually started crying when he told me his dad used to be abusive so he would never ever be like that with me. I forgave him and believed him because he seemed genuinely so sorry.”

            That was the first of many aggressive encounters between the two. After that it began happening more and more...a slap to the face, shoving against walls, throwing her on the ground, choking her out while on top of her. It built and built until the incident over the railing where he told her he was going to kill her. She wanted to leave, she wanted to tell someone, but she was too scared of what he would do. Because he apologized so genuinely every time, she wanted to stay with him. “I think I thought I could fix him. When he wasn't drinking he was the most caring man, but when he flipped...it was something else.”

            She stayed with this man until the birth of their son. Holding her little boy for the first time made her understand protection in a whole new light. “I didn't want my son exposed to him so the first time he laid hands on me again after he was born, I decided that was it, I was done. I had always covered my bruises and made excuses because he threatened me, but there was no way I was gonna let that happen to my son. That's when I broke down and told my sister everything. She picked me up from my apartment, took my phone so I couldn't respond to him and helped me figure out a way to get away. We called the cops, my aunt is a police officer so I asked her what to do and she set up a date for us in court to get a restraining order. It was all so scary and sad and freeing at the same time.”

            The process was long and hard but so worth it to her. It was scary to be vulnerable and have to rely on other people to help her. “My sister had my back when I sat down with the family and spilled everything I had tried so hard to cover up. They were pretty upset that I didn't come to them with this earlier, there was a lot of crying that I didn't want, but they were there when I had to stand in front of the judge and explain in detail, all of the abuse with him sitting right behind me. “ Finally all of the secrets and covering up was exposed and the weight on her shoulders started to lift.

            5 years later she is married to a man that treats her right. This new man adopted her son and takes care of them as his own. Her ex was in jail for a year and now has no contact with her. She still has PTSD from the situations with him and still struggles with her self worth but she feels safe now and has surrounded herself with people that build her up rather than tear her apart. She is starting to understand the difference between being loved and being possessed by someone “I never spoke up because I was afraid if I did, he would try to kill me. Had I not though, I don't think I'd be here today.  When someone takes your voice away from you they gain all control but when I got my voice back. Now I'm back and back in control of me and my life again.”

 - A the word changes contributor

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New Year, New You

New Year, New You

“What brings you in today?” The fitness counselor asked this woman.

The woman replied:“Well, honestly, I went to the doctors this week and had a check-up...I was just so exhausted and needed to figure out why. The doctor did the full check up, I was informed I had diabetes, and was 25 pounds heavier then the month before. You know how you know you are eating bad and you think you might be gaining a little weight...25 pounds in one month though! Unacceptable. So..here I am, because I have to do something, I have no other option.”

“When was the last time you worked out? Or felt like you were in shape?”

“I don't know to be honest... Back in highschool I was an athlete and took pride in my body but then work got in the way, I had three kids, you know how that goes haha. Umm, probably back in highschool.”

“Have you had a gym membership before?”

“Yes. I have had one for the last three years at the Y, I just never seem to have the time to go.”

“Has anything changed in your schedule to free up your time to allow you to come here often?”

“No, I still work the same hours but I don't care, after that doctors visit, I will make the time. This gym is closer to my house so I have no excuse not to go. I have to pass it on the way to and from work so I can't say it's out of my way to stop in here.”

“You seem extremely motivated, those are the kind of people we want to help. I see a lot of people come in here and say they want to change. They will come for a couple of weeks and then leave...What is the 'why' behind what will motivate you every day to walk through our doors, push yourself and not give up?”

“It's for me. I'm so sick of being so tired. I'm sick of feeling uncomfortable in my own body. I was an athlete for godsakes... That doctors visit was my why. To let yourself get to a point where you don't even realize you put on 25 pounds in one month...that's ridiculous! I want to be in control of me again.”

“Ok, that's all I needed to hear! Everyone that walks in this door must find their 'why'. I like to hear what is going to drive the person and when your why is solely based on what you want for you, that is when you will be successful! Let's hook you up with this membership and get you started towards reaching your goals!”

 

This was a conversation a woman had when in vulnerability she opened up to a gym membership consultant. She had reached the point in her life of “do or die”. Ever since the birth of her 2nd child she had talked of getting back into shape. Ten years later she was finally seeing the effects of talking, rather than doing. She was tired but in her exhaustion she found the strength to once again go after her goal. Sometimes it takes reality smacking us in the face to wake us up and put us back on track. For this woman, seeing the 25 pound weight gain was all she needed to jumpstart her back into gear. Some of us have built a habit of shying away from reality. We fear if we face reality we may see something we don't want. Have you ever considered the fact that maybe seeing what we don't want to see, is the very thing we need to see to put us back on track....

This woman signed herself up for a three year commitment to that gym. She was fully dedicated. It is now two years in and this woman has been consistently waking up every weekday and hitting the gym before work. She hates cardio, yet she pushes herself to do it first because she knows that will ultimately help her reach her goal. She sat down with a personal trainer and planned out her meals. She meal preps every week so she has no excuse to stop for fast food on the way home because her dinner is already made, in the fridge, just waiting for her to come heat it up. She made a choice. She faced fear head on by visiting the doctor and then she conquered her fear by enrolling herself in a gym that would get her the results she was seeking. It is only two years later and she has lost much more then that 25 pounds, her energy is back up and she once again feels in control of her life.

Here's the thing.... She did all of the work. She sought out the things she needed to achieve her goal and then implemented them into her life. She went ten years talking and in one moment, one visit to the doctor, she made the decision to start acting. At any given moment you can make the change. Once you find your “why” behind the goal you are trying to achieve, nothing can stop you. No excuse in the world will be big enough to deffer you, because you will have a reason to overcome anything thrown your way. Find your 'why'! It's a new year, make yourself a new you!

-A the word changes contributor 

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Transformation Story: True Identity

Transformation Story: True Identity

“I think I was always just trying to fill something inside of me and I tried to do that with people. I need attention, I just wanted it in some form, and did not care what I had to do to get it.”

This woman has gone through her whole life morphing and taking on different personas. Looking back, she realizes that because she did not receive the attention she needed in her home, she sought it elsewhere and did whatever it took to receive it. “It started off in the form of storytelling,” she tells me. “I would make up these ridiculous “events” that happened just to get a reaction out of someone.” She had stories of being shanked, stories of fistfights, drug selling, and her last and most extreme one was telling her whole class she had a cancerous tumor. “The stories began getting way out of hand, I was getting attention and reactions and I loved it, but it would only last so long until I would have to come up with a better more extreme story. It got to a point that I didn't even realize what was coming out of my mouth anymore and some of my stories were going to far.” She had a friend that knew her stories were fabricated and began calling her out on it in private. “My friend let me explain why I was doing it, without judging me, and she helped me calm that down, but it's like I still needed that attention... so then I turned to relationships.”

“The line between love and friendship was always blurry to me, I had a crush on every person that would give me attention.” She had crushes on teachers, friends (both boys and girls).. her crushes hopped from person to person seeking love. “I wanted to date everyone. I thought if I can get them to have a relationship with me, my hole would be gone. I got hurt so many times with this. I would give that person my everything and they would turn around and stab me in the back.” After one of her boyfriends talked her into taking her virginity and then broke up with her the next day, her world was shattered. She felt even more confused and lost sight of herself completely. Because her line between friendship and love was blurred, she thought maybe she was seeking the wrong sex and that was the problem...

“I took a weird turn for a while. I was so confused. If you gave me attention, I thought it meant you loved me. All I knew was boys hurt me, and my friends that were girls, understood me more than anyone..” This women felt that a relationship with another young woman would not be accepted so she decided to cut all of her hair off and present herself as a boy. “Girls would hit on me, thinking I was a boy, we'd get to talking and I would tell them the truth, they would say it didn't matter and we would continue to date but the whole time I was living this lie....None of their families knew I was a girl and in the end every relationship ended because of that. Even though I stopped telling stories...my whole life had become one. I hated it but didn't know how to get out of it because this “boy” I was pretending to be, I started believing really was me.”

After multiple breakups and heartaches this woman noticed that that hole she had inside, seemed to be growing larger and larger. “I was talking to my best friend one night, explaining I wanted to die, I was so lonely and so lost and my friend told me only one person will ever fill that hole...She said His name is Jesus. I about died laughing but she convinced me to go to church with her and I did. I felt things that  I never had.” The people in this church welcomed her with open arms, they explained that God loves her no matter what, and that God could see through every fasad down to the heart that is beating inside of the person. They told her that  the heart was the only thing that mattered to Him. Her friend bought her a bible, she began reading about truth and ended up getting baptized a year later. From there she remained single for close to 6 months just focusing on herself and figuring out who she really was in God's eyes.

About a year or so later, God brought a man into her life. This man brought out her femininity completely again. For the first time in her life, she was comfortable in her own body, with every part of herself. “Once I allowed God to take the reigns on my life, not only did the hole disappear, I found myself.” Now... this woman is happily engaged to that man. She no longer makes up stories because God showed her that she, is enough. She embraces the woman she is, and now, shares her love by helping others see that they are enough as well.

-A The Word Changes Contributor 

 

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Coming Together

Coming Together

It’s been a wild ride these last few years. The United States of America, one of the best countries in the world, is again in disarray. Its people divided by retrospective mindsets that seemed to lay dormant then arise like a thorny plant inside a harvest.

Between the political coverage in the media, social justice protest, and racial divide, it appears that there is no hope for unity. However, there is some glimmer of hope, a plight of good will that will bring Americans together again.

Let’s ponder that for a second. How can Americans come together after such calamity?

One way to do is simply just do it. Why suspend peace because of the choice of others? Forgiveness is a sour grape to swallow sometimes, but it helps move people forward. Frederick Buechner once said:

 

“When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each others’ presence."

 

As the American people prepare for a less favored elected president, forgiveness is one of those things in life that ensures peace among all.

Although forgiveness is ideal, it’s often the last choice taken by most people. For the past few days, The Word Changes has explored the question on how people can come together as a nation after the election across social media. Some of the responses were angry and few were optimistic.

One that stood out was from a Candid user who said people will come together when they find a common ground. She said there has been propaganda that incites anger and promotes division, but some promotions have encouraged togetherness like the pet food company, Pedigree.

“People are not as extreme as some let themselves to believe,” she said. “Some people are angry and saddened by what’s going on in America, but we must find a common ground like the people who shared a common love for dogs in the Pedigree social experiment.”

There are a few elements in our lives that establish that common ground. Food, laughter, music, and even pets are part of that group that can help mend the fabric of Americans into diverse blanket that represents our nation. It’s a happy concept, indeed, yet it’s far away.

The honest and guaranteed way we can come together is time. A lot of old wounds that we strategically patched up have been opened again. The people are agitated and angry. They’ve taken sides due to politics, race, and religion.

It’s happened before. As we retrospect the history of the United States, we can see events of revolt and civil unrest. People then were unhitched to unity, and time settled those wounds aging their pain into frail stings that were healed and bandaged. Perhaps forgiveness is responsible for it.

But the answer to the question, how can we come together? Time.

We need to time. There’s a time for everything and now it may be healthy for people to be angry, without hurting others, for a little while. Right now, it’s best not to rush togetherness when everyone is charged up on divisive opinions. When our furious energy is spent, passions may be quenched. And forgiveness can move into open discussions, share some laughs, and encourage people to love each other.

-A the word changes contributor. 

For articles like this, check out The Word Changes blog
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Why Gratitude Improves Our Lives

Why Gratitude Improves Our Lives

Why Gratitude Improves Our Lives

 We all know we should be more grateful in our day to day lives.  But what if it feels like you have more things to complain about than express thanks for?  As a society, we are exposed to tons of ads telling us what we should have.  This often makes us feel as though our lives aren’t good enough.  It can be hard for us to express gratitude when all we can think of is the things we lack.  Reverend Bill Stearns, of the Franklin Evangelical Free Church, gives us some advice for cultivating gratitude in our daily lives.

 Words of Wisdom for Your Spiritual Lives

 Many of us struggle to feel grateful because we are thinking of the things we don’t have.  This ego-centric thinking can lead to ignoring what we have to be grateful for.  “Our spiritual nature is always fighting with our sinful nature,” said Reverend Bill Stearns.  “We become selfish and concerned about what happens to us.  Because life can be hard, it leads us to focus on the things we don’t have.” 

 This negative thinking leads to feelings of being inadequate.  Stearns believes that sometimes having hard times in our lives can lead us to focus on what we “should” have or achieve instead of the blessings we already have.  “Even as believers, we get so caught up with ourselves we become ungrateful.  Sometimes it takes a life altering event to remind us of what we have.  It’s a matter of our perspective,” explained Stearns.

 He likes to use the phrase, “biblical viewpoint.”  He shares the scripture, Psalm 100; “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”  In the midst of our daily lives, we often forget to approach our daily lives with an attitude of giving thanks.  Stearns says as adults, we forget to say “thank you” for the blessings we do have. 

 Saying Thank You in Our Daily Lives

 Say “thank you” for the things your spouse does every day.  Don’t forget the things they do day in and day out around your home.  Stearns says we tend to take our spouses for granted.  Just expressing gratitude towards a spouse, will make your relationship stronger.

 Do some volunteer service in your community.  Stearns believes looking around and realizing the hardships someone else may be dealing with can help us appreciate what we have.  For example, we may complain about winter weather.  But what about a cancer patient who can’t go outside because of their treatment? To them, even a few minutes of being outside is a blessing.

 Do something special for someone else.  Stearns believes part of having a “biblical viewpoint” is being able to take the focus of our own lives by giving to others in our community.  Is there someone in your community who needs a helping hand?  Is there a neighbor who could benefit from a home cooked meal?

 “It changes your outlook if you are making that effort to be grateful.  You will look at all things in a different way,” said Stearns.  “You will look at all the things [God] did give us; he gave us our salvation, he gave Christ willingly.”

Stearns says spending time in prayer and worship can help us to stop focusing on the things in life we may feel are lacking.   Taking the time to express our gratitude can also help us to keep our blessings in mind.  In fact, taking the time to write down what we are thankful for can help us to keep a positive outlook instead of focusing on the things we wish we had. 

 Can’t think of any physical things to be thankful for?  Focus on the things that have no monetary value.  Stearns believes being able to thank God for nature, our environment, friendships, and the daily blessings of our lives can help us overcome negative attitudes, jealousy, or feelings of envy.  In fact, he says putting on “spiritual glasses” can help us be grateful for what God has already given us in our lives. 

 Scientific Reasons to Express Gratitude

 It’s not just our spiritual lives that benefit from having an attitude of gratitude.  Scientists have found benefits for our bodies and mind as well.

 According to a 2011 study published in the Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, keeping a gratitude journal can help improve sleep.  Just spend fifteen minutes before going to bed, making a list of things you are grateful for.

 Being grateful can also lead to benefits in your daily life.  People who cultivate an attitude of gratitude, report taking better care of themselves and feeling healthier.  They are more likely to exercise and attend annual doctor check-ups.  Psychology Today reports that people who say they are grateful, report less aches and pains. 

 How to Put Gratitude into Action:

  •  Start a gratitude “jar.” Every day fill out a piece of paper with something that you are grateful for.  Think of things that aren’t attached to money, such as a close friendship, a beautiful sunset, or a tasty meal your spouse cooked.  
  • Send “thank you” cards or notes. You may find that more opportunities open up in both your professional and personal life.  
  • Find a place to do volunteer work. Don’t forget about your animal counterparts!  Actions can also express gratitude.  Serving a meal at a homeless shelter, helping a child in need, or adopting an abused animal can help you feel grateful for what you already have.  

- A the word changes contributor

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Transformation Story: Unconditional Love

Transformation Story: Unconditional Love

Health, is a blessing many of us take for granted until our health or the health of someone close to us begins deteriorating. Once it is affected, we realize it's importance. What if someone you loved had a lifelong disease, something that would never change for the better, only take turns for the worse... How do you think your life would be affected?

“My mom has MS. (Multiple sclerosis). She was diagnosed with it before I was born. Her disease kills the cognitive decision part in her brain. Basically, her motor skills, memory and decision making abilities are all kind of shot. She's there, but she's more like a selfish kid, than a mom.”

“How was it, growing up with your mom?” I asked her. She explained,“I actually thought she hated me. I didn't understand that it was the disease that made her that way, and that she had no control over it. She would shut me out and treat me bad so I thought I was just a horrible kid, but really she didn't even know that what she was doing was wrong.” This woman explains how she was passed from relative to relative to be taken care of since her mother couldn't. She actually cut her own finger so that her mom would notice her and have to talk to her. “The disease made her seem so selfish. I felt like I had no mom, and on top of that, she made really poor choices.” Because her mother's motor skills were effected as well, this woman encountered many traumatic experiences with her. “There were so many car accidents, she fell in the pool, she would fall down the stairs... I remember when I was 6, she fell down the stairs when I was home alone with her..she was carrying a laundry basket so I took all of the clothes that had spilled and put them under her head to prop it up because she wasn't breathing. I called my dad... I was so scared. I just wanted someone I could run to when I was sad or scared you know, someone who would hold me and talk to me, but my mom wasn't like that. I was always the one taking care of her.”

“Who was your support system during all of this,” I asked her. She said “My whole family, literally everybody.” Diseases can do one of two things to a family...either completely tear it apart, or draw them closer together. For this woman, she was lucky enough to have the second happen. “My grandma kind of stepped in as my mom, and the rest of my family was always there whenever I needed them.” She has an older brother as well, and he and her father were her rocks and role models.

Now that she is older, her relationship with her mother is very different. “With age comes understanding and I know that my mom can't help the way she is, she can't change, so I started putting my feelings aside and tried to make things easier on her.” This woman loves her mom to death. She will do anything for her. She drives her to her appointments, takes her shopping to get her out of the house, writes things on sticky notes and places them around the house so if her mom forgets things, she can look at the notes to remind herself.  She even rearranges the rooms in her home to make it easier for her mom to have things to hold onto as she is walking through.. “You know what I think changed me the most... watching my friend's mom die from MS. I realized I don't want to take my mom for granted anymore. You never know which fall will be the last fall, or how quickly her brain could start deteriorating..”

“So how do you think your mom's disease has affected you as  a person?” I asked her. “In what ways do you think this has made you a better person?” She responded, “Well I think it's made me more sympathetic, it's definitely made me stronger and know how to take care of myself..”   To end the interview I asked if she would change anything. Her response..“You know, as much as it sucks sometimes, I wouldn't change it. Without her disease, I probably wouldn't be who I am today.”

- A the word changes contributor 

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