My Winter Favorites

My Winter Favorites

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{ image via Donna on Unsplash }

It may be a little late to be talking about winter, but spring came very late this year. In fact, I’m fairly certain we’ve only had about two weeks of it. So, late or not, here are some of my favorite things from the months of winter…

Movies & TV //

The Greatest Showman – Oh my goodness. I cannot put my love for this movie into words. It is joy and magic and acceptance and love personified. The story, the cast, the music…everything is simply perfect. If you haven’t seen this yet, you are missing out. Big time.

Wonder – I pretty much never use this word, but this movie was a delight. Taking the message of accepting people’s differences and not judging them down to the level of middle schoolers was fantastic. This is one of the few instances when I believe the movie actually was better than the book.

The Resident – If there’s one thing that I obviously needed, it’s another drama to watch. (But, this is a medical drama, and usually I stick to crime, so there’s that!) This new show tells the story of senior resident Dr. Conrad Hawkins, who is assigned to train first-year resident Dr. Devon Pravesh. With the help of surgery resident Dr. Mina Okafor and nurse practitioner Nic Nevin, they basically become hospital vigilantes. Two of the most important physicians at the hospital, as well as the hospital CEO seem to be involved in some shady stuff, and being the awesome people they are, they just aren’t going to stand for it. This show actually takes on a lot of important issues ranging from immigration to medical insurance issues and shows the dark side of hospital administration.

This is Us – I have watched maybe five episodes of this show. I’m not kidding – that’s it. I started with the infamous Super Bowl episode, because everyone was talking about that thing that was going to happen and it was on TV so why not? Now this show is basically my life and I needed season three to start yesterday. Also, JACK PEARSON HOW DARE YOU?

Gilmore Girls – When I picked out a new show to binge-watch, I had no idea that I was picking a show that would become a way of life. I am a Gilmore Girl. I can identify if you are a Gilmore Girl. I am basically Rory, with a little bit of Lorelai and Paris mixed in. In case you couldn’t tell, this show has taken over my life…but I’m happy it has. (Also, just so we’re clear, I’m #TeamJess.)

Beauty //

Mario Badescu Rosewater Facial Spray – Okay, I kind of used to think these sprays were fake news. Like, what do they actually do for your face? While I have not noticed any benefits from all of the vitamins, etc. this supposedly contains, and while I don’t really notice a difference in the way my face looks when I use it without putting any makeup over it, it feels really nice. Mainly, I have come to love using this before doing my makeup. I honestly do feel like it works a bit like a primer and helps keep things from looking too dry.

Milani Make it Last Setting Spray – Setting sprays: another thing that we must question the function of. Do they really work? This one does. I truly do notice a difference in my makeup’s longevity. So, for that, I give it my approval.

Philosophy Fresh Winter Morning shower gel and lotion – I got this as a set at Ulta on Black Friday, and I absolutely love it. I had never previously considered what a winter morning smells like, but I think this is actually it. It’s crisp, it’s snowy, and it’s bright. (How awesome am I at describing scents?!)

Elizabeth & James Nirvana Black perfume – My sister gave this to me for Christmas, and it has become my confidence perfume. (Really. I wear this when I give speeches in my Public Speaking class.) The scent is a bit darker, making it good for the colder months, but I think it’ll work for any time of year. Also, it gives me flashbacks to my Mary Kate and Ashley fangirl days. (Elizabeth & James is their brand.)

Books //

Wonder by R.J. Palacio – As I said above, I liked the movie better. But, this book was still great. I enjoyed the multiple perspectives it was told through, and I found myself loving all of the characters. Plus, I think the book drives home the message of acceptance and love even better than the movie.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – I read this for the first time for school in fifth grade. I had never read anything remotely science fiction before (those were my Nancy Drew days), so I was hopelessly confused and eventually gave up on trying to understand what was happening at all. Re-reading it now when I’ve got a bit more experience with the genre under my belt, I adored it. The message, the symbolism – it was all so beautiful, and L’Engle’s writing style is nothing short of stunning.

Champion by Marie Lu – This is the conclusion to a dystopian trilogy, and I cried for three days over it. That is not an exaggeration. Dystopian books are, of course, about some sort of power struggle and battle, but this one packed so much emotion in with it. It was absolutely fantastic.

Quotes & Scriptures //

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand

“Your crown has been bought and paid for. Put it on your head and wear it.” – Maya Angelou

“I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” – Psalm 40:8

Songs //

The Greatest Showman soundtrack

“I Won’t Let Go” by Switchfoot & Lauren Daigle

“The Middle” by Zedd ft. Maren Morris

“Greatest Love Story” by LANCO

“Different” by Micah Tyler

“Woman, Amen” by Dierks Bentley

“Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken” by P!nk

“The Champion” by Carrie Underwood ft. Ludacris

“Broken Prayers” by Riley Clemmons

“Parallel Line” by Keith Urban

“Still the Same” by Sugarland

“Consequences” by Camila Cabello

“You Broke Up with Me” by Walker Hayes

“I Do” by Morgan Evans

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20 Facts for 20 Years

20 Facts for 20 Years

In honor of officially entering my twenties recently (what???), I thought I would share twenty random facts about myself with you all – one for each year. I hope you all enjoy getting to know my strange self better. 😉

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  1. My favorite celebrity couples are Tom Hanks & Rita Wilson and Ryan Reynolds & Blake Lively.
  2. My favorite Taylor Swift song from each album of hers (in chronological order) is “Stay Beautiful,” “White Horse,” “Mine,” “All Too Well,” “Out of the Woods,” and “New Years Day.”
  3. I am somewhat of a quote collector and have a ton of favorites, but one that I always remember is: “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand
  4. I’ve been interested in politics for several years now, but I’ve become very passionate about several social issues within the past year.
  5. My dream job is writing about politics for The Washington Post while doing some political commentary for NBC.
  6. Sometimes I get freaked out watching Gilmore Girls because I literally am Rory Gilmore, so it feels a little bit like I’m watching a TV show about my life.
  7. I read. Every genre (especially fantasy). All the time.
  8. My favorite colors are pink, gold, and mauve.
  9. I might have a slight make-up buying problem. And I strongly believe that you should do your make-up the way that you want and not let anyone else’s thoughts bother you! Wear the bold lip color! (At least that’s what I do.)
  10. My favorite scripture is Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
  11. I’d rather write five English essays than do one science lab.
  12. Ronald Reagan is one of my heroes, and is absolutely one of the reasons I have come to love politics and conservatism so much.
  13. I am so grateful that I have such a close relationship with both of my parents, especially my mom (#besties).
  14. I was pretty much born in the wrong era. I love old music (Frank Sinatra is my favorite) and movies. Audrey Hepburn is flawless and I will never not love Sabrina.
  15. I love true crime shows, especially Dateline. Not to brag, but one of their correspondents, Josh Mankiewicz, has replied to my tweets multiple times. And I would like for one of their other correspondents, Keith Morrison, to follow me around and narrate my life.
  16. I was diagnosed with my first chronic illness when I was three years old.
  17. My all-time favorite albums are Rivers in the Wasteland by Needtobreathe, Where I Find You by Kari Jobe, and Red by Taylor Swift.
  18. I love going to concerts. Some of my favorites that I’ve been to are Needtobreathe, Luke Bryan, and Ben Rector. My concert bucketlist includes Rachel Platten, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, and U2 (you gotta aim high).
  19. The first job that I was seriously interested in was being a defense attorney. I think it’s because I used to watch way too many Matlock episodes. I also thought that this would be a very dangerous job, because of those same Matlock episodes.
  20. Although I love politics, I truly believe that art can change more than legislation ever could. We look to music, film, and books for inspiration, not Washington.
My Chronic Illness Story

My Chronic Illness Story

I did not write this for pity. I don’t want anyone’s pity. The purpose of this post is two-fold. First, it explains why I’ve been MIA recently. Second, it explains things that I often briefly reference in other posts in full detail. I have written and re-written and struggled with this post, but it is important to me to share this story, my story, with you.

Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” My journey began when I was three. And, because it began with a swollen ankle, I suppose it did begin with one step.

Yes, it was at the tender age of three that the first of my chronic illnesses was discovered. It took seeing multiple doctors and undergoing multiple tests, but I was finally diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Since my initial diagnosis, the name has been changed to juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), “idiopathic” meaning that the cause is unknown. I was a toddler living with an illness commonly associated with the elderly. My ankles and knees would swell to huge sizes, feel painful and stiff, and sometimes require drainages and steroid injections. At the time, there was no pediatric rheumatologist anywhere near me, so my family had to travel nearly three hours, and later four hours, to see my physician. I don’t remember much from this time, and I’m glad.

During my childhood, I also dealt with asthma, though not on a very extreme scale. I did have some wheezing issues, and used an inhaler and a nebulizer, but I did not ever have severe attacks, nor was I ever really in danger of having one. It was more of a nuisance. A nuisance that got worse when the winter came and I got sick, which was fairly frequent considering the medication I took for my arthritis was immune-suppressing.

This might sound bad. It might make you frown and say, “Aw, poor Mary-Faith.” But to me it was not all that terrible. I was proud to tell my classmates that I was not afraid of needles because I got weekly shots and frequent blood tests. I went to school just like every other kid, and I was at the age and stage in school when if you missed a lot of time, you just made up your work and everybody missed you and got excited when you were back. It was normal for me, and it did not bother me. I was happy. I did not see myself as disabled or disadvantaged.

Then things changed.

It was the beginning of the sixth grade, the start of middle school; I was already freaked out enough. But just a few weeks into the school year, I noticed that I had hives. I had had hives before when I had gotten sick, so it didn’t seem like an incredibly big deal at first, all things considered. But then the hives got worse. I was covered (literally covered) head-to-toe. (I actually had hives in my scalp. They were so bad that I had to put anti-itch cream in my hair.) Not long after the hives appeared, I noticed a startling new symptom: violent stomach pain. It soon became clear that this was no run-of-the-mill stomach virus. My diet was reduced to only the blandest food options, and even those would cause me pain. We stayed in touch with my pediatrician, and it became clear to all of us that something was wrong with me. We just didn’t know what, or how to treat it. So I suffered through my enigmatic stomach pain for a bit longer.

All that itching and gut-wrenching (literally) pain came to a head one day. I do not remember much. I just remember that I had gotten to the point that I could not stay home by myself. I was sitting in the recliner, my father next to me. I was nauseated and cramping and itching and basically falling apart. Through contorting my body to try to find some comfort and trying to ignore the pain, I remember my father giving me a priesthood blessing. That, and the fact that he was voluntarily watching Say Yes to the Dress with me, is how I knew he was very, very worried. Sometime after my mother got home from work that day, I tried to eat a piece of toast with nothing on it. That piece of toast caused some of the most brutal pain I have ever experienced in my life. That was when we knew I needed to be admitted to the hospital.

Thankfully, my pediatrician was on call and was able to set everything up so I wouldn’t have to go through the emergency room (which was full of H1N1-infected patients at the time). At first, the group of residents treating me didn’t believe me. In fact, the head resident thought I was trying to get attention and tried to bribe me with Chick-Fil-A. But after much testing, it was discovered that I had helicobacter pylori (h. pylori), a bacterial infection of the stomach. My allergist said that I was only the third case she had seen with both h. pylori and hives simultaneously.

During my h. pylori stint, I had to stop many of my medications, including what I took for JIA. This led to joint swelling like I had never seen. It took multiple joint drainages and injections to get things back to normal. But “normal” was a relative term for what I was about to experience.

On the heels of my hospital stay, I got a bad viral respiratory infection. During this infection, I got one of the worst headaches of my life (that I thankfully have no memory of). My doctor assured me that it was a result of the infection, and it would subside. But the headaches kept coming, over and over again, to the point that I had to see a neurologist. My dear pediatric neurologist (who I swear is one of the best in his field and I absolutely adore) treated me for my new migraines. But he noticed something else. My heart rate was abnormal. It would spike upon standing by over thirty beats per minute. This is when he introduced the idea of dysautonomia to me. This is when my life changed.

The autonomic nervous system is a pretty important part of your body, in the sense that it controls many of your organs and all of the functions that you don’t have to think about, like breathing. But sometimes it doesn’t work right. Sometimes it causes your blood to not flow quickly enough to your head when you stand. In other words, sometimes it causes you to pass out.

I took this whole dysautonomia thing in stride. It wasn’t really a problem for me, at least in my mind. I was more focused on my chronic migraines – that is, until I almost lost consciousness when I was a high school freshman. Thankfully, I was at home. My father was able to half-carry me to a chair. That was when things became real to me. I had a problem (well, another one).

My official form of dysautonomia is called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS. It’s not a common disease, and rarely diagnosed properly. It is characterized by a heart rate that jumps more than thirty beats per minute upon standing. It causes shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and severe fatigue. It is treated in a multitude of ways, none of which are very effective. Today I am on two different medications for POTS. Without these two pills, I would probably be unable to remain upright for more than .02 seconds. I now also receive twice weekly IV infusions of sodium chloride, which I have found helpful. In addition to medical treatments, I also have to drink insane amounts of water to stay hydrated, as well as eat a high sodium diet to help with fluid retention. This is my life now. This is my normal. But it’s not normal. All of this keeps me from needing to go to the emergency room. But I still spend most of my time at home (or, more accurately, in bed), I still have low energy and high fatigue, I still have severe heat intolerance, and I still have chronic migraines.

Chronic illness has plagued my life since my early years, but nothing has compared to POTS. It is like a prison warden standing over me, watching my every move. It has taken away my life and given me a new one.

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{ Image via Pinterest }

Recently, my rheumatologist confirmed something I had suspected for some time now: I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). EDS is commonly seen in POTS patients. In my case, I have Type 3, which is the hypermobility type. This means that I am insanely flexible and can actually turn my arm three hundred sixty degrees. (Maybe I should go on America’s Got Talent with that.) My joints pop, and I feel strange twinges of pain that are different from what I feel from arthritis. I will be seeing a geneticist soon for further testing to ensure that my EDS is not more serious.

And in all of this I am grateful. I am grateful for the tender mercies of the Lord. I am grateful for the beautiful souls I have met on this journey. Above all, I am grateful that my Heavenly Father has allowed me to live with this long- (perhaps life-) lasting trial. I see Him teach me through it every day. I see Him lead me to greater compassion and understanding, for myself and for others. And I hear Him remind me of the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake:  for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

2017 Highlights & 2018 Goals

2017 Highlights & 2018 Goals

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{ Image from Tradlands }

I won’t say 2017 was a good year, because it wasn’t. In fact, I think it was a pretty bad year. I’m not going to miss it. And while I don’t think you necessarily need a new year for a new start, that’s how we act, isn’t it? We tend to reflect back on what we went through the last year, so here we go – my list of highlights of 2017…

  • My trip to Nashville. If it weren’t for my chronic illnesses, I never would have gone to Nashville at all. My real reason for going was to go to the dysautonomia clinic at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. (You can read about that here.) That was not the best experience in the world, and I ended up getting sick from some of the testing they did. But, after I got over this insanity, I was able to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, the Grand Ole Opry, and, of course, a couple of stores that we don’t have here in the middle of nowhere. (Shoutout to the ladies at Lush at the Green Hills Mall! They are the sweetest employees ever.)
  • I went to a Luke Bryan concert. My sisters were sweet enough to give me tickets to a concert I desperately wanted to go to for my birthday – Luke Bryan, Brett Eldredge, and Brett Young. I become a huge Brett Young fan, I cried over Brett Eldredge (I don’t have a problem…), and I screamed the lyrics to every Luke Bryan song (and maybe cried some more). Other than an acoustic jam sponsored by a local radio station, this was my first country concert, and it was beyond what I could have hoped for.
  • I was a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding. This year, my cousin got married, and I had the honor of being one of her bridesmaids. I also got to help throw her bridal shower, which was beyond fun. Being a part of her bride tribe is a memory I will hold onto forever. Also, if you missed our bridesmaids dance, I’m sorry you’ll never get to witness that beautiful moment in time. (JK, people are probably having nightmares about it still.)
  • I saw the solar eclipse. I live right in the path of totality, and I saw it all. I saw the sun covered. Then I saw it uncovered. It was all great. (Although maybe slightly less of a bigger deal than people made it out to be. Also I got bitten by approximately twelve [not exaggerating] mosquitoes.) Other than that, it was great.

And, now, a few favorites…

My Top 10 Most Played Songs of the Year:

  1. “Better Man” by Little Big Town
  2. “Legends” by Kelsea Ballerini
  3. “Broken Glass” by Rachel Platten
  4. “Every Little Thing” by Carly Pearce
  5. “I’ll Find You” by Lecrae ft. Tori Kelly
  6. “How Far I’ll Go” by Auli’i Cravalho
  7. “Can I Be Him” by James Arthur
  8. “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran
  9. “In Case You Didn’t Know” by Brett Young
  10. “Road Less Traveled” by Lauren Alaina

My Top 5 Favorite Albums of the Year:

  1. Unapologetically by Kelsea Ballerini
  2. Flicker by Niall Horan (clean version, y’all)
  3. Wonder by Hillsong United
  4. Waves by Rachel Platten
  5. Brett Eldredge by (you guessed it) Brett Eldredge

My Top 5 Favorite Movies of the Year:

  1. Wonder Woman
  2. The Greatest Showman
  3. Beauty & the Beast
  4. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
  5. Hidden Figures

My Top 5 Favorite Books of the Year:

  1. Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
  2. Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
  3. Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  4. These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
  5. A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

2018

{ Image from Pinterest }

And now, we’re in 2018. I can’t say that I have very many New Year’s resolutions; I’ve just never really gotten into that kind of thing. I forget them in two weeks and then feel guilty about it later. But, this year, I’m making more of an effort here. I picked a word for the year: Grace. Not just the kind of grace we receive from God, but the kind of grace we should give to ourselves. So I guess that’s one of my goals: to be a little bit easier on myself. To remember that I’m human, and God expects me to be worthy now, not perfect. And, I have a scripture picked out; it’s Doctrine and Covenants 82:10: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” So, English translation: When we do what the Lord says when we are obedient to His commands, he is bound to His promises. He will do what He has told us to do. But, if we don’t obey him, then he is not required to give us his promised blessings. So trust him in the waiting, and do what He says in the meantime. You’ll get your blessings in His time.

I don’t know what’s coming this year. It could be great. It could be horrible. But I’m here, and I’m ready for it.

17 Women Who Inspired Me in 2017

17 Women Who Inspired Me in 2017

2017 was the year of the woman. Ladies fought back. And they fought back hard. I’m proud to be a woman, and to have been inspired by these amazing, fierce women. It was so hard to narrow down this list, and there are so many others I wish I could have included. But, here, in no particular order, are seventeen women who inspired me this year…

{Note: This list is comprised of women that are in the spotlight and have some sphere of influence. There are certainly plenty of women I know personally who inspire me every day, but I felt that this would be a bit more relatable for us all.}

  1. Gal Gadot

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I think I’ve told everyone and their mother how much I love Wonder Woman by now. It was the movie I never knew I needed. But it was more than that. She is the hero I never knew I needed. And Gal Gadot really is Wonder Woman. So, I guess that makes her the hero I never knew I needed. This Israeli actress not only slayed her role (she filmed part of Justice League while pregnant), but she has continuously reiterated the fact that Wonder Woman’s strength is based in her warmth and compassion. I couldn’t agree more. Bonus fun fact: She also served in the Israeli military. Yeah, she’s the real deal.

“I think women are amazing for being able to show what they feel. I admire women who do. I think it’s a mistake when women cover their emotions to look tough. I say let’s own who we are and use it as a strength.”

  1. Rachel Platten

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I honestly don’t know why I find Rachel Platten so inspiring. I just do. You know how you feel like some musicians are just there for you? That’s how I feel about Rachel. Her first single, “Fight Song,” is kind of my everything, and her first album blew me away. With lyrics like “I’m gonna dance on broken glass, and I’m gonna make that ceiling crash” and “You’re on the ground and I’m climbing mountains,” it’s safe to say I feel the same way about her second album. Her connection to and interaction with her fans is incredible, and by partnering with organizations like I Am That Girl and the Girl Scouts of America, she’s just spreading the girl power.

“Won’t change for you or no one else making me feel I’m not enough when I am.”

  1. Susan Collins

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Senator Susan Collins is one of my favorite people on the Hill. Her conservative-yet-moderate stance aligns perfectly with my own political views, and she has fought against some of the worst bills that the Senate has tried to pass this year (*cough*healthcare*cough*). I admire her courage and strength. She is certainly no longer just the obscure, unknown senator from Maine. This year, she has been strong and courageous, and has refused to back down under pressure.

“What I find is with all due deference to…our male colleagues, that women’s styles tend to be more collaborative.”

  1. Victoria Arlen

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I had never heard of Victoria Arlen before watching her on the most recent season of Dancing with the Stars. Now a commentator for ESPN, Arlen previously competed in the Paralympics. This was after she was diagnosed with a rare disorder that rendered her immobile and unable to function on her own. After being confined to a wheelchair for years, she was able to learn how to walk again. Because of the severe health challenges she experienced, she is still unable to feel her legs. That didn’t stop her from making it to fourth place on DWTS. Hearing her story and watching her dances, particularly from “Most Memorable Year” night, in which she came to grips with her relationship with her wheelchair, I was so encouraged, and reminded that my chronic illnesses can’t stop me.

“Rock your disability.”

  1. Ashley Graham

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Ashley Graham is a model. She is also not a size two. This has not stopped her from rising to prominence in the modeling industry, and she has inspired girls everywhere in the process. Ashley is real. She looks like me, or that girl down the street, or maybe even you. The best part is that she has embraced her size and the way it sets her apart from other models, and is constantly working to spread positivity and empower other women.

“I refuse to let others dictate how I live my life and what my body should look like for their own comfort. And neither should you.”

  1. Dana Loesch

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Dana is a former anchor for Glenn Beck’s network, The Blaze. She is currently a Fox News contributor and hosts her own radio show. Because of her conservative beliefs, she has been threatened multiple times on social media. Things escalated so badly that she and her family actually had to move for their safety. Through it all, she has refused to back down or allow her critics to silence her. The strength she has shown through all of this has been amazing, and I have found plenty of courage through her own.

“I pledge allegiance to God and country, not God and party.”

  1. Lady Gaga

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Okay, I would not necessarily call Lady Gaga a good role model. However, I had to include her in this list for how she has spoken out about chronic illness this year. She has been open about her struggle with chronic pain, and has brought awareness to fibromyalgia, a condition that is often brushed off as being nothing and all in one’s head, despite the fact that I and millions of others can confirm it is very, very real. For that, I say hats off to Gaga.

“No matter how much success you have, no matter how many opportunities, fame, fortune, no matter how many accept you to your face, the person that really needs to accept you is you.”

  1. Al Fox Carraway

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If you don’t recognize Al’s name, perhaps you know her as the “Tattooed Mormon.” Al was living in New York when a pair of missionaries found her and began teaching her about the gospel. Despite severe opposition from her family, friends, and coworkers, she became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And she started blogging about it. Her blog basically exploded, making her a household name within the Church. I was so inspired by her book, More than the Tattooed Mormon, and her social media posts seem to always pop up right when I need them. Her blog was one of my biggest inspirations for starting my own. Al is considered by many to not be a “conventional” or “traditional” member of the Church because of her tattoos, and I like that. Because of my health, I have been unable to follow the same path as many other youth in the Church, but Al has shown me that being a little different is definitely okay.

“This exact second, God is mindful of you.”

  1. Emma Watson

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Truthfully, I think Emma Watson has always been Belle to me. Emma began her acting career portraying Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies. Although I have loved reading all of my life, Harry Potter changed everything for me, and so did Hermione. I truly feel that she was the first literary character I ever identified with, someone who taught me to be brave, but to be proud of my intelligence. That is where my love for Emma began. Since then, she has truly become one of my heroes, working as an ambassador for UN Women and speaking out for gender equality. This year, my dreams came true when my favorite fairytale, Beauty and the Beast, was released in a live-action version. Emma played Belle, but she was a new Belle, a defiant, intelligent Belle who earnestly sought more for herself. There’s nothing more that I could have asked for.

“Girls should never be afraid to be smart.”

  1. Selena Gomez

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I was first a Selena fan during her Disney days, but after those days were over, I kind of didn’t care anymore. But things started to change recently. Selena released better music, spoke out with the purpose of empowering young women, and shared her lupus diagnosis with the world. I was quite literally in awe of her courage; I don’t like to talk about my diagnoses with people I know. After having to cancel part of a tour, Selena got even more personal: she talked about the effect that physical health conditions have on your mental health. This year, all while releasing new songs, Selena found out her lupus had caused her to go into kidney failure. She was in desperate need of a transplant, but no one was a match – until her best friend, fellow actress, and roommate Francia Raisa was tested. She was a match, and agreed to the operation without hesitation. Selena has continually praised her friend for saving her life, and for being the real hero in this story.

“I would do anything to be able to have a good influence on this generation.”

  1. Nikki Haley

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I am so proud of our country’s first female president! (Just kidding…actually, no, I’m not.) After being one of the best governor’s South Carolina has ever had, Haley left the Palmetto State to become the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She has reminded the world of who the U.S. is and what we have done. Most recently, after a vote showing contempt against the United States for choosing to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, she gave a stirring speech condemning those who voted against us, threatening to revoke American funding of the UN, and assuring fellow member nations that we were indeed taking names. Ambassador Haley is the very definition of the term “girl boss.”

“There is no war on women. Women are doing well. But women are thoughtful. And what we in the Republican Party and across the country, Republican, Independents and Democrat women say is we’re more thoughtful than a label. We care about jobs and the economy and healthcare and education. We care about a lot of different things.”

  1. Lindsey Stirling

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Lindsey is a member of the LDS Church. She is also a world famous violinist, combining the sounds of EDM with an instrument meant for classical music. Her eclectic sound has taken her to the top of the charts and on world tours, but she has never lost her standards. She competed on the most recent season of Dancing with the Stars, coming in second with her pro partner Mark Ballas. During the show, she was careful to dress as modestly as possible and stay away from inappropriate dance moves. She was like a living example of being in the world, but not of the world. Watching her on the show was a true inspiration to me, as an LDS woman.

“Be kind to the people around you. You will never feel better about yourself as a result of demeaning, bullying, or dragging others down.”

  1. Manal al-Sharif

manal

I recently finished reading Manal’s book, Daring to Drive, and I have decided that she is an absolutely incredible person. Manal is Saudi Arabian. During her childhood, she suffered abuse from her parents and siblings, which is typical in Saudi households. However, her mother was insistent that she and her sister get a good education. So, Manal went to college and majored in computer science. She then got a job at Aramco, the largest Saudi oil company. Aramco employees live inside of the Aramco compound, where things are completely different from the rest of Saudi Arabia. She also spent time working for Aramco in the U.S., where she learned to drive and got a driver’s license. She began to question many Saudi beliefs, especially the ban on women driving. One day, a coworker informed her that a woman driving is not actually illegal, it just goes against tradition. Armed with this information, Manal helped plan an event for women to drive, spoke to the foreign press, and drove herself – and got arrested for it. She spent time in a women’s prison for doing something that was not actually illegal, and was not released until her father appealed to the king of Saudi Arabia in person. Now, women are “allowed” to drive in Saudi Arabia. But without pioneers like Manal, where would they be?

“The rain begins with a single drop.”

  1. Meghan McCain

meghan

Meghan is a political commentator who worked for Fox News before quitting and becoming the token conservative host on The View. She is also the daughter of Senator John McCain from Arizona, who was diagnosed with brain cancer this year. Her bravery in the face of this trial has been incredible. She has become an advocate for brain cancer patients everywhere. She has also fired back when anyone, including the President, has said anything negative about her father, a POW during the Vietnam War. And, of course, she has kept her sassy conservative-mixed-with-libertarian political views through it all.

“Pain is real, so is hope…stay strong for me and I will stay strong for you.”

  1. Jordan Lee Dooley

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Jordan is a Christian blogger who has gained quite the following on social media. But she has made one thing very clear: her life is messy, just like yours. She also coined the phrase “Your brokenness is welcome here,” which has created somewhat of a movement on social media. Jordan was one of the first Christian bloggers I followed, and has been one of my biggest inspirations for blogging. Her sweet, spirit-filled words always seem to hold the perfect reminders, and her growing popularity has not changed her one bit.

“The struggle may be real, but the struggle is also redeemable.”

  1. Josie Thompson Solomon

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Josie is LDS, and an activist. She started the 444 Project, which works to spread the gospel in other countries. She also suffers from bipolar disorder. I have followed her story for a while now, and I have been so inspired by her persistence despite the fact that she admits it can be hard to feel happiness at all. However, her bipolar diagnosis never fully explained all of the symptoms she was experiencing. This year, she was diagnosed with Lyme disease. As it had gone untreated for quite some time, it was bad, and she had to begin undergoing harsh, intense treatment that made her feel even worse. With the help of her husband and staff, the 444 Project has continued, and, of course, so has Josie.

“You don’t have to be healed to help.”

  1. The Women of the #MeToo Movement

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Whether you are famous (Rose McGowan leading the charge against Harvey Weinstein, or Taylor Swift countersuing a disgruntled deejay for $1) or not, whether you were harassed or assaulted, thank you. I cannot relate to your experiences, and I hope I never will, but I am endlessly inspired by you. There has always been an underlying tone of sexism and gender inequality in this country, but you have exposed that the problems go far deeper than men thinking they are better, or making offhand remarks to a woman about her inferiority. You are the heroes this year. Although there are men who tried to take it all from you, you have been the ones to emerge victorious. Thank you for speaking out. Thank you for enduring the doubters and the shamers. Thank you for being you.

“This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist. They’ve had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose. They’ve had it with the code of going along to get along. They’ve had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women.” – Stephanie Zacharek, Eliana Dokterman, and Haley Sweetland Edwards for Time Magazine

Bonus: My Mother & My Grandmother

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I know that I said that I wouldn’t put anyone on this list that I know personally, but I had to include these two very special women. I have always said that I come from a long line of strong women. Because of them, I have become the brave, independent woman I am today. Their compassion and strength have taught me more than any of these other women combined, and I am eternally grateful for them.

 

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My Summer Favorites

My Summer Favorites

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Ah, summer. Who doesn’t love the season of sun and warm temperatures? Now that we are about a month in to fall, I thought it would be a good time to finally write about my favorite things from the summer. Although, in my defense, I’m pretty sure Mother Nature got the memo that it was actually fall only about a week ago.

Movies & TV //

  • Wonder Woman – Do I even need to provide an explanation? I feel like I have been waiting for this movie my whole life. Diana (Wonder Woman) is an incredible role model who strikes the perfect balance of being strong, fierce, and independent, while still being compassionate, generous, and kind. A wonder woman, indeed.
  • The Shack – I had my doubts about this one. I just want to say up front that, despite what this movie’s creators and the author of the book it is based on might lead you to believe, much of this movie is not based in Biblical doctrine. That being said, I don’t know if I have ever been so inspired by a movie in my life. I laughed, I cried, and I came away with a greater sense of gratitude for God’s love.
  • Lion – Long version: Lion tells the true story of the life of Saroo Brierly. Saroo grew up in India, but, after being separated from his brother at a train station, he ends up riding a train that takes him hours away from his home. He is too young to identify where he is from, so he is eventually placed in foster care and adopted by an Australian couple. Later, when Saroo is in college, he begins to wonder about the family he lost. He uses the new (at the time) invention Google Earth to meticulously comb through India until he finds the small town where he grew up, leading to him being reunited with his long lost family. Short version: Prepare to sob.
  • Victoria – I absolutely love period dramas. And I also happen to love the Victorian era. And, ever since I watched The Young Victoria when I was barely old enough to understand anything beyond her being a pretty queen who got to wear fancy dresses, I have been fascinated by the story of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. This new series from Masterpiece (aka the people who brought me the love of my life, Downton Abbey) has captivated me so far, and I can’t wait for the second season.
  • America’s Got Talent – Watching AGT is my summer tradition, especially now that we have the perfect judging panel (Simon Cowell fan for life right here). I loved this season, and I feel like there truly were so many standout contestants, many of whom were sent home far too soon. But, thankfully, my top three, Preacher Lawson, Evie Clair, and Mandy Harvey, made it to the finale. Alas, the top prize ultimately went to the also very talented Darci Lynne.

Beauty //

  • Maybelline Super Stay Better Skin Foundation – If you’re like me, and you’re so pale that people should just start calling you Casper, then you need this foundation. I have the worst time finding a good foundation match for my skin tone; even the lightest shade in a particular range is often still just a bit too dark for me. But the lightest shade of this foundation is literally perfect for me. Bonus: The formula is also fantastic.
  • Catrice Liquid Camouflage Concealer – I picked this up at Ulta after hearing one of my favorite YouTubers, KathleenLights, rave about it. Since then, it’s become my favorite concealer. It has medium-to-full coverage, and never feels heavy or cakey (which is a beautiful thing).
  • L’oreal Lash Paradise Mascara – This. Mascara. Is. Amazing. I have tried almost every mascara at the drugstore, and this one is certainly a stand out. It gives a really nice voluminous look, without being too clumpy. It adds just enough oomph without being over-the-top.
  • Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk – When I bought this product (with a Target Cartwheel coupon, obviously), I thought I would probably use it as a detangler/leave-in-conditioner. But, as it turns out, this is actually an amazing styling product to use on slightly damp hair. I use the one specifically for curly hair, and it tames my kinks and frizz while still giving me the slightly messy look that I love.
  • Wet ‘n Wild Liquid Catsuit Lipstick – Okay, I have tried a lot of liquid lipsticks since they first became a thing, and let me tell you, nothing (not even high-end options) compare to this. And it’s only $4.99. It lasts through meals easily, and doesn’t start to fade for hours. My personal favorite shade is Rebel Rose.

Books //

  • Portraits of Courage by George W. Bush – Okay, confession: I love George W. I mean, how can you not? During his presidency, President Bush made his love and respect for our military known, and has continued his dedication to them since leaving office, hosting events in Texas for veterans to get together and find healing through sports. Coincidentally, President Bush has also taken up painting as a post-administration activity. This book combines these two passions, telling the stories of veterans he has met, most of whom suffer from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, along with pictures he painted of them. The stories are beyond inspiring, and President Bush’s love for the book’s subjects practically jumps off of the pages.
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – This was my first ever Agatha Christie book. I read it in preparation for the film adaptation coming out in this month. It took me a little while to get into the story, but once I did, I was hooked. I honestly could not predict who the murderer was, and I was completely caught off guard by the ending. Not only was the book great, but I think it will translate very well to film.
  • The Merchant’s Daughter by Melanie Dickerson – This is the third book in Dickerson’s Haggenheim fairytale retelling series with a Christian twist. I have read several books in this series (you don’t have to read them in order), but this is by far my favorite. Based on Beauty and the Beast, it was inspiring, but also featured plenty of conflict and action to move the story along.

Quotes & Scriptures //

  • “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” – Zephaniah 3:17
  • “You’re allowed to be broken and a total mess and love Jesus.” – Jordan Lee Dooley
  • “I am a woman. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a Mormon.”
  • “To the girl who reads by flashlight, who sees dragons in the clouds, who feels most alive in worlds that never were, who knows magic is real, who dreams…This is for you.” – Megan Spooner
  • “She’s the kind of queen that knows her crown isn’t on her head but in her soul.” – Adrian Michael
  • “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour….But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” – 1 Peter 5:6-8, 10

Songs //

  • “I’ll Find You” by Lecrae ft. Tori Kelly
  • “Yours” by Russell Dickerson
  • “Broken Things” by Matthew West
  • “God Bless This Mess” by Jillian Jacqueline
  • “Broken Glass” by Rachel Platten
  • “Glimpse” by Kim-Walker Smith
  • “Life Changes” by Thomas Rhett
  • “My Girl” by Dylan Scott
  • “Hills & Valleys” by Tauren Wells
  • “Even If” by MercyMe
  • “Legends” by Kelsea Ballerini
  • “The Long Way” by Brett Eldredge
  • “Can I Be Him” by James Arthur
  • “Look What You Made Me Do” by Taylor Swift

 

{ Photo by Pineapple Supply Co. on Unsplash }

I’m Not Ashamed

I’m Not Ashamed

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”

– Romans 1:16

Recently I watched a movie called I’m Not Ashamed. This is a faith-based film that tells the story of Rachel Joy Scott, one of the students that was killed in the Columbine High School shooting.

Rachel’s story is an interesting one. She was raised in a religious family, but turned away from this as she grew older. Once she reached high school, she was really struggling emotionally. It was during this time that she turned back to God and the faith she once had. In spite of this, she continued to attend parties where her friends drank alcohol and smoked, and started dating a boy who had no intention of being in a committed relationship.

One day, all of this came to a head, and Rachel realized how lost and broken she felt. She made a commitment to change the way she lived her life and truly follow God. She made this no secret, even basing a school project on her faith. She lost friends and her boyfriend, but she touched the lives of many. Compassion became her main focus. She truly was not worried about the opinions of others, only the opinion of God.

As Rachel’s life was changing in such a positive way, two boys from her school were headed in the exact opposite direction. Exasperated with bullies and the clique-ish atmosphere of their school, they turned to Nazism and Hitler’s ideas. They became indoctrinated with hate. And one day, they decided to take this hate out on their fellow students. They planted a bomb, but it did not go off, so they decided to use guns instead. Rachel and a friend were eating lunch outside the school, and they were the first to be shot. After shooting Rachel one of the boys asked her, “Where is your God now? Do you still believe in God?”

Rachel answered without doubt or hesitation. She knew she would die. And yet her response was, “You know I do.” One of the boys then fired the fatal shot.

This all probably sounds pretty gruesome. (And, of course, it was.) But what happens next is what is truly beautiful. Sometime after the shooting, Columbine students turned Rachel’s car, parked at the school, into a memorial. Students who barely knew her, friends who abandoned her, her former boyfriend, her brother, an autistic boy she befriended, and everyone in between left flowers and notes on and around the car. The notes told of what a difference she made in their lives. What an example she was. How missed she would be. How loved she was by those she showed unconditional love to. How she changed the world.

Rachel was talented in many forms of art. When she was a little girl, she even drew on her furniture. The very last scene of the movie shows her mother moving an old dresser of hers to pick up something that had fallen behind it. There, on the back of the piece of furniture, is a tracing of Rachel’s hand she made as a child. Written inside the hand is the simple but profound statement, “My name is Rachel Joy Scott, and one day these hands will touch many hearts.”

For the entirety of this movie, I was struck by Rachel and the way she chose to live. It caused me to examine my life. Yes, I’m a Christian. Yes, I love God and Jesus. But am I living my life for Them as fully as They want me to? Am I living a life filled with compassion? If I was ever in Rachel’s situation, would my response be more than just “yes?” Would it be “you know I do?”

Maybe. But maybe not.

“I am not ashamed, because You’ve given me life / I am not afraid, because You’ve opened up my eyes”

– “I’m Not Ashamed” by Abigail Duhon

As I said before, I am not living some terrible life. But I don’t know if I’m living Rachel’s life either. I don’t want to be half-way with my beliefs. I don’t want to talk about the gospel only when it feels comfortable. I don’t want to do things like pray and study the scriptures because they’re part of some checklist.

I don’t want to worry about what other people think. I don’t want likes and followers and numbers stop me from being 100% real. I don’t want the wickedness in this world to stop me from changing it.

I want to live like Rachel. I want to live unashamed.

You can’t touch lives and hearts when you are scared and holding back. You can’t change the world from inside of your comfort zone. I think “comfortable” is a bad word in the gospel. Living for Jesus and living like He did isn’t supposed to be comfortable.

We have to be okay with being uncomfortable. With talking to people when we don’t want to. With accepting ridicule from a tainted world. Because living unashamed is living for something greater than this world.

That’s how I want to live. What about you?

“I will sing about Your love / I will shout it to the sky / I will tell of what You’ve done / When the people ask me why I live my life this way I’ll say that I am unashamed of You”

– “Unashamed of You” by Chris August

“Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on his behalf.”

– 1 Peter 4:16

 

{ Featured Image by Olivia Snow on Unsplash }