Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Even when She doesn't Like Donuts

This picture is from last year, December of 2013, taken
after my ankle surgery.  This is a knee caddy.
(If you saw my recently blog entry, Casts: Just Another Canvas Full of Potential, you know that I've recently reinjured my right ankle.  For the last few weeks I have had limited mobility as I hop along with my new, blue, beautifully decorated accessory on my leg - a cast.)

"Crystal, come with me to my room so we can play!!", Rayna exclaimed cheerfully on Christmas day.   Gliding down the hallways of her house on my fancy, better-than-crutches, knee caddy with my blue cast resting upon the leather seat, I followed my excited 4-year-old little cousin who was ready to play with her newly opened Christmas toys.

Once arriving to her princess/Mickey Mouse themed room she instantly sat on the floor and started to play with her new Lincoln Logs.  I stood there casually, on my one good leg watching her, as I talked with another family member in the room.  And then I ate it.

Before I realized what was happening, my still-bent right knee with my casted leg abruptly hit the (thankfully) carpeted ground.  Confused as to how I could fall while standing perfectly still (I mean, I know I'm accident prone...but even that was a weird one for me!), I looked at my knee caddy and instantly knew there was no way I'd be getting back on it.  There was no way, as the seat was tilted and broken off the base of the scooter.

For the rest of Christmas day, I went back and forth from the living room to Rayna's room by the use of my crutches...All while Rayna continuously asked me throughout our time together, "Crystal, why do you have so many owies?"

She even imitates my passion for
taking silly face pictures.
Today, nearly one week after Christmas, my grandmother sent me a video of my 4-year-old cousin pretending to walk on crutches.  With the help of a child's upside-down broom stick and the support of my grandfather, she dangled her right leg in the air - keeping it from touching the ground.  (I've included the video at the end of the entry, after receiving her mother's permission to post it.)

Replying to my grandmother's text, I asked her what inspired the moment of the video.  She told me, "I think it's 'who' and not what.  Maybe you??"

It was a humorous video to watch, and I had a good laugh...but it was also a good reminder of how observant children are and that they are constantly trying to imitate the actions of those that they look up to.

Rayna is in a BIG Crystal phase right now.  She's always asking when she can see me again and telling all her friends that she loves family dinners because, "I get to see Crystal!" During Christmas dinner she even made a lengthy toast filled with her thankful heart, ending it with, "...I'm just so thankful for this great big universe, but most of all I am thankful forrrrrr CRRRYYYSSTAAALLLL!!"

A few weeks ago my my mother and I went to see Rayna and her parents - Krispy Kreme donuts in hand.  (Which are a valuable delicacy for my city since we don't have a Kripsy Kreme locally.)  Ignoring the donuts, Rayna pulled me towards her parents bed and had me read her one of her favorite books.  At some point I told her, "Hey - there are donuts in the living room...Do you want a donut?  I love donuts.  They are one of my favorite treats."

As we sat to eat our donuts, once back in the living room, Rayna exclaimed, "I just LOVE donuts!"  Her mom, my aunt Felicia, looked at me and said, "Um...What?  No she doesn't.  She doesn't like donuts - she never has.  I think your little cousin is trying to impress you."

I think it's safe to say that she's currently my biggest fan.  Or, at least, one of them.  And she's watching me.  She's eagerly and dilligently listening to my words and to the things I say. She's trying to figure out how to be like me, trying to impress me when she copies my actions and says the things that I say - even when she doesn't like donuts.

As a new year begins I know that many people are reflecting from their year in 2014.  They are setting their New Year's Resolutions. People are striving to find new ways to live a better life in the coming days - and that's great!

As we get ready for our new year by reflecting how we spent the last 12 months and as we plan how to spend the next year, let's not forget the influence we have on others.

Maybe you don't have a 4-year-old cousin watching your every move who begs you to read the classics of The Poky Little Puppy every time you go to her house.  But
maybe you have a 12-year-old nephew, an 18-year-old granddaughter, little sister/brother, or you hold a leadership position in a church or school.

In the middle of our reflection and attempts to have a better new year let's ask ourselves,  "Am I living the kind of life I want my ______ (cousin, child, sibling...insert name here.) to imitate??  Am I choosing actions that I want them to choose?  Am I living a life I want them to live?"...Because their little eyes are watching, their ears are listening, their minds are memorizing, and their actions are copying.  They're ready to tell you that they love donuts, even when they never have...just to impress you.

The children in your life, whether they be your own or not, are looking up to you for guidance.  Even if you don't think you are - you are a role model.  You are someone else's inspiration.  You represent what someone wants to become.

The Travelin' Chick,

Friday, December 26, 2014

Casts: Just Another Canvas Full of Potential

Earlier in the year I posted a blog entry, Ankle Surgery...Fun??, which was filled with pictures of my beautifully decorated post-surgery casts.  I figure that it is always important to create some fun in not-so-fun situations, right??  

Well, in November I re-hurt my ankle and am in a cast once again.  Lame, I know.

In my family, however, a cast is now just another form of an empty canvas!  And with it being the Christmas season, my sister (Amanda Howard) had fun decorating another cast!

Just like with my last casts, I let my 4-year-old cousin pick the color.
This year Rayna picked the color blue!

My sister and I knew we wanted to do something Christmas
themed.  So, my sister started by measuring my cast (while I was
sleeping.  Haha.) and she made a wreath!  How cute is this?

I should have planned my pedicure accordingly.
Next time, next time...

...And the painting and decorating began!

The snowman is on the back of my cast.
...Do you want to paint a snowman????

It wouldn't be a Christmas cast without the tree!

To help me get around better I have another knee caddy, which was a huge
hit with the children at the school where I work...especially when my
mother (Rhonda Hodges) helped me by decorating a basket with battery operated lights
and Christmas ornaments! 

In addition, I also have a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
to help "guide my sleight"!!  ;-)

I think it's safe to say that my mother, sister, and I make a great, festive team!

The Travelin' and Temporarily injured Chick,

2014 Flashbacks

It's time for another year to come to an end.  As I sit back and reflect on the many memories and moments I was able to experience throughout 2014, I realize what a crazy and adventourous ride it has been.

In 2014 I...

  • Spent half the year on crutches.
  • Met Lady Antebellum!!
  • Finally expressed my interest in becoming a speaker and started a new career - which was a buried 7-year-old dream. 
  • Was accepted to attend the University for the Deaf and hard of hearing (Gallaudet) for summer classes.
  • Had to decline my acceptance to Gallaudet due to emergency gallbladder surgery.  (Seriously, I sound so accident prone this year.)
  • Received a college scholarship for my academic achievements. 
  • Took a writing class on how to write memoirs.
  • Started going to coffee shops just to read and write.
  • Moved up in my job from being a noon time assistant (AKA: yard duty teacher) to a substitute teacher's aid.
  • Spent over 3 months subbing long term at one school, working with Deaf and Hard of Hearing students.
  • Successfully completed 33 college units.
  • Spoke to several classrooms at a local elementary school, hopefully breaking stereotypes before they were built.
  • Held a sensitivity training in a local hospital.
  • Joined a hospital Patient Family Advisory Council, and was asked to join a second one that will start in 2015.
  • Was turned into a super hero AND had a theme song written for/about me!
  • Started writing a book...or two.
  • Spent time with one of my Operation Mobilization London friends - in person - for the first time since 2012!
  • Saw Wicked, the musical, for my fourth time. 
  • Had a murder mystery super hero birthday party!
  • Celebrated the birth of my baby cousin, Erica!
  • Spent a LOT of fun times with my 4-year-old cousin Rayna!  (And became her favorite person.)
  • Made sugar cookies for the first time (ASL style).
  • Bought more books than I have time to read.
  • Was upgraded to first class and economy plus for free.
  • Tried cotton candy grapes.  (Yes, that's a real thing.)
  • Had my photo unintentionally go viral (to over 30 million strangers).
  • Had my story written about in the local newspaper, The Fresno Bee.
  • Enjoyed having sleepovers with my little sister, BreAnna!  As well as tackling our summer bucket lists together.
  • Received more encouragement from friends and strangers that I am SO thankful for.  They'll never know how much their support and encouragement meant to me throughout the year.
  • Did a lot of house sitting and babysitting.
  • Went on an Alaskan cruise that caught on fire!!  (Yet, it was the best cruise I've ever been on.)
  • Went to Seattle and Portland.
  • Spent time with my girls at Sugar Pine Christian Camp during the summer as a week-long counselor.
  • Tried a reindeer sandwich.  (Oh, wait...Did I write that out too close to Christmas time?)
  • Attended the Free Will Baptist National Convention.
  • Spent time with dear friends.
  • Had four laser treatments.
  • Spoke at a women's retreat (not as the main speaker, but for a 20 minute seminar/testimony time).
  • Wrote articles for Randall House Publications (will be published in early 2015) and for the Treasure Magazine (published in the fall of 2014). 
  • Made a ton of new friends!
  • Laughed a LOT.
  • Met Jack Canfield and was encouraged by him when I had the chance to talk with him about my life goals.
  • Chased my dreams.
  • Learned, matured, and grew a lot.
  • Became stronger - and an overcomer.
  • Made a gazillion God-sized dreams AND accomplished some of them too!!
  • Went to Nashville and created this 3-minute beauty with Brian Ellison and Melissa Cowart:

This year had a LOT of great moments.  Many were planned for, dreamt of, and totally unexpected.  (Many of which were really, really unexpected.)  I am SO excited to see what 2015 has in store for me and my family.  I don't know what's going to happen in the new year, but I do know that I am going to keep dreaming big - and I'm going to keep pursing my dreams.  Who knows what doors God may open??

Happy New Year, my dear friends!  Thanks for spending a part of it with me.

The Travelin' Chick,

Friday, November 28, 2014

Beyond Thankful

While I know most people are posting what they're most thankful for on Facebook, last year I enjoyed writing my list here on my blog - including photos to go with my list.  I think I'm going to make it a personal tradition to blog a summarized list every year.

So...What am I thankful for this year??  

The ability to travel.  Everyone knows I can't sit still for long.  This year I travelled to: Alaska, Seattle, Portland, Canada, and Nashville.  It was my first year in a long time to not hop on a plane to go overseas, but that's okay.  I really enjoyed exploring all the sites and these locations had to offer - and had a GREAT time while visiting each of them!

My job.  I love my job, and many people can't say that.  I'm thankful that I was able to move up from being a noontime assistant ("yard duty teacher") to a substitute teacher's aid.  But even in being a substitute teacher's aid, I've been placed at a school long-term...and I love it there.  The staff are incredible, the teacher's are kind, and I have the chance to use my language skill set with American Sign Language.  Every week I'm there, the more personal and language growth I see in my life.  (How does this picture of a post-it note relate to my job?  My job has loads of funny moments.  Loads and loads!!...Including this one, which I wrote on a post-it note for the teacher I was working with at the time.)

My beautiful mother!  This is one lady I'll never stop being thankful for.  Ever.  

She goes to work, takes care of my dad, is my sounding board, coordinates a women's retreat, constantly cracks the corniest of jokes, and she even makes me dinner on nights she knows I'm out late because of school.  She balances a lot, and I'm thankful for the Godly example she has been in my life.  I'm thankful that she's not just my mom, but my friend.

Donuts.  I'm thankful for donuts.  Many of you may not know this, but donuts are my weakness.  While in Portland this summer, I spent over 30 minutes in line waiting for one of the city's hot spots for the sweet pastries...and it was worth it!  For years I have been telling my mom on my birthday, "Please don't get me a cake...I would like some donuts instead."  It may seem silly, but I really am thankful for one of my all-time favorite snacks!

My little sister, BreAnna.  She's the best little sister a girl could ask for.  She keeps me laughing ALL of the time, and I enjoy all of our conversations.   We have the best sleepovers and enjoyed tackling our summer bucket lists together this year. BreAnna has brought more encouragement to my life than I can even explain, and I only hope that I can encourage her as much as she has encouraged me. 

My 4-year-old cousin, Rayna.  This kid keeps me laughing every time I see her.  Last night at dinner she kept telling me that she and I are best friends, and how she just couldn't wait to come to my house for Thanksgiving Day.  This morning when she woke up, apparently she told her daddy that today was a "Crystal day" - so she couldn't play with him.  She could only play with me.  When she arrived, she instantly requested that I sit next to her for lunch, where we had the following conversation:

"Crystal, I love family dinners!" - Rayna
"Yeah?? Me too! Why do you love family dinners?" - Me
"Because I get to see YOU!! And I LOVE spending time with you." - Rayna

My new baby cousin, Erica!!  Rayna is now a big sister!...Isn't she cute??  I'm thankful for every chance I get to have to hold her...Especially since the line to do so is always so long! (Ha!) She's adorable, and quite possibly the squeakiest baby I have ever met.  Who wouldn't be thankful for a chance to snuggle with such an adorable baby??  (Side note: I'm also incredibly thankful for the aunt that gave me these two snuggly and playful cousins to adore!)

The support I've experienced since finding out about my Facebook fiasco of my photo going viral.  Wow.  Talk about a powerful amount of encouragement!!  I know I've not blogged much since my initial entry about the situation, but I promise to write more soon about everything.  I can't deny it - the last few months have been a crazy roller coaster ride, and one that isn't quite finished yet...But WOW.  When I made my first post on Facebook about what happened - and then blogged about it - the support has been off the charts.  During a really hard day, I recently had a friend/mentor tell me something along the lines of, "Look at all the support you have!!  As I watch your blog and Facebook page, you've had more support with this one issue alone than I've ever had in my many years of ministry."  And it's true.  I've had a LOT of support, and I cannot give enough thanks for this as this crazy, unexpected journey unfolds.

Not only am I thankful for the support I've received, I'm also thankful for all the encouragement.  (Although, I do realize that these practically go hand in hand.)  Since the Facebook Fiasco started, I've received message after message from friends and strangers alike.  I heard from many of my 1,550 Facebook friends, plus others I've never met from around the world.  I have heard from people with the same type of birthmark that I have, from people who have a child who has what I have, and from people who didn't know what a Port Wine Stain was until they clicked on my blog, or read the article the Fresno Bee wrote on my story. 

The encouraging messages I have received have been such a blessing, and an unexpected surprise.  While I knew some people would message me, I didn't expect such a high number of emailed support.  Like I mentioned above, this has been a roller coaster ride I need to write about again later, but without the encouragement I have received - I know this journey would have been 100,000x harder than it has been.

On the days when I've allowed myself to become distracted by the discouragement of my situation, I've had so many of you tell me, "I just know God is going to do something great with your story!!  I know it!!"  So thank you.  Thank you for lifting me up when I have struggled and been down. Thank you for following my story, sharing it, emailing me, praying for me, and for encouraging me in all the different ways you have all had a part in.  I know many of you are rooting for the plans and story God has for my life, and I appreciate it!

I've known Denise all my life, but she and I have only moved past the life-time acquaintance phase to a full, good, friendship in the last year and a half...And for this, I am beyond thankful!!   In September of 2013, Denise was the worship leader of a women's retreat my mom coordinates.  During the retreat, I had the chance to get to know her a little bit.  Wanting to get to know her better I later requested to meet for Starbucks.  (Which, it turns out, neither one of us likes coffee!  Ha!)  Since then, Denise has been more than amazing and has gifted me with more encouragement than she'll ever realize and she keeps me laughing with her witty sarcasm.  She has turned me into a superhero, Amethyst, and has written me a beautiful song...A song that I can't imagine being written in any other way.  I never imagined having a song written for/about me - ever - but she did it in the most perfect way, and it's the best gift I've ever received.

Recently I went to Nashville to work on a video project.  Ironically, it is a project I had planned before my picture went viral.  Around June or July I called my friend, Brian, and told him of a video idea I had in mind...A video I've wanted to do for at least a year...and a video in which I wanted tell a part of my story, but also with the ability to use this video to hopefully promote and attract potential speaking opportunities.  

I went to Nashville early in the month of November and I've already seen two cuts of the video.  It looks FANTASTIC.  Brian is incredible at what he does, and it was a joy to work with him and my new friend, Melissa.  Being in front of a camera was a bit awkward for me at times, as I'm use to being behind the camera...but I really enjoyed every moment of this project. 

I'm thankful for the opportunity to take time off work and school so I could travel to Nashville and work on this project.  I'm thankful for cough drops, which were a huge contribution to the creating of this video.   I'm thankful for the patiences of both Melissa and Brian, as well as their encouragement throughout the whole process.  I'm especially thankful to have the chance to work with Christian "video guy" who took the time to pray over the project we were working on, as well as for God to use the video to open more doors to speak to others - whether the door be their computer screens on YouTube, or by me (hopefully) gain more speaking engagements where I can speak and encourage others in-person.

If anyone is looking for a chance to tell their story through video, I highly recommend that you check out his website:  (I've not published my video yet, but I will keep you all updated and share it once I am able.)

My friend Melinda! We are total opposites, which is a beautiful thing...but that's another entry for another day.  (Ha!)  I'm thankful for the many deep conversations that have taken place in my car with this lady, and am thankful for her constant reminders to have faith, to dream big dreams!...That nothing is impossible.

I'm thankful for the ability to dream God-sized dreams, and to be proud to do so!  With God anything is possible - and what's not to be thankful about that?  My dreams are BIG, but my God is even BIGGER.  (I have a whole bulletin board in my room that is dedicated to my God-sized dreams!)

This beautiful lady (Amberly Neese) is one of my mentors, and one of the best speakers I have ever heard.  She's a fantastic speaker, friend, and has one of the biggest gifts of encouragement that I have ever seen.  Earlier in the year I sat down to talk with her, telling her of my God-sized dream to become a public speaker. That same day, and since then, she has taken the time to share her words of wisdom, bits of advice, and encouragement with me.  She was the main speaker at a retreat I did a 20 minute talk at, and I'm so glad that she was there.  With her being my mentor in this area of life, I found it to be more than fitting for her to be there as I spoke to a group of women and hopefully started my speaking career.  I'm thankful for women like her (and Denise) who take the time to really invest in my life like they have done, and for women like them who take the time to really "champion me on" (As in the world of Amberly!) - especially in the last year. 


Again, this is only a summarized list of the things and people I am thankful for.  If I included everything and everyone, this would easily be the blog that never ends.

Too add to my list, though, I am incredibly thankful for God's strength, guidance, His patience, and protection.  Between random gallbladder surgeries, cruise ships catching on fire, heavy school loads (while working full time), pictures going viral...My life has been crazy busy and adventurous, and I can't imagine living life without my God. 

I don't know what the next year will hold for me, but I'm going to continue to dream my God-sized dreams and dream BIG.  I'm going to continue to be thankful for both the little things, and the big things, on a daily basis.

What are you thankful for??

The Travelin' Chick,

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Beyond the Stain

The beautiful and talented song writer,
Denise Nicholes!
This weekend I had the joy to attend the California Free Will Baptist Women's Retreat - for my 10th time...and boy, was it a fantastic weekend filled with much needed refreshment and encouragement!

This year's theme was, "Journey to Joy".  A dear friend of mine (and my mentor!), Amberly Neese, was the main speaker for the event.  Although she was the main speaker, I had the honor of being asked to speak for a 20 minute segment during the weekend.

Many of you read my initial post about my photo going viral in my last blog entry,  The Face that went Viral.  I plan to post a follow-up, written, entry on my story soon, but  for now I have decided to post the video of my talk...My talk in which I tell the story verbally, but in addition, the journey to joy that I've experienced - even in the midst of the hardship of the last two months.  (Please keep in mind - it's not a professional video by any means, and it was my first time speaking on the topic.)

(For some reason, not all devices are showing all the videos I'm sharing today.  If you are impacted by this error, I apologize and am working on trying to fix that.  Until then, I'm also including the links.  So, for my personal message/20 minute talk - click here if you cannot see it directly on my blog.)

For those of you wondering, this is the video I had all the ladies watch:

(Please click here if this video doesn't show up directly on my blog.)

After I spoke, and the video was finished, I was surprised when my friend Denise Nicholes (the one who introduced me in the clip) went back to the piano and shared a song that God had given her the lyrics and melody for...a song for my story titled "Beyond the Stain" (my birthmark type is called a port wine stain, and the song was partially inspired by my mom's writing of The Stain). In addition, she even had a video playing in the background with photos from my life as I've grown up.

Instead of showing you the "live" version that I recorded, here is the slideshow and song on video that Denise put together and uploaded to her YouTube account for me:

(If this video isn't showing up directly on your device, please Click Here.)

First off, I have to say - my friend Denise has so much talent and such an amazing skill set, and she is a tremendous blessing!  I'm not even sure how to express how much this song means to me.  As she played it at the retreat, I quite possibly shed a tear or two.   I never expected, or thought, that anyone would ever give me such an incredible gift.  (Seriously, it's one of the best gifts I've ever received.)

Denise captured my story so perfectly with the lyrics and melody, and I can't imagine my story being put any other way in the form of a song...And in a way I can't really explain (yet), this gift has helped bring me a sense of healing.  It has also brought me so much needed encouragement! 

Ever since this whole fiasco started, I have had up and down days - just like I mentioned in my talk.  I've had days wondering if I should change my makeup to hide the birthmark so strangers can meet and see me before they have a chance to see my difference.  I've even become extra anxious about the idea of going out in public after future treatments...Yet, knowing that God gave her a song for me to write, it was as if I were hearing from God directly with Him saying, "Keep going!  You can do this!  Keep telling your story - do not hide who you are.  You have a team of support surrounding you, including people like Denise...but more importantly, I am with you always.  You are not alone.  I'm going to do something great with your story if you continue to be willing to be used."

Thanks to Denise, not only am I a super hero, but I have a theme song that fits perfectly for my life.

I hope you enjoyed the song as much as I have been enjoying it.

Thank you, Denise!!

The Travelin' Chick,

PS: If you ever need a speaker for any event - please consider my friend Amberly! She is wonderful. Her website is linked above (if you click on her name in the second paragraph). For a taste of her speaking style, though, check out her YouTube clip as well!

(If the video doesn't show up on your device, Click Here.)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Face that went Viral

All my life I’ve had to swim upstream against the world constantly telling that I am not beautiful enough. I’m not beautiful enough to walk into a restaurant without disgust-filled, wide-eyed stares. I’m not beautiful enough to walk into a store without degrading marks from strangers…Strangers who forget I have eyes that can see their never ending gaze, and ears that can hear their hurtful words.

People often forget that I’m more than a girl with a facial difference. They forget I’m more than just my face - I’m more than just a birthmark. They forget I’m more than something to stare at with their wide eyes and open jaws. People forget that I have a name.

My goal is not to indorse or promote this Facebook group,
hence blurring their name, link, and logo.  My only goal is to
tell my story and respond to the situation.
My name is Crystal. I love to travel the world, capturing beautiful moments with my camera, pen, and journal, in hand.  I'm a baker (creme brûlée will be my next challenge!), a Jamba Juice addict, and future American Sign Language Interpreter.

I'm someone who has experienced tremendous joys, but also gut-wrenching sorrows. I’ve swam with dolphins, adventurously lived overseas, but I have also experienced the loss of my baby niece and have watched my mother take care of my father in his poor health.  I am more than the mark on my skin.

There is so much more depth to who I am than the appearance of my face…But people forget that. It’s a rarity when I go a day out in public without one person who stares at me, one person who makes a rude remark…treating me as though I am only half a person because of half my face.

In the past I’ve been told by (adult) strangers that I must have skin cancer, that there is something wrong with me, and that it’s not really a birthmark. Strangers have persisted that I should have surgery to “fix” my face, even after I tried to educate them by explaining that it’s not that simple – and I’m happy with who I am, how I am. Others have told me that I must be courageous, for if they were me – they’d never even leave their house. Sometimes I can’t even drive my car across town without nosey eyes invading my personal space with their prolonged, demeaning stares.

Just like millions of other people, I have a birthmark. Mine just happens to be on my face.

The birthmark I have is called a Port Wine Stain. Three of every 1,000 people are born with this kind of birthmark and they are most commonly found on the face and neck.

Instead of being the typical skin-deep birthmark, mine goes all the way to my brain as it is caused by extra blood vessels. If people look in my ears, down my throat, and in my nose, there is an obvious color difference. (Not that I usually go around asking people to look up my nose. Apparently that’s socially unacceptable…Even in California.) My left upper lip is also affected in color, and in size, as well as my left cheek…Even my bone structure is different on the side with the birthmark! (But it’s kind of cool…It’s similar to a mood ring as it changes colors with the temperatures of the day. People always known I’m cold before I even say a word!)

Doctors warned my parents that I could possibly have seizures within the first 24 hours of my life. If I did, I’d have them for the rest of my life. I’ve been incredibly blessed that this has not been an effect of my birthmark and I’ve never experienced a seizure. However, my birthmark does effect my teeth, gums, and my eye.  I'm also still at risk of later developing epilepsy later in my life so my doctors and I closely monitor the blood vessels around my brain with an MRI ever few years.

Due to the extra blood vessels, I have extra blood pressure in my eye causing an 80-year-old disease called glaucoma. From the age of 8-years-old, I’ve had to live with and accept fact that my left eye could possibly go blind one day in my distant future…as well as administer eye drops to my eye twice a day. Every few years I also have to have MRIs to make sure that none of the extra blood vessels have expanded to cause any damage to my brain.

How I normally look - with basic,
inexpensive, everyday makeup
from one of the best places
ever created: Target.  Often people
recommend that I switch makeup
brands because they, "hide things
like that better".  I don't feel the
need to hide who I am under expensive
brands of makeup that smoother my
skin.  I don't  feel the need to hide who I am
to make others more comfortable.  My
birthmark gives me a unique opportunity
to help educate others.  Why not use it?
About every 2-3 months I also have laser treatments on my birthmark. I’ve had close to 42 treatments throughout my lifetime. As a child I was allowed to sleep through them, but now I’m awake while the doctors “beam me up”.  (You can see some videos that have been taken at previous treatments if you click here.)

The laser’s job is basically to go in through my skin and to burst the excess blood vessels. For two week to a month my face is a darker color than usual. To give you an idea of the discoloration, the picture at the beginning of this blog that went viral was taken just 20 minutes after approximately 260 individual laser pulses and does not represent how I look on a normal basis.

Without the treatments, my birthmark is at risk of getting darker with age. Without the treatments, the blood vessels can grow, causing my skin to harden, become a pebble-stone-like texture, and bleed at random whenever it wants. After every treatment my birthmark is lightened, which I guess is a perk, but also not the reason I do them. The main reason I have the painful treatments is so I can be proactive in preventing future medical complications. Once the damage is done, there’s no undoing it…and I want to avoid that possible route if I can. (For those wondering, yes, these treatments hurt. The more pulses they do the more it hurts. Praise the Lord for the numbing cream I wear beforehand to help dull the painful shock of the laser!)

No matter how many treatments I have and even if my birthmark becomes undetectable to the naked eye, I will always have my birthmark.  My cheek will always look swollen and my features asymmetrical.  I will always have glaucoma in my left eye.  The extra blood vessels will still go deep into my brain, and I will still have to have touch-up treatments when/if it darkens as I age.

To add to my story...This week, my face went viral on Facebook.

My face going viral on Facebook was never a goal of mine, nor was it anything on my bucket list. This wasn't something I planned or decided to do, it was something that was decided without me - completely without my knowledge or consent.

To sum it up: A group on Facebook with nearly 2 million followers has been using a photo of mine without my knowledge or consent - a photo that I took (just a selfie!) barely 20 minutes after a painful laser treatment on my facial birthmark. In addition to using my photo, they added text that says, "1 Like = Beautiful" well as their personal logo. My name and permission were not included in this process, nor was my story, a link to my blog or website.

Since the original post, my photo has received over 1,800 comments, nearly 400 shares, and almost 25,000 likes.

No, I'm not kidding.

I didn't know about this until Monday afternoon, after arriving home from my math class. A friend sent me the link saying they saw my face in someone else's newsfeed and the photo already had over 14,000 likes within the first 8 hours of it being posted.

Boy, have I been in shock! All week I've been going through many emotions. I've been going back and forth between denial, anger, frustration, to "this can become something positive!"...just to name a few of my emotions and thoughts.

It angers me to know that someone took my situation for their personal gain. It angers me that they took a specific photo...a photo that shows how I look only 2 weeks out of every 2-3 months...without sharing the background and ongoing story with it. It angers me that they never even asked for my permission.

And overall?? The whole situation has hurt. It has made me feel icky all week. (I work with 4-year-olds...Icky is the best word I can think of right now.)

Those who know me know that I am 100% open about my facial difference. They know I blog about my story on a regular basis...the cause of my birthmark, what can happen if I don't have laser treatments, the struggles (emotionally, physically, and mentally), the stories in regards to specific situations/interactions I have with people, and about my treatments, etc.

This is how I look without makeup.  I am
constantly going out without applying
foundation and powder to my skin.  I've
always had the mindset of, "while makeup
is a nice luxury, I always want to be
comfortable in my own, natural, skin.  I
never want to feel as though I have to
wear makeup to feel beautiful."  Makeup can
be fun, but a little foundation on my cheeks can't be,
and isn't, the foundation of my beauty.
I don't mind my story getting out there, as that's actually a part of my life's goal...But what I don't want?? I don't want my photo to go viral without the story being told. I want people to know my story - but not with the purpose of gaining sympathy. I want my story to be known in attempts of educating other people, and in hopes of motivating a cultural change in how "different" people are treated.

I've taken my story and blogged about it openly. Trying to take some recent negative situations and create something positive out of them, I do sensitivity trainings in hospitals.  I also talk to different classrooms at a local elementary school in hopes of teaching children how to be curious in a kind way and to allow them to ask their questions they may have.  (You can read more in detail about my hospital situations here and more in detail about speaking to the children at schools here.)  One day I hope to do a TED Talk as well as be a speaker for Women of Faith. I even have a few book ideas based around my difference and I’m hoping a publishing company will invest an interest one day in the future. (I've always been a big dreamer!)

But this whole thing of my face going viral on FB without consent??...It makes me feel awful on so many levels.

A part of me feels as though, while some of the "likes" are probably genuine in their thoughts of my beauty. But a part of me also feels as though they're 25,000 sympathy likes...and I've never been one who needs pity.

I don't need 25,000 strangers to validate who I am, or my beauty. I don't need help from the Internet and strangers behind their screens to tell me that I'm beautiful. Just because I have a facial difference doesn't automatically mean that I lack confidence, or think that I'm "ugly". In fact, while I've had my up-and-down days, that's never been a big struggle of mine. If I don't need to be validated by strangers, then why does the world feel that it needs to do that instead??

I've always known I'm slightly physically different, but until Monday, I never realized I was different enough to inspire such a viral meme.

Many friends of mine have recommended that I shouldn't read the 1,800+ comments that have been left in reaction to my photo. However, while I appreciate the advice, strangers comment on my birthmark all the time. It's a daily thing to have a stranger approach me in a store, or to stare at me across the room of a restaurant. What's the difference between listening to constant remarks, verses reading them?? That being said - I spent over an hour going through every comment and every share that was posted.

Going into it, I knew I had to read them with a dose of humor…and I’ve had a LOT of laughs while reading some of the responses. The majority of the comments have surprisingly been positive while others caused laughter as I knew I couldn't take them too seriously.

The names of those who left the comments aren't important.  Some of these comments are ones I've heard before, while many are ones that are new.  They've ranged from people telling me that they wished they were purple as well and there was one who wrote a post asking God to remove the "evil" from my face...followed by an "lol" (which this one is ironic, as I've never prayed for God to remove my birthmark).  Some stated that they are glad that we don't get into heaven by looks alone, and someone even posted that they wonder how old I am as the photo has been on there for years...even though I only took the photo within the last year or two and the shared date clearly marks this last Monday.  They've also said that my birthmark will fade with age (it won't), that a doctor can help me, and people have given makeup advice.  But most have said I'm beautiful, they're jealous of my unique color scheme, and that it's the inside that counts.  (Although, I have to add - it's interesting as to how many people have said, "God doesn't create junk"...Am wondering where that 'trendy' one even originated from, and why.)

I'm more than these "likes", "shares", and comments.  My worth, story, beauty, and value are so much deeper than what happens in the digital world - and I firmly believe that for everyone in the world.  The amounts of "likes" we have on Facebook or the amount of followers we have on Twitter do not define us.  We're all different in our own ways - whether our differences are visible or not.  But more than that?  We're all beautiful and special in our own ways.  We are more than the pixels that people see on their screens, and we can't allow others to make us believe otherwise.  We are all fantastic and brilliantly created just the way we are meant to be!!

I hope to have chances to be heard as I try to raise my own voice, but also represent the voices of many others who endure similar, unnecessary, experiences...people who may not have the confidence or ability to speak up. Some of my experiences are painful and they often sting - just like this week’s. However, even the most ugly and hurtful situations can develop into the most beautiful and unique story.
My response

Often I feel as though God is telling me, “I can take these ugly experiences and help them become beautiful if you allow me to use you. You have so much potential as I have much bigger plans for your life than what you could ever even imagine. There is more beauty in your life than you’ll ever know.” (Like my favorite verse, Jeremiah 29:11.)

Sure, having a birthmark that covers half my face can be a challenge. I have my good days, and I have days where I sometimes struggle…whether it is with strangers or with personal, internal, battles. Either way – I feel it’s an extraordinary opportunity to reach out to others in hopes of educating them, possibly making a small difference in the world…and I think that, alone, is a beautiful thing. Why not embrace it?

But hey...The positive part of this whole crazy experience?  My dating pool has probably grown from a small fishbowl to an ocean full of fish.

The Travelin' and Facebook Viral Chick,

PS: For those interested, this is the original entry where in which photo came from.  And if you'd like to hear about my mother's journey of having a child with a physical difference, check out her brilliantly written entry, The Stain.

******UPDATE: Since posting this blog 2 weeks ago, I've come to learn that my image has been shared in at least 5 different Facebook times, going viral at least 16 times - that I know of. One group has 30 MILLION followers.  In that specific group, my photo has over 256,000 "likes", 1,000 shares, and over 13,000 comments.  This has not been a one time thing...And it inspires me even more to get my story out there.*********

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

...And that's not okay.

How I look with Makeup
Waking up this morning, before I even looked in the mirror, I caught myself doing something I've never, ever done. Before even opening my eyes, I was instantly telling myself that today, I am not beautiful.

Yesterday I randomly had a laser treatment as Sunday I received an email confirming an appointment for the next appointment that was suppose to be cancelled.  My treatments are about a three hours drive away - to and from - and I found myself at a crossroad.  Do I cancel my treatment at last minute, even though it wasn't my error?  Do I go and have it done anyway?

For a many reasons I decide to go and have it done.  Before I knew it, I found myself packing a bag and driving the three hours to Fremont on Sunday afternoon.

My appointment went well, and actually, this was my first time going alone.  (Which made my mother extremely nervous, primarily for the drive home after my treatment.)

This treatment, though, was done a little different.  The size of the laser was different and they treated my lip.

I've mentioned in my blog several times that while the birthmark doesn't usually bother me, my lip always does.  It's the physical part about myself that I feel most self-conscious about.

Yesterday, after the treatment, my lip was a little swollen.  I expected swelling...But what I didn't expect?  I didn't expect to wake up this morning to the actual amount of swelling that I had.

Before I opened my eyes I knew...I knew the swelling was bad and I dreaded facing society, but more importantly, I dreaded looking myself in the eyes in my own mirror.

Birthmark with no make-up.
After I opened my eyes, I noticed that my eye also felt a little swollen...But I expected that as that's happened in the past.  (They didn't treat my eye as I'm not comfortable with that idea if I'm awake!)

While laying in my bed I look towards my window and I caught myself thinking, "Oh...Hey...What was that?  What just flew out my window?  Oh, that was just my confidence for the day.  Maybe even for the week."

When I finally looked in the mirror as tears threatened to spill out of my eyes, my suspicion became a fact.  The left half of my upper lip is pretty swollen.

I even walked into my mom's bedroom as I covered my lip and told her, "I have the biggest lip on the block."

As I was driving to meet my friend today, I had a major revelation.  Was I judging me for myself, or was I prematurely taking on the role of judging myself through society's eyes??  The eyes that I knew would soon see me, the eyes that normally react in a negative manner?  Was I judging myself, putting myself down, before anyone else could??

Here I am, this gal who is starting to do sensitivity talks in hospitals and who goes to share with elementary kids about the true meaning of beauty - yet, in this moment, I wasn't even practicing what I 'preach'.  I feel as though I should probably have it more together than I do.

The words that usually make me angry when other people use them against me, I was saying them to myself.

I didn't need society to tear me down this time around.  I was, and am, perfectly capable of doing it myself.

Again, I've never done this before.  Ever.  I don't normally tear myself down in this way.  Enough people already try to do that for me.

If I wouldn't say these things to my friends or to another person, why in the world is it okay to say these things to myself?  Why is it not okay for my friends to put themselves down, but yet, it was okay for me to put myself down?

The thing is, I know it's not okay.  Where was my attempt at holding a positive attitude??  The positive attitude that I do my best to cling onto in every situation life throws my way?

Yeah, the treatments make me nervous.  They're painful and uncomfortable.  The days after, though, are often extremely emotional for me.  I often forget that I'm "different" than everyone else in the world, but these treatments are always a big reminder.

About 30 minute after my last treatment.
I'd post a photo from today, if I felt more
comfortable.  Maybe next time, as my
doctor wants to treat my lip at least 3 times.
And if there weren't medical risks involved,
more than likely, I wouldn't even do the
treatments.  I'm happy with who I am,
as I am.
Sometimes I probably make the treatments seem like an easy-breazy kind of ordeal and I probably play them down, but really, they're hard.  While I'm use to the comments and stares of my normal face, this after-treatment look isn't my normal.  So, when you add an already emotional situation while enhancing something you're already self-conscious about, it's an even bigger struggle.

Today I learned that I really need to work on my self-conscious mindset that I have about my lip.  (And when I write that and read it out loud - it realize that probably sounds kinda lame.) Granted, every woman, every person, usually has something they're not comfortable with about themselves.  Mine just happens to be the lip - and my self-consciousness just happens to be temporarily enhanced, because, well, half of my upper lip is temporarily enhanced and I know this feeling isn't permanent...Just like the swelling.

However, I also realize that unless I figure out a way to deal and cope with this issue, and although the feeling is currently temporary...if I don't gain control of it somehow, I will feel it again next time they treat the lip.  (Which finding a way to deal with it is wwaaaaaaayyy easier said than done, right?)

Often I blog about my stories with the way society reacts to my face, to my treatments.  This time, however, I'm 'tattling' on myself.  I wanted to let you know that for the first time (ever), I stepped into the shoes of the attitude I despise the most.

This time I was the still victim, but I was also the victimizer.  I was the offender...And that's not okay.  I know I am so much more than how I look.  I know I am so much more than my circumstances!  

Maybe I'm a little too honest in my blog sometimes, maybe not.  I don't really know.  All I do know is that I want to share this journey with you in an honest way.  I want to share the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly parts.  I want to be transparent.  

This is just a part of my journey.

I'm so glad that we don't have to feel beautiful to be beautiful.  Aren't you?

The Travelin' Chick,

PS: For those wondering why I decided to do the treatment that I though was canceled:
  1. No matter what I am doing the treatments.  I could either bail out of this one, and do it later when classes start back up.  Which means I'd take off work and school - or I could do it on a day I already had off.
  2. I thought about not doing the treatment because I'm going to the annual Free Will Baptist National Convention.  I fly out on Saturday.  Even my doctor asked me, "Are you okay flying purple??"  The more I thought about it, the more I FWB friends know my story.  Many follow it and many are encouraging.  I'd rather go visit a group of friends who I know accept me as I am, who are loving and encouraging, than to go and deal with people at my college who are often quite the opposite.  
  3. It's hard to get an appointment in this department.  If I didn't go then, I wouldn't have an appointment for another few months.  I already haven't had one in 4 months (which isn't my fault). The longer I wait, the less effective the treatments will be.
  4. I'd feel rude for canceling it the day of, as they wouldn't have time to find someone to take the space of my appointment.