Monday, February 6, 2017

Valentine's Day Giveaway (2017)



It's almost Valentine's Day, and last year around this time, I did something fun that I really enjoyed
doing as a blogger.

Just like last year, I want YOU to be my Valentine.

You might be wondering, "How can I be your Valentine??"  Fair question.

Because Valentine's Day is the 14th of February, I'm going to list 14 items that I love - and I'm going to giveaway an item to TWO of my readers.  (Maybe you??)

Here are the rules to enter the giveaway:

  • "Like" my Crystal Hodges page on Facebook.  (If you've already done this - thank you!  You can skip to rule #2 and #3.)
  • Write on my Facebook post that links to this blog entry, and tell me which item you'd like to receive.  (If you're torn between a few of the items - don't fret.  Just list the items you're interested in...If you're picked, I will surprise you with one of them!)
  • Share this blog post with your friends.

On February 10th, 2017 (at 5 pm California time),  I'll pick two people.  Once I pick the two people, I'll announce their names on my Facebook page and I will then private message those selected, requesting their address.

And in case you're wondering....Yes, I am including my international friends in this giveaway! :-)

This is one way of thanking you for playing such a huge part in my journey.  You've spent your time reading my blog, encouraging, and supporting me.  This is the least I can do to thank you for being one of my 'people'.

Okay...So, what are 14 of my favorite things from the last 12 months?
  1. Book: Finding Your Voice by Natalie Grant
  2. Flavored Pistachios (Pick a flavor: Chili Lemon, Guacamole, Jalapeño, or Chipotle  They're a California specialty!)
  3. Travel Coffee Mug: Camera Lens
  4. Movie: A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story 
  5. Game: Five Crowns Card Game
  6. Book: Nothing to Prove: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard by Jennie Allen
  7. Bicycle Pizza Cutter
  8. Children's Book: Adventures with Barefoot Critters by Teagan White
  9. Cookie Cutter: I Love You (ASL)
  10. CD: Love Remains by Hilary Scott & The Scott Family
  11. Book: Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst
  12. Movie: Pete's Dragon
  13. CD: Britt Nicole (Deluxe Edition) by Britt Nicole
  14. Coffee Mug: Oh, Snap! 

Thanks again for being such great friends and for reading my blog.  I'm thankful for you, and I can't wait to celebrate Valentine's Day with you.

The Travelin' Chick,
Crystal

Friday, February 3, 2017

When Your Dreams are Put on Pause



I know many of you have told me that you love the honesty and vulnerability that I share here on my blog and on my social media platforms.

And I have to tell you...The last couple of weeks have been hard.

For the last two weeks, my heart has felt as though it has been in a state of mourning.

You see...About a year ago, I wrote a book.  Specifically, I wrote a children's book.

I didn't plan writing this book.  In fact, I was driving home from a writer's conference when 98% of the book came alive in my mind.  Yet, this book quickly became a passion of mine.  It's a book that I dream will one day change the conversation in homes, schools, and churches about important topics.  It's a book I dream will help change our culture and how we see others around us.

Since June, I've been working with an agent to get it out to a variety of publishing houses.

My first three rejections didn't really phase me.  I easily brushed them off.

Receiving the first rejection, with pride I thought, "Oh hey - it's like I'm a real, official writer now!"  I even joked with my mom and told her, "Is it weird I kind of want to frame my first rejection?  Or turn it into a Christmas ornament or something?"

With every rejection, I thought, "Well, that's okay.  Jack Canfield, co-creator of Chicken for the Soup, was rejected 144 times for his idea."

...But then my dream publisher said, "no".  And then my heart shattered.

Okay...Actually, let's rewind.

All the publishers LOVE the book and the message within the pages. But what they don't love?  They don't love my social media numbers, they don't love my "platform" size.  Responding to my proposal, they have all had their own variations of things like, "We want to see Crystal go full-force into growing her numbers and followers.  Once she does that, she can come back and submit again."

So in all fairness, none of them have given me a complete "no".  They've all told me to "come back later", once my numbers on social media drastically increase.

I'm usually good at bouncing back from doses of discouragement.  I take a day or two to feel the emotions, process, and press on.

But this time?  The ache was bigger...So I took a mini-vacation by myself and headed to the coast for a weekend.  The night I arrived, I found myself standing alone the end of a cold,  empty, and dark pier, with tears streaming down my face; my heart crying to God.

Two weeks later, my heart still aches.  Two weeks later, and there are moments in my days where it takes all I have from not breaking down in tears, as unlike my home-state of California, my eyes are not in a drought. Not this month. This month, they have been flooding...And I don't like feeling this way.

It's hard when my social media numbers aren't high enough for traditional publishers, but my wallet's size isn't large enough to self-publish.

There have been moments where God has shown that my dreams, passions, and path are right on track.  He has taken moments of sharing the stage with Natalie Grant to being interviewed by K-LOVE to encourage me, to push me forward for whatever else He has in store for my future.  He has put people in my life to encourage me...Mentors, friends, and family.  I've even received messages and tweets from some of you, my readers, reminding me that my story and persistence is making a difference.

...And then there are book rejections thrown in to the mix - and rejection of any kind hurts.

I've been thrown into a hat of big names with millions of followers who are also trying to get published, and I've felt like I don't measure up...Like I'm not enough.

For nearly two weeks, I've felt like I've been mourning a dream.  I've wondered if I've misunderstood God's plan for my life.  I've wondered if I needed to let go of some of my dreams.

Tonight, however, I listened in to the IF : Gathering.  Every message spoken through the screen hit my heart in a special way, but Lysa TerKeurst's message spoke to my heart in all the ways.

Speaking on rejection and heart ache, she reminded us that need to keep our eyes on the Master...especially when things don't go according to plan. She reminded us that we need to keep our eyes on God, as He has a plan and, "He knows things we don't."

Lysa reminded us that God is telling us, "You're right.  I'm everything you need.  But I want to be everything you want."

Our desire, and better yet, my desire, for God must be stronger than my desire for my dreams to become a reality.

For the last few years I've been calling myself a God-sized dreamer.  And lately?  I've been reminded that it's not so much about the dreams, but about the journey with the dream-Giver.

Tonight I was reminded that I need to keep focused on God, through the moments of joy and beauty...But also during the times of heartaches and rejection.

Deep in my heart, I know my dreams are on track - rejection and all.  I'm on the right path that God has set in front of me.  Looking back on my story, it's so clear to me speaking and writing is exactly one of the many ways God wants to use me.   And my children's book? Knowing how 98% of the book was placed in my mind instantly...That was so God.

I've come to realize that I've not been mourning a dream.  I've been mourning and letting go of my idea of my sense and version of "perfect timing".  I've been letting go of the idea that things will happen when I want them to, in the order I pray for them.  I've been letting go of the plans I have for my life, exchanging them for His mysterious, beautiful, and even better plans.

There will be at time for my publishing dream.  Maybe that time is next week, next month, or even some time next year.  It's just not time today...And that's okay.

Until that day comes,  I patiently wait, while dreaming God-sized dreams, keeping my eyes on the Master.

The waiting can be hard...But God has a plan - and He is so much bigger than all the dreams combined...And the beautiful part?  I'm not waiting alone.  God is with me every step of the way.

I know what God has called me to do, and I know He is the one who put the dreams in my heart. I may be in a continued season of waiting, but realistically, everyone loves a good mystery - and I have no idea what God may be doing in this season that I just can't yet see.

I refuse to allow a dose of discouragement to stop me from continuing on in my journey.

I don't know where you're at in your journey - but your dreams matter. You matter...And no matter the size of your social media following and the size of your ever-changing platform, you are enough.

I don't care what others say, or how many people have told you that your dreams are impossible...That your dreams are silly and aren't worth it.

They're not silly. They're not impossible. They ARE worth it.

Dare to be fearless, creative, and persistent...And by golly, dare to be be the biggest dreamer in town.

You have your dreams for a reason. They are personalized just for you. Chase them. Be tenacious.

Remember it's not about the dreams, but about dream-Giver - and hold on tight to Him. Push on, enjoy the journey, and never give up.

...And don't forget to keep your eyes on the Master.

The Travelin' Chick,
Crystal


PS: I've kept my children's book on the down-low for several months, as I've been told that it's a "good marketing tool" to not say anything until a publisher signs on.  However, I also know there's even more strength in prayer - and I'm pretty sure prayer is a much stronger tool than any marketing tactic...and I'm also a firm believer in sharing our dreams with one another.  Besides, I've never been one to follow the trend or normal way of doing things...So why start now??  I'm constantly breaking societies standard molds...and yet, God continues to move in incredible ways on my journey.  ;-)



Follow me on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook.  You can also find me on Snapchat: crystal.hodges


Friday, January 6, 2017

Recognizing Beauty in the Brokenness: K-LOVE Radio Interview

It's no secret that I'm a big dreamer...A "God-sized dreamer".

One of my many God-sized dreams was to share my story with K-LOVE Radio...And today that dream became a God-sized reality.

When I first became a meme and went viral to over 30 million people - all because of my physical difference (a port wine stain birthmark - and Sturge-Weber Syndrome), I struggled; and I'm sure reading over 30,000 comments from total strangers probably didn't help much.

Pain overwhelmed my heart, and I had some incredibly dark days.  Many days I knew God would create something beautiful from the ugly situation I found myself in.  But there were days where I could only focus on the cracks that temporarily shattered my heart.

Although my heart has done a lot of healing, I still vividly remember the initial struggle.  I remember the pain, I remember how my journey took a drastic change two years ago.

Every time God takes one of my dreams and turns it into reality, I can't help but feel all the emotions...especially the sense of being overwhelmed with his love and purpose for my life.

The Japanese culture has a special tradition when certain things break...and while many may think this is a stretch - I feel God's response to our broken hearts is similar to their tradition.

When items break in Japan, "instead of tossing these pieces in the trash, some craftsmen practice the 500-year-old art of kintsugi, or 'golden joinery', which is a method of restoring a broken piece with a lacquer that is mixed with gold, silver, or platinum."

They do this to celebrate that items history, its story, its worth.  Even though it breaks, they still see it's value, adding even more value to the cracks with gold or silver - while most cultures have a tendency to just throw the broken things out.

But I feel God reacts in a similar way to our brokenness, if we stay willing and allow him to do so.  He recognizes the beauty in our brokenness, and He honors it. While our brokenness and cracks often make us feel worthless and damaged, he can fill in our gaps with a valuable, irreplaceable, beauty - like the Japanese do with the broken items and gold.  We feel like our value is gone, but God's saying, "just you wait and see."

Being cyberbullied and mocked for my appearance was shattering.  Yet, there's no way I could have ever imagined all that He had planned for the two years to follow: having a key group of friends surround me and lift me back up, sharing the stage with Natalie Grant, interviewing with K-LOVE, going on the TD Jakes Show (which aired on OWN: Oprah Winfery Network), being interviewed by People Magazine, amongst many other things?  Wow...What beauty.

If you're reading this and find yourself in dark times, fumbling around to find a light switch - know that I am praying for you.  I pray you'll hold on tight, and stay willing and ready for God to use you and your story - as He fills your cracks and brokenness with golds and silvers.

K-LOVE is one of my all-time favorite radio stations that I grew up with, and they're doing some incredible things around the world. I hope that I can work with them in the future, as more doors begin to open.  (And trust me - I think 2017 is going to be a BIG year with BIG, beautiful things to come.)

It's always been my goal to "make a difference with my difference" - and I'm so thankful for the opportunity to do so with K-LOVE.

Thank you, K-LOVE, for the opportunity, and for creating some beauty with my on-going story.

Check out the article they've written about my story.  Also included is one of my videos, a link to my blog, and my interview with them is listed at the bottom:

http://www.klove.com/news/2017/01/06/god-turns-cyberbullying-into-a-platform-for-true-beauty/

The Travelin' Chick,
Crystal Hodges

Follow me on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook.  You can also find me on Snapchat: crystal.hodges

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

12 Perks of Having a Purple Birthmark on Half of My Face (#BirthmarkWin)

It isn't always easy having a purple, port wine stain birthmark that covers my face.  People aren't always kind, there's lots of medical stuff involved, and I've had my fair share of struggles.

But y'all...There are also so many perks.



1. It makes my eyes POP.  Seriously.  The darker it is, the more amazingly blue my eyes look.  I'm so glad that God perfectly color-coordinated my eyes and birthmark together.

2. I'm unforgettable...Especially in moments like this one, which took place in February:

Walking to class today, I ran into my speech teacher I had a few years ago.

Greeting one another, I told her, "I don't know if you remember me, but I took your speech class a while ago...And now I'm actually a speaker."

Reminiscing with me, she said, "Yeah, I remember you! That was a couple of years ago, right?? You did GREAT in my class."

"Oh wow, I'm surprised you remember me." I replied.

Walking away I couldn't help but laugh while I thought to myself, "Duh she remembers me. After all, who could forget a face like mine?" (Birthmark joke. #sorrynotsorry)

When meeting someone for the very first time, instead of telling them how to ID me by my choice of clothing that day, I just tell them, "Oh, I'm the girl with the purple face."

My birthmark jokes even made it in my college year book,
during my time at Welch College.

3. I have more birthmark jokes than I can keep track of.  For example: I color coordinate what I wear to match my face.  If it dares to clash, it goes in the trash.  (Well, the mental one anyway.  I wouldn't be wasteful.)  But you'll see a handful of the jokes in this entry, if you haven't already.

4. Kids are the best, and definitely my favorite kind of people.   They are so genuine and are often trying to learn how to be curious in a kind way.  But while they learn how to do that, I'm often found with a great story and laugh to accompany it.

Below are some real questions and comments I have received from children. (Seriously.  You can't make this stuff up.)

Child (5-years-old): "So that's a birthmark??"
Me: "Yep!!"
Child: "And you've had it since you were a baby??"
Me: "Yep, I have."
Child:"Did you get it from a hamburger??"
Me: "A hamburger??

---

Student (5-years-old): "Why do you always have that birthmark on your face? Why don't you ever take it off?"
Me: "I always have it on. I can't take it off. I have it on when I shower, when I eat dinner, when I go to the store, work, school..."
Student (interrupting me and excitedly saying): "And when you see me!!"

...Then kid tried to reach up and touch my face.

---

Child (6-years-old): "You've STILL got that OLD birthmark?"

---

Student (5-years-old): "What happened to your face?"
Me: "It's just a birthmark. I was born with it, just like you were born with brown eyes."
Student (with wide-eyes): "Actually...I was born with REALLY CRAZZZZZZYYY HAIR!!!"

...And trust me.  There's wayyyyy more where those came from!


5. It helps me connect with many strangers in an unexpected way, helping me realize I'm not alone in my experiences.  From people in real-life and online, I've had opportunities to make new friends from around the world that are on similar journeys.

Just this summer I had an unexpected, beautiful moment with a waitress at a Nashville Cracker Barrel:

Sitting at a table, I started working on an article. Before I knew it, one of the waitresses walking by me stopped, exclaiming, "You have a birthmark on your cheek just like me!!"

Looking up, I saw a beautiful African American gal beaming with excitement. Sharing a bit of her story, she told me, "Middle school was especially hard for me, but you get through it. I used to know a caucasian girl with a matching birthmark, and we called ourselves 'salt and pepper' because we matched so perfectly. I'm so glad that I noticed your birthmark!"...And I'm glad she noticed it too.
The waitress and I are total strangers, yet we have similar stories which resulted in an instant bond.

I've learned that just because you don't see a birthmark on someone, it doesn't mean they don't understand your journey.  So many people choose to cover their birthmarks with makeup, or they are a father of a child with a birthmark.  Just because you can't see something, that doesn't mean the story isn't there.

6. After 25 years, I'm basically a birthmark, medical pro.  I may not have a medical degree, but I've quickly realized that I know wayyyyy more about vascular birthmarks and Sturge-Weber Syndrome (a rare condition that tags along with my port wine stain) than most doctors.  There's always more to learn and I don't know everything - but 99.999% of the time, I feel extra smart walking into a doctor's office.

7. My birthmark is the equivalent of a purple shield that often protects my heart.  It's almost like I got a steal of a deal: "Get one birthmark, get a kindness detector for FREE!!" (And this girl loves a good deal.)

Yes, I have a lot of painful memories and experiences around my birthmark.  However, I get to see the side of people that many don't get to see.  When people react to my birthmark, whether it's kind or unkind, I try to engage in a conversation with them.  Many of the people who are initially unkind are willing to learn about my condition and story, while also hopefully changing for the better.  But, some people aren't willing, refusing to go beyond what they see.  My birthmark has helped protect me from the get-go from cruel people focusing on superficial things.

8. I really like the color purple.  It's not my all-time favorite color of the rainbow, but I do like it a lot.  I'm so glad the color I walk around with every day on my face is a color I really like.  In a way, it's like a free accessory given to me at birth so I can rock it the rest of my life.

9. I have a natural contour line.  Well, at least for half of my face...Which is great, because I struggle in the make-up department.  (I also save tons of money on make-up when I don't cover it.)

I'm so glad Annie's books are out changing the
world, and I'm so glad to call her my friend.
10. It's never the same.  I mean, yes - it's always some kind of purple.  But because it's affected by the temperature, if I'm sick, and blood flow, sometimes it's a deep purple, sometimes it's lighter.  I always joke that it's like my personal mood ring, changing colors with how I feel.  Sometimes it has a dash of red, sometimes it's on the pinker side.  Meeting one of my favorite authors for the first time in-person, she told me, "This is my first time seeing your birthmark in person.  There are so many colors - it's beautiful."  I instantly knew she was my kind of people.  (Thanks, Annie.)

11. I've learned a lot, and I continue to learn important things.  I've learned about kindness, respect, and how to treat others - no matter what they look like, or don't look like.  I've learned about compassion, confidence, and realizing that there's so much more than what we see.  Everyone has a story.

12. Having a birthmark on my face isn't always easy, but I have the privilege of helping others learn important lessons in a unique way.  I'm literally a walking billboard for life lessons for thousands of people - while still learning many myself through these interaction.

---------

If you have a birthmark and have a #BirthmarkWin you'd like to share, write it in a comment below.  Tweet it out.  Instagram it.  I'd love to hear what you love about your birthmark.

The Travelin' Chick,
Crystal

Follow me on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook.  You can also find me on Snapchat: crystal.hodges

Saturday, December 10, 2016

8 Lessons my Grandma’s 3rd Battle with Breast Cancer has Taught Me about Love

***While she has a long road of recovery still ahead, my grandma is now doing much better.  (Radiation is even finished....Yay!) However, this is is a blog entry I started in October, and I decided to leave the voice of this entry in that timeframe.***


----------




“Your grandma is headed to the ER.  The doctor called and told her she needs emergency spine surgery”, my mom told me.

The next day my grandma had fast-growing masses removed from her spine and she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time.  In addition, a rod was surgically added to her back as the cancer cells had been eating her spine, and once the masses were out – she would need that extra support.  Once her surgery was complete, her doctors told us that because of the location of the masses, had she come in a day or two later, she would have been paralyzed. 

Since her surgery, she’s been in and out of the hospital three times, and radiation was been put on hold.

…And this all started a month ago.

Thinking about the last 31 days, I can’t help but think about my family’s current journey – both the moments of fear, and the beautiful moments.  As I think about the beauty in our situation, I can’t help but see and feel love.

Here are 8 lessons I’ve learning about love.  While I already knew many of these things listed, they’ve been highlighted again and again throughout the last few weeks.




1. Love is patient. There’s so much patience that comes with love, regardless if cancer and surgeries are involved.  Yet, when it is involved, love is taking one day at a time, one moment at a time.  It’s about rearranging furniture in the house so it’s easier for my grandma to get around.  It’s about creating a schedule for family members to rotate during the nights she was in the hospital.




2. Love is kind.  So much kindness has been shown to my family since this journey has begun. People have gone to visit my grandmother at the hospital, and at her home.  They’ve made meal after meal, and have even helped with some house duties when needed.  We've even received messages from people around the world, just to let us know they were praying for my grandma and our family.  Kindness hasn’t been shy, nor has it been timid.




3. Love is more than skin deep.  Recently I was talking with one of my friends about the topic of dating.  Talking about his new girlfriend, he told me that he didn’t even like the girl, but that she was the hottest girl he’s ever dated, “…And if I have to put up with a woman, she better be hot.”  Hearing him talk that way, my heart is troubled.  It’s cliché to say, but beauty is ever-changing, as are our bodies.  Love is loving your spouse when you meet them, and when weight is added after her child-rearing years. Love is loving your spouse when she ages, and permanent creases are added from laughter, to her once smooth skin.  Love is loving your spouse when cancer takes over and scars are added from life-saving surgeries, and permanent reminders of time spent in radiation are tattooed onto her skin.




4. Love is laughter.  In the midst of the struggle, there have been many moments of laughter in the mix.  My family members are naturals at finding the light in the darkness, laughter being one day.  During my grandmother’s 6-hour surgery, I may have offered to teach my 75-year-old grandpa to “whip” and “nay nay” in the waiting room…And he may have accepted the offer.  




5. Love is thinking of others.  The day after my grandma’s major spine surgery?  She was on a ton of medications, and was on a mission: to find me a husband.  The poor men that entered the room had no chance.  As they walked into her room, she would inquire, “My granddaughter, Crystal, was on the front page of the Fresno Bee yesterday.  Are you married??  She’s looking for a husband.”  (Teamwork makes the dream work?  Ha!)




6. Love is creative.  A few weeks after my grandma’s surgery, many of my family members left town.  She seemed to be in the clear and out of danger, and my grandparents insisted that we go on our previously scheduled trips.  One aunt went to a work event, the others of us headed to my grandpa’s family reunion in Florida.  Yet, halfway into our drive to Florida (from California), my mother received a call.  Grandma was put back into the hospital.  We hated to not be home while she was hospitalized, but they insisted we continue on.  It was important to them that we were at the reunion, when they couldn’t be.  And during the reunion?  The most precious thing took place.  All of my grandpa’s 8 siblings sat together, and brought them to the reunion via FaceTime.  Everyone was crying by the end of the call, but hospital or not – grandma and grandpa were going to be at the reunion.  (Mom and I also brought 36 pounds of frozen boiled peanuts home so they could also enjoy one of their favorite southern foods.)





7. Love is scary.  Loving another human being can be terrifying – regardless if they’re a family member or friend.  Loving them means you care about them, and when the hardships come?  When cancer diagnoses are made, and emergency surgeries are unexpectedly added to your calendar? It’s scary, and you can't imagine life without those special people in your life.




8. Love is worth it.  As scary as loving another human can be, it is so worth it.  Love means you’re never alone, that someone is there for you in both the good times and the bad.  Love means that you have others on your team, rooting for you through all the moments brought your way.  It means having a grandma who wants you to find a loving spouse when you’re single, because she wants you to experience the kind of love and joy she’s had for nearly 57 years of her life. It’s having people you can call or text at midnight when you are on the brink of tears, knowing they’re there for you regardless.  Loving other people creates memories, happiness, and an extra special adventure.  Love is scary…But it is so worth it, and life would be lonely without it.


The Travelin' Chick,
Crystal



Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Embrace You (Part Two): I Asked 50 Artists from Around the World to Draw Me





Hello, friend!  Welcome to my blog.

I know many of you saw the first Embrace You blog post, but just in case you need a refresher, or you're new here - let's take a moment to recap. :-)

Recap

In April, I was walking down the streets of New York City for the very first time, and I noticed several artists drawing tourists in the middle of the pathways in the city.  Watching them work on their newly commissioned art pieces, I couldn't help but wonder, "If I asked them to draw me, would they include my facial, port wine stain birthmark?  Would they ask if I want it included in the image?  Or would they make that decision without asking me?"

While I didn't act on that idea in that moment, a few weeks later I found myself contacting several artists with one goal in mind: To see how many people would naturally include my birthmark in an art piece, and to see how each artist interprets it.

As I started this journey, there were only two rules that I gave each artist:

1. Each piece must remain politically neutral.
2. My character must remain modest in her attire.

Why Call this Project, "Embrace You"?

Sometimes when we look in the mirror, we don't like what we see.  We're having a bad hair day, a new pimple randomly appeared on our face over night, we've been bullied, or we've just never been friends with our reflections.

While this blog entry rooted from an idea attached to my birthmark, I've had days where I've struggled to embrace my appearance because of "normal" reasons.  My hair never wants to cooperate, I've always struggled with my weight, and while my birthmark as a whole doesn't bother me - my face isn't symmetrical because of the extra blood flow...And that's all my personal, internal dialogue going on there.  I've also been turned into a meme because of my difference (which went viral to over 30 million people), been told I'm "contagious", and was once approached about being on the shows "Too Ugly for Love"/"The Undateables".

Trust me, I get it.  It's hard.  It can be a constant, uphill battle - both internally and externally.

Yet, in the last four months, I've worked with 50 artists, and no two artists have drawn me the exact same way.    We so often focus on the small details, rather than who we are as a whole.  So, while I'm focusing on my bad hair on a Tuesday morning, and no matter how we see ourselves in the mirror, odds are...That's not how the rest of the world sees us.  They see so much more.




After sharing the first Embrace You post, I realized that I forgot to share about the logos that were designed.  I have a total of four logos, all of which were created by a super talented artist in Italy.  I absolutely loved working with her, and thought she did great as she created a watercolored edition of my birthmark for this piece.  After emailing her some photos, she wrote back and told me, "...it almost looks like a beautiful watercolour in its self!  It's beautiful!"  Interestingly enough, since then, several of the artists have told me the same thing about the watercolor look that my birthmark holds.


Would they include my birthmark, or not?

You may remember that for some of the artists, I didn't specific for them to include my birthmark.  In fact, I sent them a variety of photos - two where the birthmark is totally obvious, one where it's mild due to makeup, and two where it's totally hidden.  Every time I began to work with a new artist, I let them know, "I can't wait to see what you come up with - and please let me know if you have any questions."  In the end, very few asked.  Most assumed or made that decision without conversation.  Here are some of those images...


This is one of the pieces I received where the artist didn't ask about my birthmark, but he did made that side of my face slightly redder.  When I asked about it, the artist (from the United States) told me, "As for the side of your face I made redder in tone I really had no special reason for doing it other than the reference photo that you sent (the one that I worked from) had a bit redder tone on that side. Sometimes different lighting situations can effect the colors on photos I guess. I just read it as being a little more redder in tone based on the photo I used for reference."  

How adorable is this??  Originally my birthmark was left off the image, but this artist from Indonesia was quick to add it when I made the request. :-)
Just like the art piece above, this artist from India originally left my birthmark off as well, but quickly added my port wine stain to the character he created.  And hey - now I know what I would look like as an anime cowgirl.

YeeHaw, y'all, YeeHaw.

If you saw the original Embrace You blog post, you may recall an image that was created by Sarah Erb, where she drew me with Natalie Grant and Charolette Gambill.  When we first connected online, I just asked her to draw me without mentioning my birthmark.  Quickly she wrote back and asked me if I wanted my birthmark included, and I told her I did.  I loved this piece so much, that's when I asked her to create the piece with Natalie and Charolette.  


Celebration

Here are some of the pieces I received when I asked artists to intentionally celebrate my birthmark and/or a part of my story...



While I shared a photograph on the first blog entry that my dear friend, Rick Guidotti, took - this is another favorite picture that he took.  (And I have to say, this photo really makes me miss my purple highlights.)  Rick is an award-winning, former fashion photographer.  He once spent his days photographing famous models, such as Cindy Crawford, but now he travels the world photographing people with different medical conditions.  He runs an organization called Positive Exposure - and I highly recommend you check out his website to learn more about all the incredible things he's doing.

Oh. My. Word.
Nothing makes me feel as fierce as this piece, which was created by Naia Jozame, from Colombia.  When I asked what inspired the piece of art she created for me, she told me, "All women have a particular beauty, the beauty that you project is unique and very beautiful."  


I love how this artist from the United States  showed me doing one of my favorite things, speaking and encouraging others.  (In this piece, I'm wearing one of my favorite necklaces from Natalie Grant's line.  The necklace says, "Worth More Than Diamonds" - which is always a beautiful reminder of my worth.  I'm also wearing a bracelet from one of my favorite organizations fighting against human trafficking, 3Strands Global.)
Guyyyssssss...If this isn't me, I don't know what is.  Traveling is one of my all-time favorite things to do, and I'm always on the lookout for the next trip. (Speaking of, I think my passport needs to be dusted off sometime soon!)  I think Lenore, from the United States, did a great job capturing me in my element.

I almost feel like I'm in a modern-day person in a fairytale land in this image.  It almost gives me an Enchanted movie vibe, but reversed.  (This was created by an artist in Turkey.)

There are some pieces that I've received that have left me speechless, and this is one of them.  Although I never heard back from her to know what encouraged the artist, Karina (from Chicago), to portray my birthmark as a bird, she did encourage me, "I admire you so much for being so positive with life with your birthmark; never let other people to put you down. Always remember you're beautiful in every way."

If a Peanuts character had a birthmark...And oh my word, I LOVE it.
(An artist in the United States created this piece.)

This image and the one below it are probably the two closest to being alike.  The artist, Angelica (from Denmark), explained, "What inspired me was how your birthmark seemed to be filled with different 'emotions'. The purple/blue/pink color in it is really pretty and it's like it has a story. The butterflies symbolizes grace, vulnerability and beauty, and I just felt like they fitted with what I felt from looking at you. You have really beautiful eyes! So the 'stronger' blue emphasizes that."  Wowzers.  Such depth to her interpretation.

Caitlin Harris, from Canada, created this piece.  I like that she included my birthmark on my lip, as my lip is affected in coloring and size by the port wine stain.
Because of the spotty affect this one holds, it slightly reminds me of what the birthmark looks like a few days after treatment (although after a treatment, my birthmark is typically much darker in tone).
This was created by Arti, from India.



Who doesn't want to be a minion?  This was created by Ashleigh, from Malaysia. 


This piece was created by an artist in India. It's a great piece, and I found it interesting that my birthmark was created more as an orange than pink/purple. 


Y'all.  I'm Princess Leia...And look at the tiny Yoda teaching me the ways of the Force.
Working with  Enrique Fierro from Chili, I remember him asking me what color lightsaber I wanted, so I gave him a typical Crystal reply, "What if the color of it matched my birthmark?"...And voila!  Pink lightsaber I hold, I do.

An artist in Pakistan created this piece of art.

Mirjana from Macedonia created this painting using acrylic.

This piece was created by Eryz, from Indonesia, who often creates comic-style art.  While I gave her complete freedom to create my image how she wanted, I did request the speech bubble to say, "Making a difference with my difference".



Van Gia Hao, from Vietnam, created this image.  Asking him about his art piece, he told me, "My inspiration came from the photo your friend, who is also a photographer, took for you. I wanted to create an image of a strong, confident, and beautiful young woman, whose smile can bring comfort and inspires others around her."  I also asked about his experiences from drawing other people, "I haven't drawn a lot of people who are very confident in themselves, most would ask me to change part of them they don't like, I think they are just being too conscious of their image that they forgot to relax and enjoy life."

Asking Hao if he had anything he wanted to share with you, the reader, he wrote, "To the readers: Be happy with yourself, be nice to other people, never stop learning new things."





My friend Cindy Ellison, here in the United States, created this one.
(Her dad, Brian, is the friend who actually created a 3 minute video about my story.)
This image was created by an artist in India.  

"Scooby Dooby Doo, Where are you"
(This was created by an artist in Pakistan.)

Pink Zero, from Pakistan, drew me as a rockstar. Curious as to why she chose a rockstar (because the irony is not lost on me with my lack of musical talent), she told me, "What inspired me to draw you the way I did was your confidence and the wholeheartedness with which you have accepted every aspect of your personality. To me you seemed like a celebrity in yourself and to be honest I felt there is a cool and fun side of yourself so I depicted that in your portrait!!"  


If you look closely at the butterfly sitting on my finger, you'll notice that the wings aren't the same color.  The creativity of this concept was amazing.  I asked Mikucchi from Indonesia what made her come up with this concept, and she told me, "I don't know about the butterfly. I just thought a quote, 'just because you're different, doesn't mean you're not beautiful!' really suits well with the butterflies!"  Interestingly enough, one of my aunts recently got a tattoo with butterflies - one with two different colored wings, a symbol of me as her niece and of my journey.

Yes, that's me.  As a cat...with a birthmark.  I mean, how fun is this one?  Interestingly enough, I had a bruise near my collar bone in one of the pictures I sent this artist (from Ukraine), and I almost asked them to remove the bruise affect from the cat.  However, because my birthmark is considered a vascular malformation, my iron levels and platelets are affected, and excessive bruising is a common symptom I experience.  Since my birthmark and blood levels are connected, I decided to leave the image as is.

This piece was created by Diana Nemesu, an artist in Romania.  When asked what inspired the piece she created, she wrote to me, "Well I love animals and I figured you loved them too. You are a beautiful person, not only on the outside but on the inside too and I figured I'd draw you as an animal saver, a person who walks on a cold day just to save an abandoned baby animal."  And she's right - I do love animals.  (My dream as an 8-year-old was to open an animal shelter.  I created a business plan for it and everything...Or at least, a business plan by an 8-year-old's standards.)


Okay...Soooo...This is what an avatar would look like with a birthmark.  Wowzers, right?
For those wondering, the gal standing next to me is singer Jamie Grace.  She was in one of the images I sent the artists, as an example to the different colors and shades my birthmark may have.  Out of all the artists, they were the only one who included her in their art.
(This was created by Anindya Kharisma in Indonesia.)

This image was created by an artist in the Netherlands.

An artist in Singapore sent this one to me.  And like the cat image above, he also included the bruise, which I also considered asking him to remove - but didn't.

My friend Denise and I coordinate a women's event together every year, and this graphic was created for this year's event that took place in September.  (Our theme was "Connect 4".)  But this is SO us...I mean, really...Is it any surprise that we're really undercover superheroes - with a Jamba Juice and diet Dr. Pepper in hand? (While I do my best to credit all the artists, this artist's website was down when I went to access it for this entry.  I will be checking again soon, so I can update that information when possible.)

Do you guys remember the TED talk art piece from the first blog entry?  That same artist, Minette Wasserman from South Africa, took the time to draw me as a bunny.  She went above and beyond with the first piece of art, and this one was such a sweet surprise.

My sweet friend, Rachel Donahue (from the United States), sent me this image and the one below it as well.  

This is one of the first drawings I received.  My friend, Rachel Donahue (mentioned above), drew this for me...and I think it's amazing.  She's right - I am so much more than a (port wine) "stain" birthmark, and I am so thankful for the friends in my life who remind me of that on both the good, and the bad days.  (Speaking of...one of my friends, Denise Nicholes, also once wrote a song about my journey with my birthmark called, "Beyond the Stain".)

Making a post on Fiverr, I asked if there were any artists who would be willing to create a Barbie with a birthmark.  This artist from Venezuela replied, and created this design based off the newer Barbies.

The artist who created the Barbie also created this piece, which was super sweet of her to do.  (She also sent me another copy of this character, but with glasses on as well.)

This one is hard to not love, right??  (The artist who created this piece is from Indonesia.)

So. Much. Cuteness.
(This was created by an artist in Malaysia.)

Last but not least, my good friend, David Jones (from the USA), sent me a card a few weeks ago, and this was in it.  You have to save the best for last, right? ;-)

Embrace You Challenge

So many of us struggle to embrace who we are, as we are...And that goes for both our external appearances, to our internal talents and passions.

Growing up, I saw the beauty in specific talents, talents of which I do not hold.  Nearly everyone on my mom's side of the family is musically inclined, yet I can't even keep beat.  As I grew up with one of my cousins, just 6 months apart, he was always mastering a new instrument.  The saxophone, piano, guitar, jaw harp, flute - you name it, he could play it...Yet, I couldn't even manage a tambourine, let alone any larger instrument.

I was always naturally drawn to writing, photography, and other interests.  Yet, until recent years, I didn't see the value in my natural, God-given gifts.  Instead, for years, I guilted myself for not fitting the mold that so many in my family fit into.

...But when I finally started to fully embrace my talents and passions? That's when I was finally able to dare to dream God-sized dreams, and dare to change the world.  My interests in photography and writing?  They're just as important as the talented musicians around me...And I am so thankful for friends in my life who helped encourage and helped me excel in those talents.  I'm thankful for the friends who believed in me before I ever fully believed in myself.

Today I'd like to encourage you to take time to encourage someone around you.

Did someone rock their part in a school play?  Send them a Tweet, and tell them so!  Is there someone in your life that makes you laugh, and you're thankful for the constant joy they bring to your life?  Send them a text message, or a snap on Snapchat.  Do you know someone who struggles with their confidence, and self-esteem?  Send them an old-school, snail mail card, letting them know how beautiful they are - on the inside and out.  And if you have people who are constantly believing in you and encouraging you, send them a note and thank them for the impact they've had in your life.

Encourage someone to embrace who they are, as they are.  And if you see a talent in someone that they don't see within themselves, let them know!  Everyone could use a bit of encouragement in their day.

Be that person who believes in someone, even when they don't quite yet believe in themselves.

The Travelin' Chick,
Crystal


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