06/21/2017

untitled-1-2

‘When I was pregnant with my girls, my biggest dream was and is that they are loved and their autism has never changed that. Our family requires more work than most but we also have so much more joy with them. I get to wake up with morning snuggles and smiles. I get to live in their world and in their special and simple moments. There is nothing fake about my girls. They don’t smile because it’s expected. They smile because they feel it. When they laugh, they are experiencing pure joy and it’s real.

We take life at their pace and we’re not worried about grades or reading levels. We have the freedom to celebrate every victory even if it’s as simple as putting one’s shoes on at almost nine years old. It’s nice to not have to live the prescribed life that society dictates. We just live the best we can and we do it on their terms. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do but it has also been the best.

Naturally, there are worries and fears. My children will never live on their own and I don’t know what’s going to happen to them when we get old. They will never be able to take care of themselves and it weighs on us and we often ask ourselves…what will happen to them and who will care for them when we’re gone? Who can love them as much as we do?’

06/21/2017

untitled-1-3

‘On April 1, 1988, I had my first grand mal seizure. Needless to say, that was a bad day. Years later, my dad made a poster with my high school picture on it as a joke. He thought it was time for me to meet someone and get married so he gave it to my aunt who ended up giving it to my future mother-in-law. She gave it to her son and told her, ‘you need to call this girl,’ Well, he refused, saying that was weird.

A while later, he took that poster and kept it. He finally called me one night and we talked for a few hours. He asked if I’d like to meet him. We met the following Saturday on my lunch break at Wendy’s and I laughed the whole time plus I didn’t even finish my meal. It was just great to meet him. He then asked if he could call me after I got home from work. He was the first guy I had ever met who actually asked to call.

He asked me, ‘what time do you get home?’ and I told him. As I was walking in the door that night, the phone was ringing at exactly the time I said I’d be home. I thought, ‘wow, he likes me!’ We talked for another while and he asked me to join him and his roommate and his girlfriend at the Sports Park in Draper for miniature golf. I loved that he knew what he wanted to do and that it wasn’t to go to a movie. So, I went and we had a blast. We had so much fun.

For a very long time after that, there was almost not a single day that we didn’t see one another. We talked every day and got better acquainted. On Christmas Eve, he asked me to marry him on Santa’s lap and on April 1, 1997, we got married. I turned the memory of an awful day, when I had that first seizure, into the most important day of my life and we just hit twenty years. He still makes me laugh every day and I can’t wait to see what happens next!’

06/21/2017

untitled-1-3

‘I started the Gay-Straight Alliance in my high school and that was a real challenge because I knew, statistically, that there were more LGBTQ people in my high school who weren’t out and I wanted to create a space where being who you are is OK. No one has ever really come after me for being who I am. I’ve never had any really super-bad experiences like being bullied. I still, sometimes, feel uncomfortable in a really cis-gendered, straight environment. I think, if everyone lived as themselves, it would be less of an issue. I’m tough and I can deal with pretty much anything but I hope to be an inspiration for someone else who is afraid to express themselves and to be themselves. We are still socially divided and we need to make connections across the aisle. But, I try to be myself as much as I can be and feel comfortable. I hope and pray that I am not a statistic…and that I don’t become a statistic even though I am fully aware that I am in more danger living as myself than if I were to conform.’

06/21/2017

untitled-1

‘One week in March of 2014, on a Monday, I found myself solely in charge of a big singles church conference in Washington DC. The next day, on Tuesday, with no warning whatsoever, I was laid off from my job. Then, on Wednesday, my grandmother passed away. Finally, on Thursday, my landlord told me my apartment building was being condemned because of structural damage, and I had to move out immediately. It was an overwhelming week. I’m a go-getter and I don’t stay down for long. I could have handled one or two of those things…but to have all of them at once and in four days’ time was rough. Needless to say, with all this going on, I went numb for several weeks. Things just kept coming and coming.

Somewhere, in the course of that awful week, I got an email from a man. I used to write a column about singles and dating and most of my readers were older, married men who, I think, liked to read it from the grandpa aspect. It wasn’t a creepy thing…I just discovered that most of the readers were older and married men who enjoyed reading about my foibles. Anyway, this man told me he’d been reading my column for years. He was a grandfather who thought I was funny. He was a producer/director of a dance group that goes on an international dance tour and he asked me, ‘would you like to come?’ Needless to say, my first reaction was, ‘no, thank you, strange man on the internet.’ I deleted the email and moved on and forgot about it.

Several weeks later, I was starting to get myself back together when, suddenly, I got a second email from this man. This time, he said, ‘It occurs to me that you probably think I’m crazy. You don’t know who I am.’ So, he sent me a link to the dance website to prove he was legitimate and he sent me a list of references. On that list of references was the name of a very good friend of my mother’s. He had no way of knowing that this person is one of my mother’s good friends and, in fact, one of my good friends. He said they were going to Serbia on tour and he offered me a three-week temporary job as a writer in residence.

I realized that I had absolutely nothing to lose. As much as I don’t recommend accepting invitations from strange men on the internet to go to Eastern Europe, I took the chance because I could see that this dance group was legitimate and that list of references was good. Eight weeks later, I found myself in the airport in Serbia looking for a man in a cowboy hat. It has been a great experience with the dancers. We went through Serbia and Romania. At first, I was still an outsider and uncomfortable. But I was just grateful for the break from my reality.

I’m now going on my third tour with them this summer. I’ve made several wonderful friends in the group. I’ll be going to Germany and the Netherlands with them this year. It has turned out to be a great thing. It was a great experience and it happened at a time when I really needed it. If I had not been through all those awful things that week, I probably wouldn’t have accepted the invitation. God knows us and He knows when we need Him. Sometimes, I feel like I’m living my life outside my comfort zone and it never gets easier. But I’ve learned that things don’t always get easier and if they don’t, you get stronger. Life can knock you down and it can be really hard. But I’ve learned how to keep getting up and to keep getting stronger.’

06/21/2017

untitled-1-4

‘People my age and of the next upcoming generation sometimes don’t understand the value of college beyond just getting that piece of paper…the degree…and how one can actually grow with it. I graduated from Arizona State University and it was the biggest achievement in my life thus far.

I had a 2.3 GPA in high school and wanted to go to the Olympics for water polo. Things didn’t work out very well. I went to a junior college and survived a school shooting and then transferred to Arizona State. I went to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and achieved a 3.3 GPA at graduation. I was involved on campus and in Greek life and it was a great experience that I’ll never forget.

I’m currently in over $100,000 of debt and as much as I want to cry and complain about it, and sometimes do, I think the experience has provided so much value than I could have imagined. Even if I was a C-average student, I pushed for what I wanted. There are people out there who are dumber than rocks who have degrees and there are people out there who are extremely smart and don’t have degrees. Having that piece of paper doesn’t define your intelligence. It just shows the world how hard you’re willing to work and grind your face off to get where you want to go.’

06/21/2017

untitled-1-2

‘People in the past have told me I’m not good enough to be with them. Other people have yelled at me and pushed me to do things I’m not comfortable doing. Last year, a friend with whom I was close started hitting on me for a while in a flirty way. But I wasn’t interested in him like that. He would tell me what he wanted to do and wouldn’t give me the option to say no. He wanted to be alone with me in a room and he had what I thought were inappropriate intentions. He’d follow me around…sometimes he’d follow me home and that scared me. I still see him at school now and then but now, when he sees me, he calls me names and he pretends that I am not a person.

When I was younger, I set rules for myself and I don’t let anyone push me to do something I don’t want to do. I was bullied when I was in middle school. That’s actually how I was able to set my rules. In this crazy world with so many crazy people out there, I will continue to fight for what I think is right for me. I’m graduating this year and I want to be a voice of empowerment or a person of inspiration for anyone who needs it. I want to stand up for good in a scary world. I know what it’s like to feel lost and scared and I don’t want anyone else to feel like that, so I try to be the best person I can be.’

06/21/2017

untitled-1-2

‘I grew up in Washington DC until I was eleven and moved to the Bay area until I was eighteen. When I was sixteen, I was kind of forced to come out. I was dating a girl but I never made out with her even though I was pressured by my friends to do something with her. The following year, a girl on my street and I really bonded very closely. We ended up confiding in each other about the things that had happened to us. She told me she had been molested by her brother and I told her I was gay.

I came out to a few friends after that because being able to say it out loud was exciting and new. At the same time, I still remember one week when I had an essay I had to write and my mom was helping me. She reached into my backpack and she pulled out a letter that someone had written to me saying how proud they were that I was gay. At first, I acted like the letter was to someone else. I ended up telling my mom the truth. I was so scared of my dad and he called me a faggot and a son of Satan and I would retort, ‘If I’m a son of Satan, what does that make you?’

I didn’t speak to my father for six months after I got kicked out of the house. My mom brought me back in. My brother ended up involved in heavy drugs while I ended up doing AP classes, orchestra, and varsity sports. I got a full ride scholarship to BYU and was there for a year and a half before I fell into photography. My family has now seen that I can be happy and successful on my own and they’re supremely supportive but it took them a long time. They had their own mindsets about happiness and success and it was wonderful to eventually hear my dad say, ‘If you can take care of yourself and be happy, I can be happy for you, too.’ It was great to prove that his recipe for happiness was not my recipe and that the pursuit of happiness doesn’t happen on one single path for everyone.’