Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Happy 10th Birthday, Ali!

Ali’s my special little guy. He’s been my sponsored brother since August 2013 but our journey didn’t start then. A month before that, I requested my first correspondent sponsored child and Compassion gave him to me. That was special because like Fadi, Ali is from Honduras. I began to write him letters and pray for him. Almost a month later, I received an email from Compassion telling me that Ali’s financial sponsor wasn’t able to support him anymore. They gave me the option of doing so but I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. Paying $76 a month and only relying on babysitting money sounded pretty impossible. But, thankfully, my God had other plans.

My family was in the States that summer visiting churches and raising the money to return overseas. I was making money by selling scarves that I had made. I sold them each for $20 and was able to make just enough money to sponsor Ali and to continue to support Fadi. God came through.

Even before Compassion told Ali the news about me becoming his sponsor, he had written me TWO letters (both came much later but I still find it pretty cool!). He’s a special little 10 year old. He’s smart, loves school, loves his mom and his dad (even though they are not currently together) and prays for me. I’ve seen evidence of the power of his prayers and mine because God has healed his sister and I am confident that He will also provide a job for his mom.

Meeting Ali this coming June will mean the world to me. I plan to tell Ali his story about how he came into my life. I’ll get to hold him in my arms as I pray for him and for his future and I’ll even get to shower him with gifts.

Please consider helping me fund my trip to Honduras because, once again, I am struggling to find the money. But even if all you are able to do is support me through prayer, I still will be very grateful!

                                            Happy 10th Birthday, Ali 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Joanna's Story

Well, here is my last post for this year's Desert Violet Bullying Prevention campaign. Honestly, I don't think a lot of people read the posts and I know that I'm not the greatest blogger (or writer) but I do hope and pray that some of you were able to take something out of the posts this month. Bullying is a huge deal and can cause a lot of damage in a young person's life. I just want all of you to know that. 

This post was written by friend Joanna. She's 19 years old and I've known her for as long as I can remember. I'm SO grateful that she was willing to open up and share her story on my blog. Please read it all and let me (and her) know in the comments how it affected you personally:

1. What was your experience with bullying like?

I’ve been bullied for as long as I can remember. But it was in my first year of Junior High that everything really came to a head. 

I had a “best friend” that was a year older than me and went to a different elementary school, so we were really excited when we were going to be in the same school for the first time in Junior High. But pretty quickly, she changed her mind. I had just gotten my first phone because I was riding the bus home and getting more involved in church, which was my safe haven. I didn’t give my number out to many people at all. Maybe four or five people besides my family had my number; two of which were probably from school, and one of them was my “best friend”. 

A few weeks into the school year, I started getting prank calls on my cell and I immediately knew what had happened. She had given my number to her new friends that had taken a liking to constantly harassing me. I denied it though and just ignored them. After a bit, I told my parents and they took care of it. I never gave it much thought after that and continued trying my best to be as nice as possible to my “friend” and tried to handle the more direct harassers on my own. This was mostly because if I ever brought it up to a teacher, the principle, or the student counselor, they’d all tell me the same thing, “Just ignore them,” and we all know how well THAT goes. I was on my own.

Now I should mention that my “best friend” is the daughter of my mom’s best friend. They’ve known each other since before we were born. I very much love my pseudo-aunt and respect her and her husband very much. But, on one particular day, not long before my birthday, my mother and I had gone over to their house for one reason or another. 

As it turns out, my mom’s friend wasn’t home, but her three kids were, including one other girl who was a daughter of a friend. As my mother called her friend, I talked to the kids, including my “friend” who was by now, my only friend at school. What they told me threw me over the edge. They had made a video about why they hated me. I can’t remember much, but I know that they had said to my mother that they had destroyed the tape. My mother wasn’t shocked and I can’t even remember if she was mad. I still don’t know if they ever were reprimanded for their actions.

After weeks of shock and anger, I finally accepted everything and cooled down a bit. I thought I had hit rock bottom as far as my experience with my harassing goes. Unfortunately, I was very VERY wrong. My family and I would never be prepared for what was about to happen. Mind you, every bit of what I’ve written here has happened within the course of a year.

One day, after the bell had rung and I had waited for everyone to pour out of the building like a swarm of lemmings to the buses, I picked up my bag and headed towards the locker commons. On my way, I saw a police man with a German Shepard walking through the halls. I thought it was the most beautiful dog I’d ever seen and it made me so happy to see such a dog after having a relatively good day. I was convinced that nothing could bring me down. 

As I walked outside, I saw a huge round metal object on a trolley that was to be towed behind a truck of some sort in the pickup turnabout of the school. It had a door that looked like a ship’s wheel and heavy welding lines that wrapped around it’s curved panels, holding it together. I asked a teacher what the alien object was, and she brushed it off.

 Later on, after I had gotten home with my mom, she told me that what I saw was a bomb safe and that I had been accused of attempting to plant a bomb in the school. I can’t remember exactly how she told me or how I reacted, as I’ve purposefully forgot a lot of details about what happened for the sake of my own sanity. But can you imagine? A little eleven year old girl being accused of attempting to bomb a school?! It seems like something out of a movie. That’s when the world fell out from under my feet.

There’s a quote from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian by the dwarf Trumpkin, “You get treated like a dumb animal long enough, that's what you become.” That quote sums up what happened next. I went mad. I thought to myself “Well, if they want a monster, a monster they’ll get,” and that’s when I went off my rocker. I would fight, and hide and do whatever I could to keep people away from me. I was convinced I was alone at school. Eventually though, my behavior caught up to me and I was put in an alternative school for “troubled youth” without so much as consulting my parents about the decision. Of course, I was harassed there too, but that’s another story.

2. How did it affect you?

It affected me on a very deep emotional, spiritual, and psychological level. I can honestly say that I lost a significant amount of my sanity at that time. I know that I lost my faith in humanity then, I’m honestly still terrified of people. I always will be. Also, I will never be able to feel safe taking walks in my neighborhood because of other incidences that I’ve had.

3. Did you ever tell your friends or your parents?

My parents obviously knew, and whoever was kind enough to be my friend at school for a week or so obviously knew. In the end, I never had friends at school, I had acquaintances. My friends at church knew a little, but I didn’t disclose everything that happened until high school.

4. Why do you think kids/teens get bullied?

The years of adolescence are weird years. No one knows who they are and we’re all going through huge physiological and psychological changes. Its confusing and scary. Some people don’t know how to handle this and take out their frustration on others. But that is only a small portion of it. maybe that contributes to 5% of why kids bully.

I personally believe that a majority of the reason why kids, teenagers, and some adults harass others is because they’ve been taught that they can do so with little to no consequence. Haven’t you noticed that some people just don’t get reprimanded for their bad behavior for whatever reason? This is something that we, as the human society, need to address and change. Lack of proper education of bullying also attributes to this. Yes, there is a lot of emphasis on teaching bully prevention and what not, but there is little to no follow-through or enforcement, which is a huge part of the learning process.

One other reason is the overuse of the word “bully”. It simply has little to no meaning anymore. Scientific studies have shown that the repetitive use of a word desensitizes us to the actual meaning of the word. Try it. Pick a word and say it out loud to yourself 20 times. It will end up just being a sound instead of a word. This is why I use the words “harassment” and “harassers” instead of “bullying” and “bullies”, these words hold more weight and, I feel, more correctly portray what is happening to the victim.

5. Has the experience made you stronger?

OH YES! The experience has made me much MUCH stronger. I am very proud of who I am now. My old principle commented how much I had changed within the year that I had been away at the alternative school. Even some of my peers were shocked by how much I had changed. They said I was like a totally different person.

6. Any advice for kids who are being bullied?



b.   Try your VERY VERY best not to retaliate because that only escalates the situation and you WILL get in trouble for your harassers actions. It’s stupid but it’s true.

c.   Instead of retaliating, take note of what was said or done. record every detail in your head for later on when you report the incident.

d.  Find a safe haven outside of your home where you are surrounded by people that care about you. Mine was church. I’m not saying that home isn’t a sufficient safe place, but it helps to have other people who care about you too. (Be wise in your decision for this one.)

e.   Find something you like. Keep yourself occupied! If you like to draw, buy a sketchbook and some nice pencils and pursue that. Be in a play, try an instrument, volunteer somewhere, babysit. When you occupy yourself with goals and dreams, the present just seems to melt away. It’s wonderful. (This can also lead to finding that safe haven I was talking about.)

f.   IT. WILL. GET. BETTER. I know you’ve probably heard this, like, 100 times already, but it’s true. Focusing on your future goals will help it get better faster too.

g.   Don’t be ashamed to cry. Let it out in a safe place or with someone who loves you. Crying is a natural human reaction to confusion, hurt, and stress. Don’t let anyone take your humanity away from you.

h.   Find coping mechanisms. This could be anything you find that helps you calm down.

i.     Don’t be afraid of your school’s counselor. They’re there to help. Give them a visit if you need someone to talk to, they’ll help you find coping mechanisms too.

Joanna's Playlist
(Each purple link will take you to a Youtube video of the song)

1. Let Go ~ Imogen Heap (Alternative)

2. Breathe Today ~ Flyleaf (Rock) Christian

3. Rock What You’ve Got ~ Superchick (Rock) Christian

4. Wrap Me in Your Arms  ~ Michael Gungor (Gospel) Christian

5. Unbreakable  ~ Fireflight (Rock) Christian

6. When She Cries ~ Britt Nicole (Pop) Christian

7. Who I am Hates Who I’ve Been ~ Reliant K (Rock) Christian

8. Let It All Out ~ Reliant K (Rock) Christian

9. Speeding Cars ~ Imogen Heap (Alternative)

10. Shake it Out ~ Florence and the Machine (Indie Pop)

11. Fighting for Nothing ~ Mega and Dia

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dear Person

It was not by accident that I found you. And in a way, you really found me. After all, it is you who chose to read this. I am writing to you because you're about to make probably one of the biggest mistakes of your life.

I don't know what lead you to this place whether it be a bully, a divorce/breakup, a death, a mean comment, a drug . . . But I do know that life has its ups and downs. It has its moments that may seem to hard to bear. And you 're living it right now. But this is not the end. Life doesn't have to end on a bad note. Remember when you used to talk about how you wanted your life to end? You were picturing it as a peaceful or exciting or emotional or fulfilling moment? Why have you chosen to give up on that now?

Don't think that I don't know what you're going through. Because I do. My life has DEFINITELY had its high and low moments. But I am still here and I have made it through. I believe that it is because of God. I don't know if you believe in him or not but he is the real reason that I am still here. I am living proof. I am living proof that life really does get better.

You are not alone. You were made with purpose. God made you with purpose and for a purpose. He is writing your story and he sees how it will truly end. We are humans - we have a limited view of our lives. We can look into the past, live in the present and simply dream about the future. In reality, we have no control. But God, who loves us (even you!) sees it all and is writing it all out. Please don't give up on what he is writing.

I know it seems hard right now. You're struggling. You're numb. You're defeated. Depressed. Lonely. But you are not alone. And you need to stop believing the lies. You really are special and important and purposeful and wonderful. Let THAT sink it.

Life is tough but giving up on it will get you nowhere. The peace, joy and happiness will only come through embracing your life and seeing that hope and love exists.

Sometimes you are blinded from it because you can only focus on the bad and awful right in front of you. But PLEASE don't give up.

Suicide is permanent and will not make it all better. Where is the proof of that? No one who has ever done it is around to tell you that. But the ones who are still here, especially those who have made it through the tough moments, can tell you that life is worth living. There is more to life than the pain that you are feeling right now.

Remember the moments when you smiled and laughed and cried tears of joy? Don't lose those moments. They are still there and there are still more to come.

I am praying for you because you are special to me. And I love you. I love you enough to write this message to you, cry tears for you and to lift you up to God.

You have not been forgotten.

So . . .

Don't give up.

Don't lose hope.

Don't end your life.

Because . . .

God is still near.

You are still loved.

There is a light at the end of this tunnel. 

Before you make a decision that will permanently affect you, think on what I've said for a week. And find someone to talk to. Get help. Rethink your life. PRAY! I mean, if the end result is still what you've been planning, then what have you got to lose by looking up for a bit? And if you ever need to talk to someone, there is always me. Send me an email or a tweet or a message. I will listen and I will pray for you. And I will respond.

There is hope.

Trust me.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

How To Save A Life

Step one, you say, "We need to talk."
He walks, you say, "Sit down. It's just a talk."
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
You begin to wonder why you came

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Let him know that you know best
'Cause after all you do know best
Try to slip past his defense
Without granting innocence

Lay down a list of what is wrong
The things you've told him all along
And pray to God he hears you
And I pray to God he hears you

And where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to safe a life

As he begins to raise his voice
You lower yours and grant him one last choice
Drive until you lose the road
Or break with the ones you've followed

He will do one of two things
He will admit to everything
Or he'll say he's just not the same
And you'll begin to wonder why you came

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all ight
Had I known how to save a life

How to save a life
How to save a life

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

How to save a life
How to save a life

How to Save a Life by The Fray

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

3 Things About 'Contest' That Caught My Attention

Last Saturday, I posted an interview with CONTEST director Anthony Giunta about his movie and how it has prevented bullying. Schools have been using the movie in their anti-bullying programs, students have changed their ways and now, I'd like to talk about why the movie has done such a great job at preventing bullying.

1. The "Ultimatum"  As said by the director himself, CONTEST shows how "a bullied teen chef must save his grandmother's failing business, only to discover that his one means of doing so, is to team up with the athlete who has bullied him all throughout high school." After a terrible incident involving Tommy (the bullied teen) being thrown into the pool by Matt (the bully who is also on the swim team), the principal asks the bully to befriend Tommy OR lose all of his extracurricular activities. This is a big deal because Matt needs to stick to his swimming if he wants to get into college:

“People look up to you. Stop all the bullying. . .If you become an anti-bullying role model within 30 days, I will restore all your extracurricular activities. . . for the next month, go out of your way to be kind to the kids who were bullied at this school.”

So he agrees and much to Tommy's horror, begins to defend Tommy and also help him win on a cooking show.

I think that if more schools gave bullies the choice – you know, either befriend the kid that you’re bullying or lose your extracurricular activities – the amount of bullying would decrease significantly. We need to treat the issue realizing that it is having  a profound impact on a person’s life. Bullying causes kids to commit suicide or even become a bully themselves. This issue affects kids emotionally, socially and even physically. It is not something that can just be dealt with lightly.

2. The Truth and Vulnerability  Bullies are still people too. CONTEST does an excellent job at showing the vulnerability of both Tommy and Matt. We can see Tommy's struggle as he tries to go through life on his own while also caring for his grandmother, their restaurant and the rent. His parents had died when he was little and in a way, he is still dealing with it. On the other side, Matt lives with his older brother who bullies and manipulates him for his own gain. When Matt and Tommy realize that they are more similar than different, their friendship starts to become genuine.

Believe me, I realize that not all bullies are bullied themselves or deal with tough things at home but something happened to make them the way that they are.

I am fortunate to know that God created all of us and loves us all equally. He does not favor the bullied kid over the bully. We need to see it the same way. We cannot fix the problem by ignoring the bully and his needs. You’ve heard it said before: the kids that need the most love are those that are the hardest to the love. It’s the same with the bullies.

One of the most powerful lines in the movie was delivered by Matt. He said:

“People expect you to be a certain way. They laugh if you are. They laugh at you if you’re not.”

Remember - Matt is the bully. Not only does he bully because his knows it first hand but he also does it because he would be picked on if he didn't.

Another truth statement in the movie is delivered by Tommy's grandmother:

“You have to stop acting like you’re on your own because you’re not.”

Sometimes, the bullied kids feel like no one really knows what they're going through. And sometimes they feel that everyone knows but no one cares. But they are not alone and they do matter. There is so much power when you realize that you do not have to go through life on your own. You do not have to deal with your problems on your own. There is always someone on this Earth and inside of us (God) that cares.

3. The Bystanders  While the bystanders don't really stand out in the movie, it is obviously that no one, not even the teachers, wants to act because they have a preconceived idea of what will happen if they stand up. The teachers are thinking that they won't be listened to. The students are afraid that the bullying will happen to them. 

As Mr. Giunta said in the interview, “The kids who have all the power are not the bullies, or the bullied ones… the kids who have all the power are the bystanders.” The bystanders are the ones that see it all happen and see both sides of the issue. And honestly, in this world, there are more bystanders than bullies and kids being bullied. So, when they stand together to help the bullied and stop the bully, it will be stopped.

Tommy's last words in the movie sum up this post perfectly as they did to the movie. Every person needs to realize this:

“I think that when you put aside your first impressions of people, take the time to get to know who they really are, you might end up being happily surprised with the new friends that you discover. They’re the keepers. You know, the ones that will always be on your team no matter what. It also helps to stay strong no matter what. Always remember the people in your life who care about you and move on from the ones who never will. Be cool with taking the help and the friendship of those keepers.”

So, what happens now? Well . . . here's your challenge from this week:
Find a copy of CONTEST and watch it for yourself. Let the movie challenge you to stand up to bullying and stand up for those are seriously suffering. It's the time to take your stand. Also, please share the movie and this post with others so that they can do their part too! 

If you know me personally, you can borrow the movie from me. I'd be more than happy to let you watch it! 

Click below to read last week's post for Bullying Prevention Month:
** All pictures and quotes belonging to the CONTEST movie

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Contest Movie Interview

It's been one year since the release of CONTEST and because the movie centers around bullying and how we can stand up to it, I decided to include a special interview this month.
The movie stars Kenton Duty (Disney Channel's Shake It Up), Danny Flaherty (Skins), Katherine McNamera (MTV's Happyland), Mary Beth Peil and Kyle Dean Massey. The film deals with bullying, prevention and is filled with twists! With this all-star cast, you have to expect an awesome movie! 
Anthony Giunta is director of CONTEST and he was kind enough to let me interview him about his first movie and its impact. Check it out!

1) Without giving too much away, what is CONTEST about?
Director Anthony Giunta
A bullied teen chef must save his Grandmother’s failing business, only to discover that his one means of doing so, is to team up with the athlete who has bullied him all throughout high school.
2) How did you come up with the idea for the movie?
I wanted to do something to help combat teen bullying, and I’m a huge fan of cooking reality TV shows, so I just put the two things together – and the rest of the story just flowed out.
3) What was your favorite scene to film?
The next-to-last scene in the movie, where everything comes to a head during the live broadcast of the cooking contest outside the TV studio; the entire cast was involved in that scene, so everyone was on set that day… it was so much fun to shoot!
4) How is CONTEST different from other films about bullying?
I approached the story on two levels, from the viewpoints of both the bullied teen and the teen bully – and showed the vulnerability of both guys, and the need for mindset/behavioral changes in both characters as well.
5) Which character do you relate to the most?
Earlier in my life, Tommy – today, I’m much closer to being in step with his Gran.
6) Were you ever bullied as a child?
Yes, from kindergarten all through senior year of high school – it was pretty bad then, but I’m happy if my experiences can help kids today.
7) What are some different ways that kids can stand up to bullies and prevent incidents from happening?
The kids who have all the power are not the bullies, or the bullied ones… the kids who have all the power are the bystanders.
The temptation for bystanders is to stand by and do nothing (hoping that the bullies won’t redirect their negative energies onto them); the best way forward however, is for the bystanders to become upstanders.
You can be an upstander by telling bullies to knock it off when they’re harassing someone, by taking the bullied kid under your wing and letting her/him hang out with you – and/or by letting adults know when bullying is taking place.
If an upstander takes a step forward to help nip bullying in the bud, then other bystanders will also morph into upstanders – and the bullies, having lost their “audience,” will be defeated.
A power dynamic shift must occur… and the real power belongs to the upstanders; once they claim it, there will be a new leadership force in town!
8) It’s been a year since CONTEST first aired on TV. How has it made an impact?
After from its run on Cartoon Network last October, the movie was distributed domestically, and is now beginning to get International distribution. Additionally, there will be another great announcement soon, regarding the educational arm of the film.
From the correspondence we’ve received from kids, parents, and teachers, seeing it has made a tremendous difference in a lot of people’s lives already… and those numbers grow every day.
The communiqu├ęs that took me happily by surprise, however, are the ones we’ve received from teens who tell us they recognized bullying behavior in themselves from watching the movie - and a result of seeing the film, they have stopped bullying others.
Life just doesn’t get better than that!
9) Since CONTEST, have you worked on any other projects?
Yes, I have a new play, entitled SKIN IN THE GAME, that played in the New York, Philadelphia
and Pittsburgh Fringe Festivals over these past few months, and was very well received by both audiences and critics – and I’ll soon be creating the screenplay version of the play for the feature-film of the story I plan to make.
I’ve also been asked to collaborate on a screenplay adaptation of Ross Schriftman’s novel, MY MILLION DOLLAR MOM, the film version of which I’m slated to direct in August 2015.
In the meantime, I’ll be directing a trilogy of short films I’ve written under the umbrella title of IN DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES that stars @ChrisRobertson who won rave reviews for playing the lead in my play this summer.
In the trilogy, the amazing Chris will portray four very different lead characters… the film will debut in 2015. Watch for it!

Click below to hear more about CONTEST and how it has prevented bullying:

Check the blog this coming Wednesday (the 15th of October) for a second special post about CONTEST and how it can challenge you to take your stand against bullying! 

Click below to read last week's post for Bullying Prevention Month:

** All pictures belonging to the CONTEST movie and Anthony Giunta

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Stand Up for Change

Here it is! My first official post for my Bully Prevention series.

A few of you may remember me doing this last year and have decided to do it again. It's very important to me to strive to be the best person that I can be and that includes treating others with respect.

In this world, bullies come in many different shapes and forms. You aren't only bullied in school. It can happen in college, at a job or even in your own family. While this might make it seem normal and something that every kid just has to deal with, it really is a big issue. No person should ever feel like they are unwanted or worthless. We really need to strive to better our world by making sure that we all feel safe wherever we are.

I've been bullied a little bit but it never really got to the point where I became depressed or scared to go to school. I was mostly bullied because of my race and skin color. But it still hurt and caused me to look at myself in a negative light. I thought that if someone else saw those things in me, maybe they were true. .

This month, I'm not really sure how these posts will help those of you who have been bullied. I am writing because I want to raise awareness and give a voice to those who are hurting. I also want to empower all of you to stand up for change. Bullying hurts and it can even take lives. And that's not ok.

Put yourself in another person shoes. How would you feel being ridiculed and laughed at for your gender, sexuality, skin color or religion? It's absolutely terrible. While we may have some issues with that person, it is NEVER ok to downplay their existence. You all have heard the golden rule. Now, obey it. If you wouldn't want to be bullied, don't bully someone else.

Bullying comes in many different forms. Someone could be teasing you in hurtful ways. Or beating you up. Or sending you hurtful messages online. Or turning your friends against you. But in any case, it attacks the person's heart.

As a Christian, I know that every life matters and everyone is important. Therefore, I have no right to make someone else feel less than what they are. So, here's this week's challenge for you:

Take the time to invest in the life of every person that you meet or talk to. Realize that God is using all of us and didn't create us to be cruel to one another. Need some ideas on what to do?

- the next time you see someone sitting alone during lunch or class, take the time to say hi to them
- give a compliment
- write them a note
- PRAY for them
- give a gift
- let someone know how much you appreciate them
- when you're angry at someone, instead of lashing out, turn an insult into a compliment. It'll shock them more than an insult would

No matter who you are and what you're going through, you are special, important and loved. Share those truths with someone else who may not realize that about themselves.

It is time for the individual to stand up and take a stand against bullying. So join me!

Take Your Stand

** Check the blog each week for a new post about Bullying. Check my Facebook Page for updates and some special postings!