Making the Impossible, Possible: The Journey to Triumph

Re-Visions Event in NYC

Creating the Tree of Spectacle Triumph has been a journey from start to finish. Just like life creating the sculpture wasn’t easy by any means. Creating this beautiful tree tested my patience, stamina and will. I jumped through hoops and didn’t let roadblocks prevent me from pushing forward. That’s the message in my story is to persevere regardless of what is thrown at you.

This journeyEdit_IMGL3627 started last fall when I entered my rose sculpture in ArtPrize, an international art competition in Grand Rapids, MI. When registration started for ArtPrize I debated entering due to the registration fee. I kept getting messages that doors would open. The messages started off as a whisper but eventually turned into a roar. I really feel my Mom was behind the messages. Even after I registered I kept getting the same message. A month after ArtPrize ended I received an email about a possible commission for an eyewear manufacturer in New York using eyewear material in the piece.

treeoflifeupdatedWhen thinking about a proposal I thought about what I wanted to create. At first I struggled. Then I thought about this tree I first started to create over ten years ago. It started off as an oil painting where half the tree was alive and the other half was dead. It represented the best parts of ourselves and the pain that we endure. The living part was the phoenix that rose from the ashes. It’s taken me many years to realize that I’m not my pain or troubles. The Tree of Triumph is my best, true self.

The inspiration for the original tree was a lilac bush that grew next to my family home. It was my pride and joy. In the spring the sweet fragrance would float throughout my home. I loved that lilac bush. Next to the lilac bush was an old corncrib. One day my father decided he was going to tear the corncrib down. Not only did he tear it down he set it ablaze. The flame was so hot that it bubbled the paint on the siding of the house. You could feel the heat inside the house. The flames were higher than our house.

Once the flames had dissipated all that was left of the lilac bush was a charred out skeleton of what use to be a beautiful, vibrant living creature. I was devastated. My father on the other hand acted like it wasn’t a big deal. It was just a bush to him, not important. He just brushed off my tears like it was nothing.

I thought all was lost. Spring wasn’t the same without those purple, fragrant blooms. The blackened skeleton was a reminder of the hurt my father caused. What I couldn’t see were the roots deep within the ground. Years later they arose from the ashes and life had sprouted again. It took some time but eventually the lilac bush grew to four times the size of its former self. It took a big portion of my adult life to realize the moral of the story.

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You can destroy my branches. You can knock me to the ground but you’ll never reach my roots. The roots represented my heart, soul and spirit. It was the first time I regained the power that I allowed others to take. No amount of hurt or pain will reach my soul. So it’s significant that the heart of the tree is surrounded by the roots.

I submitted my proposal and patiently waited for an answer. The date given passed and still no word. I had started to think I wasn’t selected. Another few weeks went by and finally I received word that I was one of seven artists selected. I was beyond ecstatic. My sculpture was going to be displayed during an art show in New York City. It was a dream come true. It’s one of the best things to ever happen to me.

Creating a sculpture using unconventional materials is a complicated, challenging process. It was my first sculpture of this size. The final sculpture was over four feet tall and four feet long. The next six months pushed me to my limit and tested my will. Creating the bark was a very tedious process of hot gluing small piece of frame onto the skeleton which was pvc. This wasn’t your typical glue gun. It was a professional glue gun that carpenters use with temperatures going past 400 degrees. Due to the intricate aspect of the branches, the quick harden time of the glue and the small frame pieces I had to use my hands to attach the pieces. So you probably can guess what occurred fairly frequently. I’m surprised I still have feelings in my hands.

Creating sculptures out of unconventional materials is very physically demanding and the tree was no different. There were times that my hands, arms and legs were covered in burns, scratches and cuts. It looked like I had been a fight with a cat and lost. Towards the end I had so many cuts on my hand that it became very painful to use my hands but I pushed through. Reaching through the branches felt like I was reaching through a briar patch.branches

There were aspects to the tree that were very tedious. Creating the bark was a very lengthy process. At times it felt like I was never finish it. Imagine gluing small pieces of frame to a large area. It was so tedious that it gave me panic attacks. Creating the leaves were also very tedious process due to the number of lenses needed to fill the space. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would take over 3,000 lenses. Most of these were treated and hand painted. I then had to hang each one to the branches and that part took forever.

Creating the Tree of Triumph meant bringing my inner demons into the light. The tree represented my best self and the darkness was ruthless in trying to stop me. There were times I couldn’t even look at the sculpture because there were parts of me that still believed that I didn’t deserved it. I faced the darkness and once again pushed through.

The tough part of creating a sculpture out of unconventional material is that for a big portion of the time creating it there isn’t a clear defined picture of what the final picture will be. It’s not until the end that you start to see the picture. It wasn’t until I started to add the leaves that I was finally able to see what I had envisioned. It’s amazing how quickly the final picture comes to the surface. It’s like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.

The art that I create is very time consuming. I like to create little biodomes. My specialty is creating creatures out of the unconventional materials. A part of the design included a little girl swinging from the tree which was based off my seven year old niece. I also included one of the creatures (the frog) from my rose sculpture. It was my way to honor where the tree came from. If it wasn’t for the rose I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity.

Connie 236The creation of the tree was a family event. My nieces and nephew helped me paint lenses. My seven year old niece was quite the helper. She would come down frequently asking if I needed any help. My sister was my sounding board. Many of the decisions like not painting the bark came from her.  My brother in law was my technical expert and made sure the sculpture was secure during the long trip in a Uhaul to NYC. I couldn’t have created the sculpture without their help so it was really important to make them a part of tree. I had them each sign a lense and put it on the tree. It was my way of honoring their contributions and support. While they couldn’t be there with me in NYC they were definitely there in spirit.

Original Sculpture

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During this whole experience I have felt a strong connection to my Mom to the point where I would turn around thinking she was there. She was one of the person I turned to as a sounding board and I found myself physically turning to her thinking she was there. I strongly believed she brought me this opportunity.

I thought that challenging aspect was done but boy was I ever wrong. Originally it was my understanding that the sculpture would be crated. With over 3,000 lenses the sculpture was extremely heavy, at least over 200 pounds. The shipper just wanted to bubble wrap it and cover it with a furniture pad, and throw it on the truck.

cocoontreeI had spent the past six months (over 1500 hours) in creating this beautiful creature and I wasn’t about to let it get broken. I put my heart and soul into this tree. It had became a part of me because the tree represented me. I became a part of this tree and it a part of me. When I had the idea of driving it to New York City it never dawned on me how rough of a ride a Uhaul moving van is. Thankfully my brother in law came up with a system that would keep the sculpture secure in the back of the Uhaul. He attached it to a pallet and then boxed it in between the wheel wells. Finally he secured it by attaching a 2×4 to each side.

The trip was only suppose to take 10.5 hours. The client wanted it at their location at 5pm. I made sure to leave enough time for stops, etc. I had tried to fall asleep the night before but with the nerves and excitement I wasn’t able to. So I left for NYC with only 4 hours of sleep in 48 hours. I left at 4am. About 5 hours into my trip I started to become very sleepy to the point where I struggled to keep my eyes open. I did everything possible to stay awake including blaring the music and turning the air on full blast. Anyone who’s driven on highway 80 through Pennsylvania knows that the terrain is very hilly and rough. Imagine driving on it when you’re majorly sleep deprived. On top of all the hills there are many drop offs. It got to the point where I couldn’t even look at them as they made me seasick.DSCF8390

Around the fifth hour I was pulled over by a cop. He said I had went over the white line and wanted to make sure I was okay. He ended up being really cool but it just added to the nerves of the trip. Anyone who has ever driven a Uhaul knows it’s like driving a boat.

I had downed a red bull, a Starbucks cold drink and several Mountain Dews in the hopes that it would keep me awake. About into the seventh hour I went into this sleep deprived state where I felt like everything around me was warped. It was like I was on this major trip. It felt like the mountains were coming at me both in fast forward and slow motion all at once.

Towards to what I thought was the end of the trip I started to count down the hours. I counted down the hours to help comfort me. The last two hours I started to become so tired I wasn’t sure I could make it but I knew they were expecting me and I couldn’t let them down. So I continued to push through.

Eye of the Tiger came on the radio and it helped give me the steam needed to finish the trip. I finally got to New Jersey during rush hour mind you. At this point I was so tired that I was wired. I continued to count down the time until Manhatten came into sight.

Finally I could see the city. I wasn’t ever so happy to see a city landscape. It was around 5pm when I drove into the city limits, so you can imagine how crazy it was. The traffic went from a slow pace to a crawl. I was stuck in a traffic jam. I was only 15 minutes away from my destination and only one mile from my next exit which was the Lincoln tunnel. What I didn’t know that there was an accident up ahead.lincoln+tunnel+traffic

It took over ten minutes to move .05 of a mile, if that. Anyone that’s driven in a major city knows that traffic jams are inevitable. About an hour into the traffic jam I started to lose hope in getting to my destination in a timely matter. I had already missed my time to drop off the sculpture. At this point I just wanted to get to the dinner that evening with all the artists but as the time crept by I realized there was no way I was going to make it. All of a sudden I hear this bang. Someone rear ended me. I was like great how can this day get any worse. Thankfully there was no damage to the Uhaul and the only damage to his vehicle was to his license plate which was bent in half on the ground. How does one hit a huge moving truck with the brake lights on and stopped???

Finally after four hours in the traffic jam I was back on track. At this point I thought the plan was for me to go to the hotel and drop off the sculpture in the morning but when I contacted the client I was told that it needed to be delivered tonight. I was told if it wasn’t delivered tonight it wouldn’t be in the show. The next thirty minutes I pretty much circled time square over and over in a Uhaul. I was starting to panic. Imagine driving a huge truck at 11pm at night in Time Square. I was sure I was going to hit something or someone. There were people all over. They crossed the streets in mobs like ants out of a ant hill. Eventually I said heck with it and started driving like a mad man.time-squares-at-night-wallpaper-2

I finally made it. I should have known the night wasn’t going to get any easier. Earlier I had a bad feeling. There was one point during the traffic jam where I almost turned around to head home. When I opened the back of the truck the first thing said was it’s not going to fit. I could also tell they really didn’t want to have to move the sculpture. I have always been upfront with them on the size and weight.

We get the sculpture into the main lobby and I’m dumbfounded when I see the elevator. The door was extremely narrow. I honestly never saw an elevator so small. There was some discussion about getting the sculpture into the elevator. Someone suggested leaving it in the lobby. I wish I had pushed for that. I was informed that they learned the day before that the freight elevator was broken.

My sculpture was at least four feet tall and four feet across. The elevator door couldn’t been bigger than three feet across. I suggested angling the sculpture into the elevator. They got the sculpture in the elevator but getting it out was another story. I couldn’t watch them try to get it out. I honestly was done with the whole situation so I sat in the conference room knowing something bad was going to happen. Never in my worst nightmare did I imagine what I would walk into…

Every branch was broken and lying at the base of the sculpture. They had tried to fix it by shoving branches into the wrong holes. They basically decapitated the tree. It was like they dropped it from the top of the building. I was in complete shock. In just a matter of minutes they had destroyed something that took 1500 hours to complete. Until you see the pictures of the demolished piece you can’t begin to understand how badly it was broken. In a sculpture that size a strong foundation and structure is crucial in securing the piece. Individually plastic lenses don’t weigh that much but when you use thousands of them they become very heavy.

Broken Sculpture

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On top of them destroying something I put my heart and soul into I wasn’t treated very well. One of the employees started to take his frustrations out on me, accusing me of lying about being stuck in the traffic jam. I was dumbfounded by the whole situation. If I wasn’t so out of it and delirious I would have never let them put it in that small elevator. After spending over twenty hours in a Uhaul my night ended with them doing the worst thing you can do to an artist. I was told that they could fix it. I didn’t have a lot of faith. We agreed to come back the next day which was the day of the event.

I didn’t get checked into my hotel until 1am. Thankfully my good friend lives in New York City and came over to my hotel. I don’t think anyone would have questioned if I did have a meltdown but I was surprisingly calm. I obviously was upset but I didn’t let it destroy me. Prior to my Mom passing away I would have totally turned into Chicken Little. I posted on Facebook that the breaking of my sculpture didn’t even make my top ten list of bad things that had happened to me. When my friend left I had accepted that my sculpture was destroyed. I had come to terms with the fact that I was going to show a broken piece.

After I had dropped the Uhaul off in the Bronx I headed to the office. I wasn’t sure what I was going to walk into. I had four hours to salvage my piece. The event started at 7pm. Thankfully one of the employees was experienced with construction and offered to help me put it back together. I had used pvc to build the structure. When they broke the piece they not only broke apart the branches they broke the connecting pieces. So you couldn’t just connect pieces anymore because there was big chunks missing.

Thankfully I had packed my glue gun and brought a lot of supplies just in case. If I hadn’t brought my glue gun I’m not sure we could have put it back together because we used the glue to connect the pieces together. After a few hours he was able to rebuild the structure the best he could. There were still three main branches that we couldn’t put back together which left a lot of holes. I had put a lot of effort in creating the shape of the tree.

When I finished the sculpture I was relieved to be done. I had very little energy left in me. I felt accomplished for finishing it but I was also relieved to not have to work on it again. So once again I was forced to give more than I had and rebuild something that took countless hours to create. I got on the floor and began to work my magic which again meant burning myself with that boiling hot glue.

I worked on the sculpture until the very last minute. I did what I could to rebuild it. Most everything on the sculpture had something wrong with it. The wire butterflies were bent out of shape. The iris was broken, so was the dragonfly and girl. Thankfully the damages to the creatures were minor and I was able to fix them.

We had done the impossible and was able to put back together the broken pieces. The salvaged sculpture was a lot more rough and exposed than before. The shape of the tree was also drastically altered. I was relieved to have a finished piece to show. There wasn’t anything else I could do.

Salvaged Sculpture

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The event was amazing. I met so many wonderful people, many who had no idea that earlier that day it was a broken mess. I wove the whole experience into the theme of the piece. It’s not coincidental that of all the pieces that were broken the roots weren’t touched. I was able to weave what happened into the story of the piece which many of the guests at the event were able to connect to. I talked to many people who themselves also had moments in their life when they felt broken. Without the sculpture breaking I’m not sure the impact would have been as strong.

It was very symbolic that the sculpture was broken. The theme of the piece is resiliency, rising above the difficult times in our lives. There have been times in my life that I have felt just like that broken sculpture. When something traumatic happens we are forced to pick up the broken pieces.brokentree14

While I wouldn’t want to relive this experience ever again there is a part of me that is glad that it happened. It was a major confidence boost. I could have given up. I could have thrown a fit. I could have went home with my tail between my legs but I didn’t. I pushed forward and didn’t let anyone stand in my way of getting what I wanted and deserved. There have been many times I have cowered down in defeat. This wasn’t one of those moments. This was my moment of triumph.

Like the tree I was strong. Stronger than anything that ever happened to me. You can cut my branches. You can cut my bark. You can even knock me to the ground. You’ll never reach my roots and I will always rise from the ashes.

I’m not alone. There are so many people out in the world who themselves feel broken. After my Mom died I wasn’t sure I could go on. It felt so broken that I didn’t believe I could be put back together. That’s why my sculpture breaking wasn’t really a big deal because I had already gone through something a million times worse. This was nothing. It was also out of my control. I couldn’t bring my Mom back, neither could I undo my sculpture breaking.

The sculpture breaking just added to the depth of the piece. It multiplied the strength of the piece exponentially. The Tree of Triumph is confirmation that the impossible is possible. We are never truly broken as our soul always remains in tact. No power or force will ever reach that. So say what you want to me, it won’t hurt or affect me.

So many people have been apart of this journey. This has been the best part of this experience. I have received so much love and support it’s lifted me up from depression and my troubles. It has proved that I deserve so much more. Losing sight of your dreams makes for a very dreary world. This journey has proved that our dreams can come true. Just keep moving forward. Even at a snail’s pace you’ll reach your destination. Our trials and tribulations make us into who we are today. I wouldn’t have been able to handle this journey if I walked down an easy road.

Check out my new artist website:  http://www.derekstephens.net

Progress Pictures

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Million Dollar Mama

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To some tonight probably wasn’t the best night to watch Million Dollar Baby but to me it was something I had to do. I kind of dreaded today being you know what… Up until the evening I was handling it okay, even with the countless status updates wishing everyone a “Happy Mothers Day.” It wasn’t until I saw a endless stream of all my facebook friends posting pictures of them with with your moms or moms with their children that knocked the wind out of me.

My sleep schedule has been disrupted and I found myself not sleeping last night. Normally I would have crashed at some point but I knew that I couldn’t do that with having a very important meeting tomorrow about a job… So I spent most of the day lounging around in bed watching tv, fading in and out ever so often. My nieces had watched a scary movie and came downstairs to get me to come upstairs to keep them company while my sister was outside.

My nephew came inside and started to watch Million Dollar Baby. I had heard about it but knew very little about it other than it was a boxing movie with Hilary Swank. As sports is really not my thing, neither are sports movies. As I watched I became intrigued for some reason. Here was this girl, as boss called her, that against all odds was willing to do what it took to get her one shot.

She didn’t give up… neither in herself or boss. There was something about her resilience that hit a chord in my heart. I guess in a way I saw my self in Maggie’s eyes. It was then that I realized that no matter how many times I was kicked, knocked down to the ground that I would always get back up…

The odds were stacked against her but that didn’t stop her from breaking free from the mold that imprisoned her. She saw something in herself that no one before had ever seen. She was born into trailer trash but that didn’t mean thats he was trash. She had plenty reason to stay down with how her family treated her but she got back up and kept swinging until she broke through.

The only way she could survive was to fight and I’m not talking the punching she gave in boxing but her will to survive. She wasn’t going to give up without a fight. Each day i’ve hid from the world was another day my naysayers won. The only way I’m going to get through this world is to go out fighting with all my might. It won’t happen hiding in my room.

We all deserve our shot… our one moment in the spotlight. The spotlight is living our dream whatever it may be.

Watching the movie wasn’t easy for me to do being as it reminded me of what my Mom went through the twenty one days in ICU. It was like I was reliving those moments all over again from the bedsores to the sounds of the respirator to the last few breaths. Maggie wanted to go out fighting on her terms to the sounds of other’s cheering her on chanting Mo ChuisleIt was a reminder of that would have been my Mom’s wishes as well.

My Mom also went out fighting on her own terms. I wouldn’t have wanted her last days or years in misery not being able to enjoy the life she lived willed full of love and laughter from her family. It would have killed her more to live a life full of complications and pain. One where she wouldn’t be able to do the things she enjoyed and loved, like playing with her grandbabies. Mom wanted the last memories of her grandbabies to be one of love and happiness.

It wasn’t easy living that day all over again visually. I have certainly re-lived that day over and in over my head but to see it on screen was quite different. I forced myself to endure the torture as there was deep lesson to be learned. It was then that I realized you don’t have to win to be a winner. Even though Maggie lost the title fight she still came out of it a winner. All she wanted was a chance and she got it plus something she didn’t bargain for the family she so desperately needed. When her own family was only interested in their own interests Boss was there right by her side until the end.

I was also reminded of the last few weeks of Mom’s life and how my sister and I surrounded her with love. I know often she questioned many things in her life, including whether she was love. Mom’s life wasn’t easy, she also had to fight for everything. She departed our world for heaven knowing that she was loved deeply and unconditionally… That we saw her for who she really was, just like Boss saw Maggie for the fighter she was.

I always thought the biggest gift my Mom gave me was her love but I know realize it was her determination and willingness to fight. That’s a true sign of a winner. It’s not the number of wins or losses but it’s the willpower to make it to the final round.

So watch out world I’ve got my boxing gloves on and I’m ready for my shot in the ring.

 

The Difference a Year Makes

It’s been a while since I have wrote on my blog. I just passed my one year anniversary of my suicide attempt and I have been reflecting on the last year. While I can’t say that I’m happy I can say that I’m in a better place mentally than I was a year ago. While I still struggle with depression it’s not as extreme and when I do have a flair up the episodes don’t last as long.

Someone asked me what changed things? I must admit I struggled with answering it and I still do. I think the biggest difference is taking an antidepressant, as well as therapy. I’m in the process of trying to find work and as scary as that is I’m ready to have purpose again. You can only hide for so long before you go stir crazy and that’s where I’m currently at.

I think the main reason I struggled answering the question of what changed is that I’m still in the process of changing as I haven’t got to the point where I’m happy. I must admit most of the time I’m miserable. I hide in my room a lot and I know that’s not very healthy. I miss having friends that I regularly see and do fun things with. That’s the struggle with living out in the middle of no where there’s nothing to do or see. It also presents a problem when meeting someone as most people don’t want to drive that far. Also not having a car puts a damper in going the distance.

I’ve learned once you get yourself in a deep hole it takes time to dig out of it. I’m learning to work on my patience and having faith. Having a job will be a huge step to my happiness. They say money doesn’t make you happy but not having any can make you miserable. A job will lead to a car and a car will lead to meeting new people…

I won’t lie that I still occasionally think about you know what… but it’s usually a quick passing thought when I’m feeling rather down. I’ve noticed lately having this coping skill of taking deep breaths when I’m feeling panicky or rather down. It’s been occurring rather naturally without thought. I also feel a stronger presence to my Mama. When I take those deep breaths I feel like she’s there with me.

A long time ago I learned to disconnect to cope with trauma. When you repeat a pattern over and over, year after year it becomes apart of you. Changing that pattern isn’t an easy task as it becomes hard wired in the clockworks of your mind. I’ve failed over and over but I never gave up. I made the conscious choice to reach out for help when I had the pills up to my mouth. I desperately needed help and that was the only way I could connect to it.

When you’ve been disconnected for a long period the harder the impact when you plug yourself back into an outlet. I’ve tried over the past nine years to get plugged back in but every time I would get shocked and run back into seclusion. Living a heart-centered life can get you hurt, especially if you don’t have a solid foundation and a toolbox of coping skills. That’s been my greatest flaw. I have tried to build a life on a flimsy foundation and an empty toolbox.

This weekend I took a leap of faith by entering an art competition called ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have always been artistic in some form or another. It’s always been my dream to have a career that I can utilize my creativity but I’ve always shied away from pursuing it because I didn’t feel I deserved it.

I put off registering for ArtPrize for days as I was afraid. Afraid of succeeding, afraid of being seen. Being a survivor of sexual abuse there’s a fine line between being seen and not being seen. I think about when I abused I was a happy child full of life and love. I was vulnerable. I catch myself still feeling like I’m that 10 year old boy still. I must remind myself that not only am I an adult now but that was a long time ago. I no longer have to hide because I can defend myself. All these years I’ve been the first to stand up for others but have rarely stood up for myself. I’ve waited a lifetime for others to stand up for me… when it was me that needed to stand up.

Registering for ArtPrize felt like running through the finish line. I’ve forced myself to not only look fear right in the eyes but to also push right through it. Fear is like a ghost. It’s just an illusion and much smaller than it appears. The further you push it away the bigger it becomes until one day that ghost turns into a monster and takes total control of your life. Whenever you try to change a destructive, negative pattern it will alert an internal warning system. That ghost will do whatever it takes to keep control.

So it’s doesn’t surprise me that today has been a rather difficult day. I had the sky is falling moment and my urges were telling to me to abort the mission and run back into hiding. I’ve noticed this determination to not give up. Perseverance to push through the storm. You can only put up with enough misery before you throw your hands up in the air and say that’s enough!!! Well THAT’S ENOUGH!!!

I can have my dreams and live a happy life. I deserve, everyone does. My goal is to live life fueled by my passion and live it through my dreams. I know the pain I’ve endured was not in vain there was purpose for it. I hope to be able to use my art and creativity to inspire and touch those who have been in my shoes. Those who feel lost, down and out…. who feel they’ve been left behind and forgotten.

My biggest challenge will be breaking the pattern that I deserved the pain and the actions that caused it. For too long I believed I was this hideous, unloveable monster. While I can’t say that I don’t see and feel that monster but I’m determined to shed that unwanted skin. I have and will always be a teddy bear. Someone who goes through life with an open heart, not afraid to be a big kid. Sure there are things I need to change in my life and most of it is just shedding away the negativity. There is a lot about me that I don’t need to change and that’s what’s deep within… my heart and soul… Those are gifts, not curses.

I believe the biggest thing that’s changed from last year is that I now I have hope for a better life something I didn’t have before my breakdown. I was drowning in my sorrow, pain and grief. Without hope I had no reason to live as all I could see was darkness. Hope has shined a light back into my life. I must continue to work on letting my own inner light shine.

Light is meant to shine, not hide in a box. Human’s are like flowers as they need sunshine and water to grow, without it they will surely wither away to nothing. I had convinced myself for years that I was a just a weed but now that I’ve brought back water and light into my life I realize that I’m a flower. Now I just need a space to grow and blossom into the rose I was meant to be.

Salvation

After watching American Horror Story tonight I started to think about Salvation. I am not quite sure why I continue to watch this show, especially the fact that this season has a religious twist to it, but for some reason I am drawn to it. Watching the nun talk about salvation and needing to be cleansed made me feel very bad. It reminds me of growing up in a Southern Baptist family. It also gets me thinking about the whole idea behind good versus evil… and how some falsely pass themselves off as good but are really a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Look at the Catholic Church and The Boy Scouts of America treatment of the LGBT community and how they both responded to their own sexual molestation scandals. These are two organizations who are suppose to protect others especially children but have instead have chosen to stay silent about sexual predators within their organizations. They have shown to value their own prosperity and security over the emotional salvation of the numerous victims. Yet bot organizations have openly shared their anti gay views. The Boy Scouts have went as far as banning gay people from joining.

My father was the kind of person who felt it was his purpose to save others. It wasn’t unheard of for him to come up to people outside of church and he would try to preach at them. He shoved God down peoples throat with his fists… It didn’t matter where he was at, if he felt a person needed salvation he would approach them.

The idea of salvation makes me nauseous. I guess it is the idea that I need to be saved. If I need to be saved it must mean that I am a bad person. I mean why else would a child need saving?

When you are gay and surrounded by religious people it is common occurrence to have them pray for your salvation. It has happened so often that I dread having to tell a religious person I am gay. Now I just get angry. It is especially infuriating when it comes from a family member. Behind the anger is a lot of deep seeded shame, not that I am gay but that I must be a bad person. I have come so far but I still hold onto shreds of those feelings.

I just love when I hear someone say, “I love the sinner. I hate the sin.” I wonder if they realize that both are the same. How can you think or feel anything but horrible when you hear someone tell you that?

Here is how I break it down:

Sin=Bad 
Gay=Sin
Gay=Bad

Those who aren’t gay can justify this ideology because they think being gay is a choice, which is very different for someone who is gay. For them being gay isn’t a choice, so for them you are saying they are inherently bad.

I wonder where our society first started to feel the need to save those who are gay? or feel such hatred towards those who are gay?

This idea that homosexuality is an abomination is so harmful and hypocritical. I saw a picture once of a protest sign someone made that said that how others treat gay people is the only abomination. Those who so blindly preach at gay people are so misguided.

The women who created that sign was right, turning people away from God’s love is the real abomination. Instilling in a child that there is something bad about them that they have to be saved is also a sin.

As an adult I have come to realize that those who are so hateful in their religious cult like beliefs are themselves flawed. They live their lives in fear. How they get calm inside is by projecting their fears, self hatred and lies onto others. That is also how they feel better about themselves. The justify their hate, discrimination and bigotry through God and the Bible.

“No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth.” ― John F. Kennedy

Thankfully society is changing but there are still those out there that still believe in this whole mumbo jumbo. There are even programs out there that try to convert gay people. I can’t imagine how much turmoil a person must feel to try to change who they are. There are even parents who force their children into such programs. California is the first state to ban gay conversion therapy. The legislation prohibits attempts to change the sexual orientation of patients under age 18. I can only hope more states will see this type of therapy as child abuse and outlaw it as well.

Religious persecution does damage not only to ones mental well being but their soul as well. I have hide from my spirituality for many years. I am saddened to think of the many other of my gay brothers and sisters that also have to endure this abuse. I think it is wonderful that programs like The Trevor Project are out there but what about those children who never get the help they so deserve and grow up into adults who feel broken. You have to wonder how many of them kill themselves as adults because of the abuse?

LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are up to 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. (2010, Family Acceptance Project™ “Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults”)

As far as we have come those who are gay have to face the reality of this hate and the possibility of being confronted with it head on. You can’t help to feel fear when you hear the news stories of those who are victims of hate crimes. It is easy to think that this could happen to me. It is tragic that there are people who do not value life and love, and feel they have a right to extinguish a gay person’s life.

I can remember very clearly hearing about the tragic death of Matthew Shepard, who was abducted and then tied to a fence where he was brutally beat and left for dead by two cowards. Five days later he would die. The tragic passing of Matthew Shepard sparked a movement and through activism helped to pass The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal law against bias crimes directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.

Matthew Shepard’s parents Dennis and Judy Shepard founded The Matthew Shepard Foundation which was created in the memory of their son. The foundation was created to “Created to honor Matthew in a manner that was appropriate to his dreams, beliefs, and aspirations, the Foundation seeks to “Replace Hate with Understanding, Compassion, & Acceptance” through its varied educational, outreach and, advocacy programs and by continuing to tell Matthew’s story.”

It is hard to come to terms that some really bad things happen on this earth but I am comforted to know that there are times that something good can come from something so horribly tragic. Matthew Shepard legacy lives on and his life continues grow in the hearts of so many others that need it.

The essence of what God really is love. That is truly what those who preach hate really are missing out on. They don’t themselves feel they are worthy of that love, so they try to take it away from others. If they can attempt to save others, then they have a chance of redeeming their own salvation.

Their fears have turned into reality and the truth. They believe their own lies. As more and more people get on board in regards to equality, the more polarized those against the LGBT community will be. As time goes by their voices will not be as loud, or as strong. The day is coming where inequality, discriminate and hatred towards the gay community will not be tolerated.

Anything we need salvation from is religious persecution and hate. Those of us who have overcome this persecution and hate need to stand up and let the world know that there is another way. The gay community desperately needs and deserve more love and acceptance. I am encouraged that some churches are starting to stand up and reach out to the gay community.

Our views on religion and/or God may be different but what is universal is the message of love. It is easy when you are surrounded by hate to believe that is all there is in this world. If that is all you have known, it is very difficult to see outside of that. I have since learned that for everyone who is against me, there is someone for me.

If you are reading this and are in that position today please know that God loves you and there are people in this world who embrace love and light. People who will love you unconditionally and lift you up. Personally I have had to let go of various people who were only bringing me down. I have learned for my well being I must love them from afar.

That is my salvation…

Still In Shock

I guess it is how I am coping with the loss of my beautiful Mother but I still finding it hard to believe she really passed away. I was going to say “died” but that seems so final. I keep racking my brain over the events of the last few months and nothing adds up. I just am at a loss, literally and figuratively.

I am going through the motions but am not feeling much of anything lately. I cried for about a week and now that has stopped. This is going to make me sound crazy but I have been having these feelings that she will come home. My mind knows that she has passed away but my heart is still believing in something else…

I think the toughest part is that this outcome wasn’t even in my mind before and after the surgery. Even when I was faced with some tough news, I believed full heatedly that she would be okay. Honestly I still do.

I keep telling myself, She is really gone… and it is just all too unbelievable.

Never in my wildest nightmares would I think she pass away so young. Of course it was my biggest fear but I thought she would live a lot longer than she did. I thought to myself this wouldn’t happen to our family, we are all good people but it did…

Today we started to pack up her belongings in her apartment. I was really worried about going back into her place. The last time I did was right after she passed and I was a mess. Today I felt so disconnected, that I think I was in the clouds.

It reminded me how attached I am to material items. I found it very difficult to throw away any of her things, even if they weren’t any good any more. I had to have a family friend do it for me. I had to keep all her shirts, I just couldn’t stomach giving them away. I guess in some ways they are all connected to the memory of my Mama.

Death reminds me that who we are is not connected to our bodies. Our bodies are merely vessels. It is so easy to get caught up on the physicality of everything in this world. I could see how I could become a hoarder. I found some personal belongings of my own at my Mom’s place including a huge pile of VHS tapes. I was about to keep most of them, even though I no longer have a VHS player and probably will never watch them based on the memory of them… I went as far as putting them all in my bag. Then something inside said I had to let go and only kept a handful. I guess that is a start.

My Mom’s apartment was very important to her, as it was connected to her independence. She finally had it after fifty some years and she wasn’t willing to let it go. If she would have survived, she probably would have never been able to live alone again and I know that would have devastated her. So having to go through and pack up all her belongings was painfully difficult realizing what it all represented. Though I guess she got the ultimate independence when she passed away. She no longer had a failing body to hold her down. Now she is free to fly where ever she wants. That makes me feel at peace…

That is another thing. Even thought it feels like I am falling apart, another part feels at peace. The whole shock peace makes me nervous because I am concerned how it will feel when reality really sinks in. Previously when I had thoughts of my Mama passing, I didn’t think I could survive it.

Now I know I can… It just isn’t going to be the same. People keep telling me it doesn’t get better, it just gets different. How could it get better in this lifetime when a crucial part of your world is snatched up suddenly? Well I guess the pain isn’t has tough, at least I hope it isn’t.

I know what people will say and I believe it as well, that my Mama is all around… and deep down inside I believe that. I just have some gunk in my filters causing me to not be able to feel her. The same with my spirituality. I keep telling myself that God will see us through this. I am not quite sure how but I am holding onto that.

I also know she is in a much better place. A place of pure joy, love and happiness. As tough and painful as this sorrow is I would never take that away from her. Especially after the tough life she lived. I think that is really holding me together, is knowing that she is okay. Otherwise I would have had to been admitted to the funny farm weeks ago. That might still be an option down the road. 😉

I guess I am grieving the physical loss of my Mother and all the attachments that came with her. She was my world, so of course her death would send me out of orbit. Years ago I was even more attached and I am so thankful that I worked on gaining my own independence or I would have went plummeting right into the sun. The person I was a few years ago, I don’t think could have handled her loss.

I also realize that I was blessed to have this amazing woman as my Mother for 36 years. So many aren’t that fortunate. My mind knows all of these things and I have to keep reminding myself this… but my heart is filled full of sorrow…

God plucked the most beautiful flower in my garden and I want her back. I know it is selfish but it is how I feel.

I think part of the issue is that I still hold onto some untrue things about myself and my spirituality, which I have done a lot of work on overcoming but I still struggle. I still have these fears of never seeing my Mom again. It is kind of like being lost as small child, it is very scary. You desperately try to find her but can’t…

Things like, how am I going to get through this? keeps running through my mind. I am so thankful of my nieces and nephew, as they are breaths of fresh air. As much as I feel like falling apart, I know I must keep it together for them. They need me… That is how I can honor my Mom.

Honestly it feels like I am still at the hospital at my Mom’s bedside. My body has left that place but apart of me is still there. I have many/most of the same feelings I had there. Though now I have sadness, anger, numbness, etc to add to those.

I keep trying to bargain with the situation, like I can still change the result. Like is there something different that we could have done. I replay all the events over and over, and nothing adds up to the outcome.

Bottom line, I have to accept the fact this was apart of God’s plan and that for me is one of the scariest parts of life… The not knowing when it all will end on this earth. Prior to finding out the autopsy I held onto this idea that she was taken too soon, that something happened to cause her demise… After her autopsy I realize that wasn’t the case… She had multiple blockages in her arteries. The main artery from her heart to her brain was blocked by 70%…

How could I bargain with all of that? It was apparent that it was her time to go. It both comforted and alarmed me at the same time. If her surgery didn’t kill, her blockages would have most likely have… or at the very least left her with a very poor quality of life. I realized this when I was shopping at Meijer and was in the adult diaper section… I didn’t want that life for my Mama, nor did she. As tough as the way she passed was, she really didn’t suffer, nor was she in pain that often. I can’t say the alternative would have happened if she would have survived the operation.

I find myself begging and desiring for more time… I wish I had one more Christmas, one more birthday… but then I would only want one more after that, and so on…

I just have to keep moving forward, even if it is slowly and one step at a time… I also realize that I have to keep turning towards positive and supportive avenues, reaching out and not hiding away. I have found myself feeling more depressed as the week has went on. I force myself out of bed and it isn’t easy. I am also in the process of getting back into therapy. The one thing I have learned the past few years, is that I can’t do this alone nor do I have to. This journey has reminded me how many wonderful, loving and supportive people I have in my life. I just have turn to them…

I also realize that as I start to open up to my spirituality it will start to blossom like a garden. Mama saw the best in me and always wanted me to be happy. I need to honor her gift by sharing who I am with the world, as it is connected to my purpose. As much as I want to be with her, I know I have things to do on this planet.

One is allowing others, especially those in the gay community, the opportunity to feel God’s love. I think that is the greatest travesty in the lgbt community that others try to close the door on God’s love. I don’t care what religion you are, it is all the same to me. For me, religions are just labels of what is behind it… A true child/follower of God leads their life with love. My Mother embodied that to the fullest. All these years I thought I had lost my spirituality, when it was always deep inside…

It is funny, after my eulogy a family member asked me at my Mom’s grave site if I was saved… and I stumbled with my response… Cause I don’t feel I had to be saved. The only person who needed to save me, was myself. God was already in my heart, I just let man pile their trash around my heart.

Basically what I am saying do whatever works for you… Whether that is Christian, Buddhism, Wiccan, etc. I know how it is like to have beliefs forced down your throat and I don’t ever want to be like that. How I would like to approach my faith to others is like a book in the library… I will leave my book on the table and let people know I am there. There is one thing I have learned about life, if a person isn’t ready it doesn’t matter how hard you try you will never get them to see it your way. When people are ready they will come to you or an idea, etc.

I also grew up in a fire and brimstone church and I know how much damage that does. So this is my attempt to show others that there is another alternative. I had to learn the hard way and I would love to help others see a different way. There are many different roads to take to the same destination.

Everyone deserves God’s love. I don’t believe if it something you find outside of yourself. It is something deep within. Something has always been there.

Any type of healing takes time. There are no switches or buttons to push. No pills to take to make it all go away. Only time and connection to others who love you. Which reminds me of my current situation, it is going to take time.

Mama gave me all the skills, gifts and abilities that I need to venture out into the world and recreate her legacy in others. Her love is deep inside of me and this world could use a lot more of love. Love and strength are two of the greatest gifts my Mama gave me, they flow through me like a river. Now it is my time to make a difference, as she has done in our lives.

For Mama… This is it not only my gift to the world but to her as well…

 

Facing my biggest fear…

Death has always been a big fear of mine and losing my mom an even bigger one. Just thinking about it would me down a road of panic. I couldn’t imagine surviving her death. I actually had a plan if it were to happen. I no longer have that plan, though the thoughts flutter in my head still.

About a year a go I started to have these thoughts pop inside my brain. I really wanted them to disappear but I forced myself to think about it as to prepare myself for the day.

In my wildest dreams I would never have thought this day would come so soon.

Prior to my mom’s passing a voice came to me telling me I would be okay, that I would survive my mama’s passing.

Well now that she’s passed it doesn’t feel like I will.

The pain I feel is deep. The sorrow feels like torture. A loss so great that I can explain it.

I know she’s still there… But I’m struggling to feel her. I got so caught up in her physicalness. Her hair, her smile… The way she laughed. I am attached to her and now I feel lost… Dangling in space.

I feel so alone, and I’m surrounded by family.

Disconnected.

Questioning why now? I would never want her in pain, nor would I want her to suffer. Why couldn’t God heal her body from her lungs to her arteries.

I know so many children go with out and I really shouldn’t be selfish but my heart is breaking.

I am tired of the suffering. Tired of feeling loss. Mama was the one purity in my life.

Is this a test? If so why do I have to be tested?

During the 31 days my mom was in the hospital, what got me through the unthinkable tough times was the faith things would get better.

I am struggling seeing that in my current situation, as it means unknown period time of pain. The only relief it seems is being with my mom again and I don’t have a clue when that will be???

And that just seems unbearable…

The only thing keeping me together is knowing that my mom and God are on my side.

I just need some comfort, and my mom was the one who would give me that.

I’m reminded of the feelings that God would see us through and that’s all I have to hold onto these days…

That and mama wants me to fufill my destiney and to be happy. That all seems so foggy right now…

So I will keep holding on and ride out this storm once more.

Love you Mama…