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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Joel Osteen’s Mixed Messages

So I have always felt indifferent when it came to Joel Osteen. My mother loved watching his sermons on television and why wouldn’t she with his positive, uplifting sermons of love but they always left me feeling less… knowing how he felt in regards to being gay. I’ve felt his message of love was only for those who weren’t gay.

Now it has come out that he believes that God accepts gay people and that they can get into heaven but he still compares homosexuality (his terms) to sins like negativity, pride, etc. These are all behaviors and actions that one could reasonably change unlike being gay which contrary to other’s beliefs being gay is something we are born with. I’ve always though why would a gay person chose a life full of ridicule, persecution and hate???

Now many of you might believe that Osteen is gay friendly, especially with hearing him say that God accepts gay people but what is important is to look past this message and listen to other many things he has and continues to say about gay people. Like for example gay people “aren’t God’s best.”

He can preach a message of love all he wants but it’s only if you ask God to forgive you for being gay… and then you will be worthy of God’s love… This is a very mixed message and one that can’t only but make you feel less if you’re gay.

In an interview with Pierce Morgan Joel Osteen stated that he would not marry a gay couple, as it went against what the bible taught. Osteen’s wife responded to Pierce asking her if she would attend a gay wedding in which she replied if she had the time.

There are some who are very vocal in their hate towards gay people and I’m not saying that Joel hates gay people but I do believe his message sends a wrong one into this world… especially to gay people. Indifference is just as harmful as hate.

While Joel Osteen is different from many pastors that preach intolerance and hate on the  pulpit, he still is saying similar things outside the church and in the public eye that other pastors preach about on the pulpit… he’s just less vocal and packages it a sugar coated candy shell.

Personally I don’t need man to tell me that God accepts me, nor do I need him to tell me that God loves me… I’ve lived most of my listening and believing man’s lies about God. I’m at the point now where I am learning to break way the hold that their lies had on me. It’s taken me over twenty years to come to this revelation. I still struggle daily with my beliefs and my spirituality, and while I don’t quite know what I believe in I do know what God is not… God is love… Being gay is not a sin… and those who believe otherwise are blinded by their ignorance and fear.

Joel Osteen and other’s like him are missing the point of Jesus’ message was. Jesus was the champion of the oppressed. He was killed for what other’s viewed to be like a sin. It is no different than how others treat the love gay people share. So many get caught up in the semantics of what two men or women share but what they miss is the bond has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with love.

With so many children growing up feeling less for being different, gay and straight, the true messengers of the world have a duty to life them up… not tear them down. While Joel Osteen doesn’t tear gay people down, he surely doesn’t life us up either! Gay youth are killing themselves because others lead them to believe they are bad and there is no way for them to survive in a world filled full of hate.

With the invention of the internet we are constantly inundated in messages, many of them very negative and harmful. You can hear a hundred positive message but it only takes one strong to tear you down. Gay youth grow up hearing others share their hate towards gay people and many of them go home to the same kind of hate. If you are constantly beat down eventually you learn to not get back up.

Joel Osteen could be the hand that helps these beautiful children up, yet he chooses to turn his back. When you have lived your life faced with hate, you get a clear understanding when someone is uncomfortable with someone being gay and how they feel deep inside. Yes some of his message is positive and some not so positive but for me it’s what he doesn’t say that gets me the most.

I look at it this way:

If Sin=Bad and Gay=Sin then Gay=Bad

No matter how you look at this formula there is no way to not feel bad about it because when you say that being gay is a sin, you are saying being gay is bad.

A sin is defined as an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.

So therefor those that believe that being gay is a sin believe that it’s immoral and against divine law. How is that suppose to make me and anyone else who is gay feel good? Osteen believes gay people can get into heaven if we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. You don’t have to hear him say this because in order to get into heaven you must ask for forgiveness, if you go by the teachings of christianity.

Why would God need us to ask for forgiveness when he made us this way? There evidence that being gay is a choice but there is in regards to being born that way.  All it does is make people feel less for something they can’t change.

It makes me sad that people like Osteen miss the mark. His message doesn’t apply to you if you’re gay and there’s anything anyone can do to convince me otherwise. Megachurches are big business and Osteen is a smart businessman. Until the day I hear Osteen change his views on being gay is a sin, I won’t change my views.

Obstacles The LGBTQ Community Must Jump

Recently George Takei commented on his facebook page about how many people on his page were sick of people talking about gay issues and it brought up something that I have been thinking of for the last few weeks.

Many on this page have commented that they are “sick” of people talking about gay issues, or simply “don’t care” if someone is gay and would rather they would kept it to themselves. I find this disheartening. There may come a day when we need not come out of the closet, and need not remind others of the terrible violence, inequity, and ostracism that LGBT people face daily simply because of who we are and who we love. But that day is not here, and more importantly will never get here, unless people continue to step forward and offer themselves as examples, often at great personal cost. I am called “faggot,” “degenerate,” “queer” and “homo” by misguided people every day of my life, even on my own page, but this does not discourage me. It only reminds me of how far we have to go. Once upon a time I was called a “Jap” and put into a prison for four years with my entire family, for no reason other than who we were and who we looked like. It is my life’s mission to fight against the dark forces of fear and intolerance that could ever lead again to such an injustice. Thank you for taking the time to listen. The next time you feel fatigue from hearing about LGBT issues, ask yourself this: Do we live yet in the kind of society where violence, hate and prejudice is not an issue? Until we do, be part of the solution, and stand always for justice and equality for all people.

As far as we have come, it is a realization that we have a lot further to go. I often wonder why do so many have such a problem with homosexuality? In the end I believe it is the unknown that scares people the most. We live in a world where we feel we must conform to something and for many that is religion. If we are told something, then it must be so. Passed down from one generation to the next.

I was watching The Golden Girls, my nightly tradition, and I was kind of taken aback by the fact that even Blanche didn’t quite understand what being gay meant. I mean dimwitted Rose is a given. Then I started to think what was being gay like before the Internet. I have to think that the Internet helped kick start the gay revolution. It is still hard for me to believe that people back then didn’t have any concept of homosexuality.

I think that is the main problem today. Those who spout off about gay people keeping quiet probably don’t even know anyone who is gay or if they do they are themselves are triggered to face the facts. Once you get to know someone who is gay with an open heart, how could you take away their love and happiness???

People get caught up in the argument that it is a choice. I often wonder how many would chose a life filled full of hate, discrimination and the potential for great harm. Even those who chose to live the straight life, usually end up so miserable they have no choice but to come out of the closet. People would much rather please their own beliefs even if it means making someone living a lie and when that happens it usually hurts everyone around them.

Being gay, you have to give up a lot. Not only do you have to live in fear of being discriminated against but it’s always in the back of your head what if the one time you show your true colors and someone goes ballistic on you. You see it on the news often enough to make you fear that outcome. When I go to a new area I find myself cringing and holding who I am in. Granted I am a big guy but if you have a group of people come at you, I don’t stand the chance. If you don’t think that is possible, look at the recent outbreak of hate crimes in New York City.

Thankfully nowadays many teenagers are coming out at an early age but even now they are faced with reticule and hate. Look at how many of these children are killing themselves. How many others face bullying on a daily basis even if it isn’t extreme. Words can do a lot of damage. They are like little stones, that do their damage one little crack at a time. If you throw enough of them, they will shatter your self esteem into a million pieces.

It is bad enough when we have to face this kind of hate from the world but another thing when it comes from within our own families. You don’t have to be told that you are going to hell that many times before it wears you down. You might can handle hatred from your peers and strangers, and even your own family but God is another story. If that is all you have ever known, how do you know there is anything else out there in this world.

I recently discovered how much I wanted a family of my own and what a great loss that I am almost 37 and am without a family of my own. For years I had convinced myself that I didn’t want or need children, figured it just wasn’t meant to be. I gave up on the idea, especially after I have struggled in finding a mate to settle down with. I have become accustomed to having things taken away from me and what it boils down to is love.

I grew up hiding who I was. People during my time weren’t out in High School and they certainly didn’t take their same sex to the prom. I didn’t get to do the whole dating thing, nor did I get to do the whole bringing my boyfriend home to meet my parents. Holding who you are in, is like keeping a fire within a confined area… all it does is damage. That flame is meant to shine.

Another thing that many try to take away from gay people is our spirituality. Whether you have any personal experience with spiritual abuse, all you have to do is watch the media to see the damage church going people cause. Sure not everyone is as extreme and hateful as the Westboro Church but it all causes harm. At least they are upfront and honest with their hate. So many others do it in silence or sit back and don’t do anything when they are faced with that same hate.

While 12 states plus Washington DC have legalized gay marriage, we still have 38 states to go. Plus with DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) so far in tact, without federal recognition we still will lose out on many rights. Not to mention that in many states gay people can be fired from their jobs and lose their housing all because of their sexual orientation.

With the hate crimes that have been committed recently in Columbus and New York City it also goes to show you how many have had their own security and well being put at risk. Imagine going through life having to watch your back and live in worry that someone might try something.

What it all boils down to is human rights and the lack thereof.

Many gay people lose their biological families for being gay. They are kicked out and treated less all due to the gender they love. To expect someone to change something that is so tied to who they are inside is like telling someone to change the color of their skin, it is impossible. Sure people can hide and repress the feelings but eventually it will come out… usually in an explosive way.

Look at how many teens kill themselves over being gay, as well how many homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. For many the discrimination and hate follows them all the way to home. Everyone has the human right to feel safe but often that is the first thing that gay people lose.

Some will try to say that being gay is abomination, a curse and a sin. While being gay doesn’t always make your life easy, I wouldn’t change it at all. Being gay is a gift from God and those who don’t see that are delusional! They don’t see the true meaning and message of this world. While many of us weren’t born into families that validate and accept us, I have learned that it doesn’t mean we can’t have the families we need. For many gay people they have had to go outside of their biological family for the support and love they need. Their friends have become their family and support system.

Some will try to take away things that aren’t theirs to take, like spirituality and God. These are things they don’t even have the power to take, yet that doesn’t stop them from trying. The key is for us all to stick together and stand up, as a solitude front. They might not listen to one voice or try to drown us out but when that voice gets amplified it will knock them to the ground.

The time has come for us to take back what is our for the keeping and that includes our safety, spirituality and families.

Where Is God At?

I have seen some posts in regards to people praying for the victims of the Oklahoma tornado’s and my first reaction was disgust but then I thought about that feeling they were having. It made me think about my own questioning in regards to the various bad things that have occurred in life. Like why do bad things happen to good people? Why doesn’t God intervene to protect his/her children?

If I really start to think about it, I can get really angry. There is a great injustice of living in a world where we are told there is this high power who created such wonderful things in seven days and then have that same power stay silent. I guess in a way it triggers my own insecurities about a father figure never being there for me, never protecting me that way I needed.

Of course I am no longer a child and have learned in life that it is only I who can protect myself and I think that is the tragic flaw of religion… is that it passes the buck to some external force, when all along the power has been within in us. This beautiful and wonderful force isn’t outside of ourselves, it is deep within. I also feel that is why the world is in such a discord. You have those who have a lack of regard for anything beautiful, loving and full of life. People who have turned off their own inner humanity and have learned the only way they will get anything is by force. Then you have those individuals who are so out of control they use this idea to keep their fears at bay and in order to keep them safe they feel the need to save everyone around them…

As a gay man I have been severely turned off by religion for many different reasons and by doing so I also turned off my own inner spirituality. That is the true loss of it all and those who feel the need to preach their message and save the world. They cause such harm that they scare away those that need the light the most.

When tragedy happens it is natural for people to come together and pray… I also think it is natural for others to feel anger too. I am not discounting prayer at all and I believe in the power of the energy behind it but I also think it takes more than prayer, it takes action. It is sad that it takes tragedies like Oklahoma for people to come together. What about all the other days in between? Have we lost our sense of humanity. People need help every single day of the year but how often do people go without?

Help isn’t something that has to be grand. It can be as simple as smiling at a stranger or calling a friend to see how they are. Help could also be picking up a piece of trash on the street or reaching out to someone who is struggling. For me that is God in action. If you think about Jesus, what was he all about? His message was service and taking care of others. I look at many aspects of this world and I don’t see him in peoples actions, though I hear his name spoken quite often.

We live in a fast paced world these days, where many people don’t want to be troubled. They don’t have the time or the energy. So many people just hide behind the crowd. Look how many people look at the homeless and I am not talking about the people on the street corners asking for money. People either don’t want to get involved or they just don’t care or they are waiting for the person to ask for help. Well sometimes the person isn’t strong enough to ask for help.

Today I watched this video of a courageous young man by the name of Zach. At the age of 14 he found out a he had a rare form of Cancer. He didn’t let the news that he had terminal Cancer stop him from living a full life. Honestly I think he lived more in the three years, that most people do in their whole life. You didn’t have to know Zach to know he was filled with the essence of God. He glowed with so much love, life and spirit. His mission in life was to just make people happy, to make them feel loved. In a short period time he touched so many people, it transcended the globe.

Today he passed away. Zach is an example of what life is really about, love and happiness. His love was infectious and even Cancer couldn’t kill that. Though I don’t think the news of him having Cancer and that he would die really changed who he was, other than that he probably embraced it more. I will admit I wish I was more like Zach, so unafraid of living. I mean we all are terminal, we all will eventually die but even I get bogged down with life. We lose our will to fight and become zombies looking for our next feed.

I have been on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to God. I have doubted and questioned him/her/it… I have felt the grace of God as well, usually when I have met someone else. Many are taught to question God is unholy and not natural but I don’t believe that to be true. I think it is our duty to question anything that doesn’t seem right and outside of the message of love.

There is so much that I don’t know and I don’t begin to act like I know anything, especially when it comes to this universe. I don’t know why Tornadoes happen or why people are taken before their prime. Why do humans hurt children and why do they get Cancer? Is this world a test or a punishment. These are all things that I have thought about during my time on this planet.

The only thing I am confident about is love. This world can never have too much love and care. I see what the absence of it does. It causes war, murder and hate. Will you be the person who reaches down to help someone up or will be the type of person who just walks right by… or even worse keeps them from getting up.

As someone who has a big heart living in this world can really cut you up, if you aren’t careful. It is so easy to put a big wall around your heart and become jaded. I have been there and done that. I wasn’t getting hurt but I was just as miserable as before. I see the world and believe we are constantly at War. I look at the world and see so many wounded people, not wounded by guns or bombs but by hate, words and judgment.

Words can cause just as much damage as any gun, knife or bomb, especially if it’s constantly repeated to you. Just look at the various social media outlets, advertising and news organizations. Just look at the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch’s attitudes towards overweight people. Think of the damage that those words do to children that hear them. In a sense corporations are telling the world that if you don’t fit in that image, you have no worth. This is just one example and these kinds of things happen because we allow them to. It all trickles down and effects everybody, especially our children who are our future.

In the CEO’s message could love be found anywhere? Other than the love of the all mighty dollar and that is what it comes down to. The value of the dollar has been put above humanity. Just look at our health care system. Those that need help are often turned away or go broke in order to heal. Where is the love in that?

Then you have those who believe in various causes like global warming, abortion rights and many different worthy causes. They post their causes all over Facebook, they exercise their right to vote and might attend a rally but where are these people in the day to day living of life and those who are in need. My point is that so often people get behind a cause and it is the people affected by those causes who lose out.

Like for example when I tried to kill myself, sure there were people who got involved that day out of concern but where were they before and after? After I got out of the hospital I didn’t hear from many people, especially my family. I don’t say this to make anyone feel bad, I am just using this as an example. I am thankful that I am strong enough now to fight and am working on recovering but so many people don’t have that luxury… So many people are successful in killing themselves. People don’t get involved because either they don’t know how, they don’t want to upset you, they don’t have the time or they just don’t care. So many people fall through the cracks.

I guess I am angry… I have been very angry at God for a while now… and I guess in a sense angry with the humans of this world that sit by and do nothing!!! Wow, I guess this post and this idea has uncovered some hidden hurt I have been feeling. I know in the end it will be me that saves me but every one needs support and love… There are so many people who are like myself who have been kicked down and don’t feel they can get back up. They feel unworthy of any kind of love from God, the world and even themselves. They have lost their will to fight. The longer you are down in that horrible place, the harder it is to get back up… Many just give up and stay in that position or take their own lives.

In the end, I can see why people lose their faith and even become atheists. There was a time that I was close to atheism. While I am still figuring things out for myself and working on releasing my own inner spirituality, I know one thing is for sure. That I am going to continue to embrace love and reach out to those in need.

No Wonder So Many People are Turned off to God!!!

So the whole receipt situation has really got me pretty riled up. I am sure most of you have have seen the picture of the receipt floating around the internet where a Pastor from Atlanta wrote on her bill at Applebee’s, “I give God 10% why do you get 18?” She then crossed out the 18% tip calculated already on the bill. When the Pastor found out that the picture had gone viral on the internet she called Applebee’s to complain saying that her reputation had been ruined and wanted the server responsible fired.

The Pastor got her way and the server who took the picture was fired… After the news that the employee was fired the story went even more viral with many people threatening to boycott Applebee’s. I think many people are angry for a couple different reasons. One of them being the general lack of regards for those who work in the service industry. Many people don’t realize or don’t care that workers make considerably less than minimum wage. Then there is this idea that being a server is easy. If you have ever worked as a server you know how untrue this is. Being a server is tough. You are constantly on your feet moving a million miles a minute while often having to deal with difficult customers. Then there is the times you get stiffed on a tip or left very little.

Secondly people are upset over the whole using God to justify your bad behavior. How often do you see this? If you are gay and live in a religious family you see it fairly often. Look how the gay community is treated all because God says it to be so. Does God really say that behavior is acceptable? I mean where in the bible does it say that it is okay to pay someone less than they are worth.

Sure this is situation isn’t as extreme as some people who are religious but it is just another case where people put God in a very negative light. A friend of mine told me to try not to stereotype pastors because of this situation and my thought was it is hard to not do so when so many you encounter are just like this. I mean look at the Catholic church and how they treat homosexuality. Plus you still have the sexual abuse scandal. Even look at the Boy Scouts of America. I am sure their reasons for not allowing gay people into their organization is fueled by their religious views. They also have had their own sexual abuse cover up scandal.

So with all this information how can you expect people to come flocking to church when the message you send the world is the opposite of love and acceptance??? I mean come on now, no wonder so many people don’t believe in God. Even in Texas a legislator is trying to pass a law that makes ever Senior recite that they believe in God before they are allowed to graduate High School. When people are forced to believe something, many will run for the hills.

Personally I still struggle with my spirituality. I hear these kind of messages and I instantly cringe and pull away. For years I stopped believing in God. The idea of burning in hell for being gay (something I couldn’t change) was just too much to handle, so it was easier to come up with an alternative where there wasn’t a God. There was also a time where whenever I heard someone say God or Jesus I would start to have a panic attack. I know I am not alone.

Honestly it is rather sad and such a loss that so many people are told they are not worthy of our higher power’s love. That to me is the greatest abomination. These people who use God to spread their hatred, discrimination and disgust towards others are really doing a huge injustice to the world. They are so caught up in their own beliefs they don’t realize what they are doing. They feel the only way they will ever feel safe is if they convince the world of their beliefs. They are so lost, that they don’t see that they are the ones who need to be saved.

While I still struggle with my beliefs and my spirituality, these are some things I have come to realize. God is love. God doesn’t care what you call him/her. Yes, I don’t believe God is a gender, or at the very least God is both essences. Church is not required to get into heaven, nor is reading the bible. Church can be helpful for community and fellowship.  Even Atheists believe in love. Love is universal. God is not just some exterior force, it is deep within us… Everyone is worthy of that love. Being of God is being humble, living a life of love and service and not forcing your views down other peoples throats. It is how you treat people into this world that will have more of an impact than the amount of days you go to church, the number of prayers you say and the times you have read the bible. I am not say that it isn’t helpful for some, it’s just that it is not everyone’s way.

Living a life in fear, is no way to live in this world. Fear breeds hatred.

I do believe not everyone in the faith world is like this pastor and others but that is why we need others to stand up for what is right. That is why I created this blog to show others that their is another way, that you don’t have to accept what others have told you about God. For me the message behind God is love. Even when I thought I didn’t believe I still was spreading the message of love. That is the one thing that will unite us all. Personally I am not religious, I don’t go to church and I don’t read the bible. I am deeply spiritual. I am still learning to unearth my spirituality. I struggle daily, though not as much as before. When the these voices are loud and repeated enough it is very easy to get them into your head. They eventually will seep into your belief systems as well. So it takes a good amount of time to heal but I know that I am worth it.

You are too, we all are. So if you are like me and have been at the hand of someone religious spreading their hate please know that you are not alone. Discover what works for you. Take the time to build your spiritual foundation. As you start to sweep away other peoples cobwebs and dust, you will start to see your own spirit sparkle again. You were meant to shine brightly. If your life is filled with those religious types who spread fear and hate, look elsewhere for your guidance. Your world goes much farther than the confines they try to keep you in. There is a world out there with those you believe in love and acceptance, who aren’t controlled by the terms they use to label it.

If you see someone struggling with finding guidance, reach out to them as a fellow human being. Honestly you can do more good in the world by living your life as an example. My beliefs are if you truly are in the essence of God, anyone will be able to feel it. You don’t even have to bring God, religion or spirituality up. For me it is being a good person, spreading love and helping those around me. That to me was the message Jesus was trying to share with the world. Rather than learn from his example, many have turned his legacy into the opposite. They lost the true meaning and have become the people who crucified him on the cross. All because of indifference, fear and intolerance. When it comes down to it they killed him because of his beliefs and the love he had for God and mankind. Isn’t that the same thing many do to the gay community? Sure they don’t nail us up on the cross but they might as well with the harm their hatred causes.

The world could use a lot more love, care and light. Sadly many people don’t believe they are worthy of that. They have been scared away by damaging, fearful messages. I will say it again it doesn’t matter what you believe in when it comes to spirituality, god and religion, if you believe in love, kindness and taking care of others… we are all the same. Even if you don’t believe in God, you have a place in this world. Love is universal. Love is the key and the lock, and it is deep within us.

The Afterlife

In therapy today my Therapist asked me why I thought I was still holding onto this fear of there not being an afterlife. What purpose does it have and why do I hold onto it?

Initially I wasn’t quite sure and I honestly had never thought about it. Well I guess maybe I have indirectly.

As I was driving home from my session I wondered if it was connected to being gay? Is there apart of me that still believes I am going to hell? I guess a future of nothing is better than a future full of flames?

But when it comes to losing your Mother, it only just makes the grieving process that more painful because in both alternatives I will never get to see my mom.

A part of me still believes God is punishing me. I thought that about the sexual abuse. Why would God take my Mom from me after all we have endured? If I was so good, bad things wouldn’t happen to me and because they do it must mean I am not worthy…

My adult brain knows the truth but my child heart is still trapped in fear.

I have desperately wanted to be able to feel my Mom’s presence, as confirmation that she is still with me but often times I push away that idea. I have a dear friend who has been getting these messages but I haven’t been able to connect to them yet. I guess for me to admit they are from my Mom, is to accept that my Mom has died and I am just not ready to say that out loud!

There is also a apart of me that worries if there is an afterlife she won’t be my mother or won’t know who I am.

I have a lot to process and think about, and often times it all is all too much.

I feel like something is keeping me from my spirituality, and I am not sure what? It is very much like this recurrent dream I use to have as a child, where there was this powerful force keeping me from my Mom. I never could see what it was, just that it was there.

Is it that I feel I am unworthy of eternal happiness and love? Why would I believe in that? How could I believe in that? I know I am a good person. Why would God not love me and keep me from my family? Just because my Father and others said it so???

My therapist taught me a great coping skill. Whenever I have a thought come into my head like that or anything negative or hurtful, to say to myself “That may not be true.” It really helps.

I have to remember to use that. I think I need to have a bullhorn that says that.

Just repeat it over and over…

Until it sinks in…

My therapist also reminded me that I have the power and authority to rewrite my story. That I can be anyone I want to be. I don’t have to live the life that others saw me as…

I’ve believed it when they told me I was unworthy, ugly and weak. So I became that person who I am not. I lived their realities of who I am. I let others fill my blank canvas full of their darkness, fear and pain…

I believed their lies and they became my reality.

Well no longer will I accept that. I am tired of these horrible feelings.

So I will do whatever it takes to heal from this and move on.

Leaving my the shadow of who I once was behind…

The Stages of Grieving

I am sure most everyone has heard of some or all of the steps of grieving. The grieving process has been a very slow and painful process. Nothing in life can ever prepare you for losing a loved one. No amount of books can give you the strength to not feel the heart ache and sorrow that you endure from the loss.

For me, the first week after my Mom’s death was tolerable. I started to write easiest but it certainly wasn’t easy. Is was nothing but easy, though compared to the feels that surfaced afterwards it could be compared to such. The first week I was still in shock. There is so much involved with planning a funeral, that I didn’t really have time to grieve. Plus you are constantly surrounded by people.

After the funeral, you go from lots to do and being around a bunch of people to having it all come to a screeching halt. I knew it was going to happen and I dreaded it the most. It is this weird stage where people don’t know how to approach you. They don’t want to bring it up, in case it will upset you…

I did an internet search to look up the stages of grieving. I think the important thing to remember that their are no true rules of grieving. Here a few of the different stages I found.

  • Shock & Denial
  • Pain & Guilt
  • Anger & Bargaining
  • Depression- Isolation, Loneliness, etc
  • The Upward Turn, Reconstructions & Working Through
  • Acceptance

These are some things I have learned the last two months about grieving…

1. Everyone grieves differently. There will be times when you want to talk about it, then other times you don’t… It is important to realize that everyone feels things in their own ways. Just cause a person isn’t acting sad, it doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling it inside. Some people have a hard time showing their emotions.

2. One popular response from people in how to handle the death of a loved one is to keep busy… I wen’t through a stage where I didn’t want to keep busy. I didn’t care for anything. This kind of goes right with number one… Each person deals with death differently. Some people keep busy constantly, others spend their days in bed… The key is balance and length of time… Too much of both without letting any emotions out is probably unhealthy.

3. You aren’t going crazy. There are times that you will feel like you are. For the first month I would get these massive panic attacks, where I would almost faint. There were a few times I thought I would need to get locked up in a mental institution.

4. It is okay to be angry at the person and God. It also alright to express your anger constructively. Scream at the top of your lungs if you have to, in a quiet place I would suggest! 🙂 You also might feel guilt or even regret.

5. Just because you go through a stage it doesn’t mean that you won’t come back to it. I would have times that I come out of the shock to only go back to it a few days later. There is sometimes that you go through more than one stage at once. Like I said previously there are no set rules or timelines. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are going through.

6. Being in shock is very natural and can last for extended period of times. I for the first month constantly felt in shock. I couldn’t grasp the reality that my Mom had died. When I would start to grasp it, I would start to have a panic attack. While I am not longer in constant shock I still find myself thinking I can’t believe she is gone.

7. Depression is another natural response to a big loss. If you have dealt with depression in the past be aware of how you are feeling and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. I have dealt with depression all my life and when I started to hit a low point I made an appointment to see a therapist. I have been seeing my therapist ever since. If you don’t feel comfortable with therapy, reach out to someone.

8. When you feel numb you will want to feel something but when you feel something you want to be numb… It is a very vicious cycle.

9. You will always want for more time… I am constantly wishing I would have had just one more day… but if I would have had that extra day, I would want another and so on…

10. When you lose someone who is very close to you, it changes everything. Your outlook changes dramatically. I am learning to not sweat the small stuff. What you might have accepted previously, after a great loss like this changes that.

11. When you lose a parent, you lose your safety net.

12. The sand has started to creep from my life’s hourglass. Death has always been a big fear of mine. Losing my Mom was probably my biggest fear, close second was my own mortality. Now that she has passed I have started to think about my own life and how much time I have left…

13. When your Mom dies you realize that anything is possible and no body is safe. I use to think that nothing bad would come to our immediate family because we all were good people and had been through enough. It never dawned on me that my mother would be taken so soon. Even during her surgery her dying didn’t even cross my mind.

14. Children handle death of a loved one so much better than us adults. I was so worried about how my nieces and nephew would handle the news. They ended up being the ones to console us! They are amazing resilient. My four year old niece told me when I miss “Bih” (that is what they called her, they didn’t call her grandmother.) to close my eyes and she would be there. How amazing is that? A four year old comforting a grown man. What a blessing these three angels have been for us.

15. Listen to the signs. They are all around…

16. One thing I hear constantly from others who have lost someone is that it doesn’t get easier, it just gets different… Hearing this is both comforting and unsettling at the same time. I guess I can see how it doesn’t get easier… Losing someone that close to you, there is no possible way to patch up the hole left in your heart. You just learn to cope with it…

17. Allow yourself time. Let yourself feel whatever you feel. There is no right or wrong feelings.

18. I have started to accept the fact that my Mom has passed but it is a work in progress. It is still hard to believe that she died. I don’t even like saying that word.

19. Cleaning out my Mom’s apartment was very tough. It was too much of a reminder of the loss and I couldn’t finish. I felt very guilty for this.

20. The pain I felt and continue to feel over the death of my Mama, will never compare to anything else I feel in the future… Meaning that nothing will ever hurt me again, as in break me. I use to think I wouldn’t survive the passing of my Mom but so far I am still here…

21. I am slowly working on the upward turn part… The first month was rough, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through the intense darkness I felt. My depression had a hold of me by my throat and I was suffocating. The last few weeks I have started to see some glimpses of my old self. I have also started to venture out more. I have even had a few dates. I am starting to think about my future.

22. Grieving is a process. It takes time. Do it on your time, not what everyone else thinks you should.

23. I am growing to separate the physical from he spiritual. I got so caught up on the physical form of my Mother that it’s been hard to hold onto her without her physical presence. I am coming to realize that who she was, wasn’t attached to her body. It was just a vessel carrying her love, light and soul.

24. Do the things that others might think you are crazy for doing… Like write the person an email… A week ago I sent my Mom a facebook message. For me it has helped me cope with the loss of not being able to call her, or see her. I am also beginning to talk to her out loud. It has been hard talking to her without hearing a sound back but I am teaching myself to talk to her, without feeling silly…

25. You are not alone. There are so many wonderful people out there in this world. Sometimes it is up to you to reach out to them. The people in your life who love you might think you need space or are afraid to reach out to you in the fears of upsetting you. If you need to talk to someone don’t hesitate to reach out.

26. My Mom is still with me, just in a different way. I just have to get use to the difference. When someone leaves such an mark on your heart they never truly leave you. I am who I am today because of my Mother. She is in everything wonderful I do. Her spirit is all around me. I really need to remind myself of that. I still struggle with believing in what I am not able to see.  I wan’t concrete evidence but some of the most wonderful things are not able to be seen. Love is one of them.

 

Well I guess that is it… Every one I am sure will have their own list of what they have learned from the grieving process but I hope that what I have shared might help someone. Especially the crazy part… When I read that in a book, it was such a relief. lol

Remember that you can’t compare your pain to anyone else, it is your own feelings. There are no road maps to follow or guidelines to adhere to. Just because a person doesn’t show emotions, it doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling pain. Some just have different ways of expressing themselves. Each person goes through the stages differently and at different times. It is easy to try to compare yourself to others but that only leads to trouble because each person is different and you will just feel less if you aren’t where the other person is…

There is nothing in life that prepares you for losing your Mom. I just have to hold on to my memories and look deep within my heart to see her with me. One day we will all be together again.