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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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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: Becoming a Better Person

Transformation Story: Becoming a Better Person

In one month my husband and I will be having our first child. I can’t begin to describe the whirlwind of emotions I’ve experienced over the past 9 months. There is part of you that is so excited to meet this new person but there is also a part of you that must let go of the old you. The old you that always put myself first, I didn’t have consider other people with my actions. I slept when I wanted, I drank when I wanted, and I ate what I wanted. Of course everything within reason but you had control over your life, I got up and traveled when I had the chance. All that changes when you’re pregnant, your body is not yours alone. You have to be considerate of this other precious life you are responsible for. Now that the pregnancy is almost complete I’m beginning to think beyond the physical responsibility and how to become a better person for my child.

Health

I’ve always been semi-health conscious, making sure I have vegetables in every meal and eating 7 grain bread instead of white. Small adjustments to get extra fiber and lean protein to maintain a healthy diet, but I do have my weaknesses. My husband and I enjoy desserts and fast food on a regular basis. We are not avid sportsmen so maintaining a healthy weight is a struggle. Now that we are adding to our family I feel an overwhelming burden to be a good example for our child.

You are your child’s first exposure to the world, he looks to you for answers and watches how you respond to everything. It’s not enough to preach about being healthy, I recognize there must be a general shift to becoming healthier. That means I’m eating my fair share of healthy snacks, buying organic or straight from the farm. This also means being more active and setting an example that physical exercise is essential to a healthy body and mind so I’ve hired a personal trainer.

Politics

Politics have never been a great interest I’ve mine. It never seemed that the people representing my community ever made a difference. This year all of that changed. I sat and watched how racist rhetoric was being justified and how violence against black men was so prevalent. This was not the country I was so proud of or wanted my child to grow up in. I knew then that my vote in the primary and general election meant something and I needed to get out to vote and campaign. I was responsible for the world my child grows up in and I could not afford to be a bystander any longer. Having a child is making me a better person by making me pay attention to how we treat other countries and foreign people.

God

How to begin to introduce the concept of God into my child’s life? My husband and I have different views on the matter but I think it’s something that should not be glossed over. First I will tell my son God is all around us and a part of each one of us. I will introduce to him nightly prayers to open up the dialogue of being thankful and forgiving. Eventually I want him to make his own decision on what God means to him and how he should go about praising him. I will introduce it to him and make sure I am a constant representative of the good person I know God wants me to be. This is more than going to church; it’s about not gossiping or being overly negative. It’s also about being forgiving and understanding everyone is not as close to God and has their own burdens. I aim to show him how to be closer to God with his actions and with mine.

These are all ways that I am becoming a better person for the sake of my child; please feel free to share how your family has made you a better person.

 

- A the word changes Contributor.

 

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Transformation Story: Optimism

Transformation Story: Optimism

Optimism

On the outside, her world seemed perfect. Highly intelligent, beautiful, charismatic...she lived in a picture perfect home with a picture perfect family. If you weren't already her friend, you wanted to be . Positivity oozed from her pores and affected everyone that came into contact with her. Her friends told me, “We called her Miss Sunshine back in highschool. You know those people you run into that are always smiling, everything leaving their mouth is dripping in positivity.. well that's her.”  I had the pleasure of talking with both the woman and her friends, and this allowed me to see into two sides of her life...

I asked her friends to explain what her life looked like to them. One friend told me, “When we first met in highschool, I thought her life was perfect and I was actually jealous of her, but then she was so nice I couldn't even be jealous. It was almost annoying because you wanted to hate her for how perfect her life seemed, but you couldn't because she made you feel so much better about yourself just by talking to her,” the friend explains laughing. They explained how when this woman was around, life just seemed brighter. She would be the first to find solutions for problems, the first to cheer up someone who was down... I asked if they ever wondered how she did it and one responded “Well her life seemed perfect, so we figured it was easy for her to be so happy and cheerful.”

Out in public this woman came off as strong, incredibly confident, and very very happy. Where did this optimism come from? Did she really just have this picture perfect problem free life like her friends thought? When I spoke with the woman herself, she opened up to explain that behind the closed doors in her home..her life was from far perfect. She explained that her optimism started as a facade back in high school actually. In the morning, she would leave the house in tears. but by the time she arrived at school she had wiped her eyes dry, slapped a smile on her face and whipped up the best positive attitude she could muster. “Back then, my home life was a mess. I tried to be a rock for my family but I couldn’t fix them. I had this epiphany one day that 'ok I might not be able to change my home life, but outside of my house, I could be anyone I wanted.' So basically I decided to become the person I wished I could be at home.. for everyone around me outside of my house.”

Her home life consisted of a workaholic father that valued money over his children and spent any free time he did have, with a bottle of whiskey in front of the tv. Her brother was severely depressed, rarely left his room and was on suicide watch many nights. Her mother did her best to make the kids feel loved, and to hide the fighting with her husband, but she was worn down and almost completely emotionally drained. “I actually got the idea of putting on this positivity facade from my mom. I would hear her crying in her room but when she came out she would have a smile on her face and would fill us to the brim with compliments, making us feel like we made her whole world better. I knew my mom was in pain and I wanted to fix hers, but since I couldn't, I figured maybe I could make other people feel the way she made me feel, and then if I could do it for others, maybe eventually I could help my own family.”

This woman ended up putting on this facade day in and day out.“In trying to mask my pain I threw myself into being a person people would love by basically enacting who I would be if my life was problem free.” By faking it for a while, this woman actually grasped that optimism is a choice we all have. By grasping this, the “optimistic act” turned from a facade, to her greatest asset. “You can only fake a smile for so long, eventually it turns real.” she says, while smiling. “I learned, we choose to cry and sit in our own misery ...or we can choose to try to move forward and make other people happy.” In choosing to be optimistic every day regardless of her home life she made a difference in the lives of so many around her.

Optimism is birthed from pain, just as strength is. Sometimes the seemingly perfect lives we are envious of, are actually harder than our own. This woman could have easily become depressed and withdrawn, yet she chose to show up everyday and smile, and treat others the way she wanted to be treated.At a young age, she learned one of the most valueable lessons of life... we choose our outcome and our choice affects the lives around us as well. Choose to make a difference!

- A the word changes contributor 

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Transformation Story: Belonging Part II

Transformation Story: Belonging Part II

 

The last article explained a young man's journey through adoption. It spoke of the struggles and adjustments he went through to get to the happy place he is at today. Now I would like to share the adoptive parents side of the story...

            I began their interview by questioning what made this couple begin to take in foster children in the first place. The parents tag-teamed back and forth as they explained a day many years ago where their daughter came home almost in tears explaining how she met a new friend that day, that didn't have a mommy or daddy. Their daughter asked them if the girl could live with them because she hated the home she was staying at that moment. “It broke our hearts to see our daughter's heart so broken, so we agreed to take this little girl in. We had no idea how hard it would actually be, but something about that little girl permanently opened a place in our hearts for orphans, and the children with no voice.”

            This little girl was the first of many to pass through their home. They explained the struggle of worrying about their own children, if they were safe, making sure they did not feel replaced. They explained how emotionally taxing it could be most days, “It can break you sometimes. The kids will push and push and say they hate you, and you aren't their parents, and while you know they are only doing this to see if you actually care about them...it still hurts. I will admit, with the first sets of foster children, we did not know how to handle this but each child taught us a lesson and now because of all of those lessons, we are blessed to have one of our foster children join our family for good!” She says, while grinning from ear to ear.

            “What was different about this boy that made you want to turn from foster to adoptive parents?” I asked. The father chimed in saying, “I believe God gave us a new level of patience, understanding, and love just for him.” They explained this boy came into their lives older than most of the children they had taken in. He had experienced things that the family had no idea how to deal with. The mother said, “From the very moment I met the boy I felt something special. I saw past his hurt to his huge heart, and I wanted to find a way to take away all of the pain so his heart could fully show.” After she met the boy, she sat down with her family and discussed the possibility of him living with them. She explained her fears to the family, how different this boy would be then the rest that had moved in, but she kept saying how special he seemed. It only took her a couple of days to convince the whole family to let him in, and this was the start of their new family.

            “It was not easy. He pushed extremely hard when we first got him,” the mother explains while looking to her husband and laughing. “There were many times I wanted to give up but my husband would be my rock and stand firm, then we would reverse roles and he wanted to give up, but I would stand firm.” They explained how hard it was to try to parent when the child had been so hurt he can no longer trust people. First, they gained the boy’s respect by just loving him unconditionally and listening to him, letting him know he was valued. Once they earned his respect they began to really teach and parent him. “They tell you going into adoption about how hard the process will be, but I think they need to explain the rewarding side of it more. Once the child begins to feel loved and starts crawling out of the shell they have been living in, you get to see the real person minus the pain and that person is pretty incredible.” This boy came to them broken, distrustful, angry, quiet and rarely smiled. The parents explained that today, this boy volunteers with others, does not immediately judge, he is calm and engages with people, is an incredible listener and wise beyond his years, and it is rare to seem him without a smile on his face.

            You have heard both sides of this story now. On each side there is struggle and barriers to overcome, both sides had to gain the trust and approval of the other, but love conquered the fears and love won out. Humans need to feel a sense of belonging, whether you have found your place of belonging or not, there is always someone out there still searching for this connection. If you feel a certain pull towards a person, listen to that, and build that relationship because you could be that person, that will end up changing their entire world.

 

- A the word changes contributor

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A Transformation Story: The Courage to Find Happiness

A Transformation Story: The Courage to Find Happiness

My transformation did not happen overnight, it took several months and countless sleepless nights.

 A stressful workplace and limited options forced me to think bigger. I had just graduated after pursuing a Master's degree. When I went out in the job market I found it was very competitive and not offering what I expected for my education and experience. I took a few part time jobs at first. Reality set in after months of searching for my dream job, many of my friends were getting laid off and rents in my neighborhood were skyrocketing. I decided to settle for job that gave me health insurance and a steady paycheck. The workplace was tense and the managers were abrasive. I’m mostly kept my head down and did my work but the environment began to take a toll on me physically. I wasn’t sleeping and I eating horribly. I dealt with screaming managers in the office, only to come home exhausted and unfulfilled. My family and close friends began to comment on the change in my normally upbeat personality.

The moment I decided to make a change…

The moment I decided to make a change in my life was during another unproductive staff meeting. My manager was being rude and I was given another project that had nothing to do with my position.  I knew that I wanted to quit my job but how? I began to take walks during my lunch hour and really think about what I wanted for my future. I understood that no one could make me happy but myself and I was ready for a big change. I wanted to feel like I was living for more than a paycheck and I knew it would be difficult. I was going against everything that I was taught that was right by leaving a steady job.  

But I had Faith…

I had faith in God; I had faith in my skills and myself. I decided to begin freelancing online, I was no longer was confined to an office from 9 to 6, and I could enjoy daylight again. I began to travel abroad, living places where the cost-of-living was much lower than my previous neighborhood. I experience different cultures and have met some wonderful people including my fiancé.

Tips for Others…

I wish I could say I took the longer and safer route of saving a lot of money before leaving my job but it was more of a leap off a cliff. I didn’t have a lot of savings so I utilized websites like workaway.com to help with housing costs while I worked on projects. There are plenty of resources online that can help you with transitioning in your life. Do a lot of research and think outside of the box for solutions. 

Am I Happier Now?

When I think back on that difficult time in my life, I am convinced that it was a test of my of strength and perseverance. I'm not afraid of the future or obstacles that may lay ahead for me.  I'm taking care of myself and have less stress, I eat healthier and swim daily. I now have more control over my life, especially the jobs that I take and that makes me happy.

a the word changes contributor

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