group13men_jasonfinal

Group 13 – Men!

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Everyday we seem to hear of another shooting.
Mass shootings in schools, in clubs, in theaters, in malls, in places too numerous to count. Individual shootings over petty matters, whether by everyday citizens or by those whom we’re supposed to trust with our security and safety.
It’s no longer a matter of if a next one is going to happen, but a matter of when the next one is going to happen.
Without going into all of the politics behind why these things happen, I am reminded of one key element here: male aggression. Men are so often taught from the time they are small children that it is not okay to express their feelings.

It is not okay to feel sad…it is okay to be mad.
It is not okay to cry…it is okay to throw a punch.
It is not okay to show affection…it is okay to show rage.
It is not okay to be insecure…it is okay to bully others for things we see “wrong” with them.

This theme of being “masculine” and how it is essential to combat anything even slightly detected to be “feminine” in order to be such, it seems to permeate society right now. There is something completely wrong with this picture.
That is why I absolutely love when men agree to participate in this project. A project with the main focus of showing vulnerability. Not holding back, but, diving in. I am constantly reminded that there are so many men out there who are comfortable enough with themselves, with their feelings, that they can have a conversation about them. They can be brave enough to discuss their insecurities and their fears, not just with me, not just with each other, but, even be brave enough to put them out there for you, the public, to read.
This is the second exclusively male group I have conducted in the 3 1/2 years since I began this project. I look forward to conducting many more, as the conversation with these men always blows me away. Their openness, their vulnerability, their compassion for each other, their introspection, their positive and encouraging words for each other and themselves…it is all so beautiful to watch unfold.

I always seem to write incredibly long introductions to these blog posts concerning each group, but, I’m stopping myself here this time. Instead, I’ve put my focus into including videos from this night, so that you can get a taste of what we experienced and what these men shared. How they were affected by hearing these things from each other. How they were affected by hearing the words of their friends and family (if you are reading this and are someone who wrote in for them, a million thank yous to you. This project doesn’t work without you. I appreciate you so much.) I encourage you all to watch these videos, especially to see how these guys (who previously either did not know each other, or only knew each other slightly) showed empathy toward encouraged one another. And how they each reacted, not only when others’ words were read for them, but for each other.

Please do comment and share anything that may have touched you after reading their stories and seeing a bit of our night. A caution for you, however…I will NOT accept anything other than kindness and positivity directed at these men. I frequently quote Brené Brown regarding this, and I’ll do it again: “If you are not also in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

(Thank you to Ian for filming the night {and all of these nights} for me, to Jennifer, for taking behind-the-scenes photos for us {to be found at the bottom of this post}, and to Steve, for providing a venue in which we could meet!)

Previous groups can be found here:
Why this project began
Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2, Teens!
Group 3, 55+!
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7, Men!
Group 8
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Melissa & Lily)
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Liz & Caitie)
Group 10 – Couples!
Group 11 – Decorah, IA teens!
Group 12 – Reunion Group!

 

Dgroup13men_shepinswavid (Shep!) – Insecurity ~

“My body, it’s hard to look at myself and feel good sometimes. My weight has drastically fluctuated my whole life and that sort messes with my head a little bit.”

(Video: discussion about Shep’s insecurity)

What do you find is the biggest challenge for men these days?

“The need to be strong and invincible. The fact that you shouldn’t be vulnerable because that would be weak…”


If there is one thing women should know about men, it is…

“That we are so different than you…..”

What advice would you give your 10 year old self?

“Everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end…”
group13men_shepschoicewShep’s friends & family ~

“Hey buddy, you’re probably going through some tough emotions right now and I’m supposed to be all nice and gushy right? Well, in the infamous words of my wife and mother-in-law, buck up, buttercup. People love you, in case you didn’t know. Who wouldn’t love my jolly ginger friend? The thing you have to realize about yourself is that you actually care when people tell you their life story. And that’s why they come to you. Anyone that looks in your eyes can immediately see one of the most genuine souls the world has encountered. See, you do have a soul!! People will do anything for you because of that. Hell, I drove all the way across the country in 4 days with you because of it. Time for an experiment, just because I’m at work writing this and I’m a nerd. Will Alana actually read this part? Whoa, did I just break the fourth wall? Can you do that in a letter like this? Look Shep, I can make her say anything right now from my desk at work. Like Briar Cliff sucks! Or, I love the wieners you cook! Haha, she just said she loves your wiener. Simon says stand up and hop on one foot (wait for him to do it then go rustle that ginger hair of his) ….. I guess back to the real point. I love you, brother, gimme a call after this and let me know how it went! I’ll be waiting to hear from you.” -Lefty

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“Batter up”
“Oh, my dear friend Shep. Shep has been such a solid and wonderful friend to me for so many years; it’s crazy to wrap my brain around the fact that we have known each other since junior high! I would have never imagined way back then that he would end up being like family to me! Shep is one of the most easygoing and hardest-working guys I have met. There are days that he has worked long crazy hours and still manages to keep a positive attitude and a smile on his face. But, even when he puts in long hours, he always finds the time to be a supportive and loyal friend. Shep is that ear to listen, that helping hand at the drop of a hat, or just a big ol’ Sheppy hug if someone needs it. I mean, with all the weird, negative shit that goes on in the world, it’s so great to know there are people like Shep. With the willingness to spread love and positivity to the people he cares about and even to the people he has just met, giving all of this kindness while asking for nothing in return, that is truly inspiring! My buddy Shep, he is a rare flower in a bed of weeds and I couldn’t be more stoked to call him one of my best friends!” – Erika

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“Please, always remember you’re loved, and that you should only accept people into your life that are willing to love you as much as you do!”

 

“Shep, you have never failed me. Not once. You have never judged me for anything I have ever said or done. You have never turned your back on me even when there was 10 miles of reasons to do so. When I am around you I know I’m safe. You continue to offer me love, respect, and your knowledge of the world. I can’t picture my life without you in it.” – Jack

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this:

“You inspire the people around you to become better people themselves. That is a FACT.”

(Video: Shep hearing some of what his friends/family wrote)

group13men_jasoninsw Jason – Insecurity ~

“Authenticity. Honesty. Truth. These are the things that I think about. Worry about and try to live by each day.

In 1985 I was in a small Pierce County town. 7th grade awkwardness, and a whole slew of new faces. 9th graders seem like adults and one wants to fit in. I began skateboarding, along with several other friends. Our crew was small, but included kids from each grade. One 9th grader, a kid I looked up to, as he was my sensei’s right hand, was super stylish, talked about surfing (who surfs in Sumner in ‘85?) and was a decent skater. We all want to impress, especially as a 12 year old, and I was no different. I worked hard to learn. To fall. To develop my style. I never heard Chad (the stylish kid) say it, but he apparently called me a poseur to our friends, our crew, repeatedly.

That stuck with me. Me, an awkward kid growing more gangly each week. A kid that wants to fit in. I saw Chad twice a week at Kung Fu, where I was learning how to use my new, growing body, as well as each day at school and when we skated. I never said anything about it to Chad, he wasn’t too kind to me, deciding instead to prove him wrong, to outlive his perception of me.

Later that year, it seemed that Chad skated less and less, high school rapidly approaching for him and involvement in a sport that was more likely to get a “skate or die faggot!” than a high five. I kept skating along with the rest of the crew, the lot of us getting better each week and pushing each other further. I still thought about the poseur comment daily. Shit, I still do.

I transferred schools in the middle of 9th grade so I never had the opportunity to see Chad through high school, though he hung up his skate, went to UW and became a police officer. Definitely the opposite of what we all were working towards as young kids. Was Chad authentic? Was he a poseur? Am I a poseur?

To this day I strive to be as real as I can. To be as honest with myself as I can. A number of years ago I wasn’t being honest with myself, ergo I was not honest with my family. It cost me a friendship, a marriage, an alternate reality. I was a drunk. I was lost. I lived my life with youthful abandon, which culminated in a mild stroke. It took a horrible relationship to knock some sense into me. Then, I met Jayme. Early on she said to me “I want you to be the best YOU you can be”. That really stuck. It was the beginning of Posi Vibes for me. Each day I strive to be real. To be as authentic and as honest as I can be. To be positive and supportive as much as I can. If that’s a poseur, I’m a proud poseur.”

(Video: discussion about Jason’s insecurity)
What do you find is the biggest challenge for men these days?

“I think it’s the same for everyone: being the best you you can be.”

If there is one thing women should know about men, it is…

“Right or wrong, most men work from a “logical” mind-set. They can also certainly manufacture “logic”.”

What advice would you give your 10 year old self?

“Be yourself and try to avoid situations where apologies are required.”
group13men_jasonschoicewJason’s friends and family ~

“I love Jason’s passion for music and cooking. I love how Jason is not afraid to voice his opinion, even if it may not be popular. I admire Jason’s courage to fight a disease that tried to take him down once before and was unsuccessful.” – Gretchen

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“You are beautiful and strong. You are loved.”
“First off, Jason is a passionate participant in most all things he involves himself in. He occasionally gets carried away by his passions, even, but there is something very magnetic about a person who immerses themselves so deep into a culture or process that they cannot fathom your facile appreciation. Secondly, he is one funny motherfucker. I have laughed hard, until tears stream, more than once while in his company. We share a similar gallows humor, and when times have been abysmal for me, he knows how to tap into that to lift me up, and I see him draw from that same well to bolster his own spirit now when he needs it most. Thirdly, he is an unflinchingly honest friend. His critiques can be hard to take sometimes – he does not mince words, and does not often suffer fools – but he is patient with those he values and unafraid to let them know when they aren’t living up to their own potential. On top of all of that the guy has always just had raw talent and taste to spare; he’s sharp and his abilities are mutable to the task at hand.” – Sean

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“While not everyone “gets” you…the ones that do count you among their most loved and cherished friends, and even those who don’t get you know there’s something special going on wherever you happen to be.”
“When I first met Jason he was a banker. Literally, Jason was a guy with a suit and tie, sitting behind a desk, helping kids understand overdraft fees. The more I got to know him the less his job made sense. He loved local music. He went to shows all the time. He played in several bands. He was a former snowboard salesman who even had his own campaign, “Trust Jason Locking”. And he loved cooking. I think one of my favorite first memories of Jason was when he cut me off a chunk of perfectly roasted pork; He broke into a huge smile when he saw my face light up. Working at the bank was what most people consider a good job, but Jason hated it. So, he quit and went to work for Boeing. For many people a Boeing job is a life sentence. You get in, you do your job, you make money, you buy a boat, you get married, you have kids, you get divorced, you buy a jet ski, you buy cars, and you do all that over and over again until you’re 65 and you retire. There aren’t many people in the world that would quit a Boeing job to become a line cook at a local bar. But Jason fucking hated Boeing. Hated the monotony of a joyless work life. And so, he decided to quit and become a cook. That was a dark time. One thing people love about Jason is his easy smile and his hearty laugh. That stuff all seemed to have blown away as the storm clouds gathered. Deep changes force us to reconcile ourselves. Force us to face our demons. You can only run and hide inside a bottle of whiskey for so long before the demons crawl in there with you. I saw so many angry people around him at that time. People pissed off that he wasn’t living up to their expectations. Their expectations. That’s all he had done for so long was live up to other people’s expectations.
It was at his most depressed that he had a stroke. He was a young man, too young for those sorts of medical problems. But it was a reminder that life is short. I think more than most of us Jason knows that we only have one life. That it’s short and sometimes bitter and that we need to find joy in what we do. Maybe it was the stroke or maybe it was the fact that he had cancer when he was a teenager. It made him confront the fact that we are all ephemeral. And most important, that we need to express ourselves. To be ourselves. And what Jason wanted to be was a chef. So, he did that. I don’t know how you just decide you want to do something and just go do it. I should ask him! But he got a job at Hotel Murano, learned how to cook for hundreds of people, and when a sous chef job opened up a few months ago, he applied and got it. I’ve never seen Jason happier than when he was cooking. He made beautiful food. And he loved it. So, of course, he had to go and get cancer again. It’s like the universe telling us “fuck you, you’re not allowed to be happy.” Maybe that snowboard campaign all those years ago was prescient. Maybe they just knew that no matter what happens in life you just keep going. You just keep following your dreams. Maybe all we get is that one moment of joy in an otherwise somewhat boring and bleak existence. And that what we need to do is follow his example. We need to Trust Jason Locking.” – Tim

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“I love that you’re an iconoclast.”
“Jason, you’re a fantastically intelligent person, and what I most enjoy about you is the way your mind works. Every time I have a conversation with you, whether we are talking about music, politics, sci-fi books, getting dumped, music, food, aliens, comedy or even music, I invariably walk away from the encounter feeling enlightened, with my mind grinding away on new ideas and perspectives that I didn’t have before. I also really like that you’re the kind of guy that – no matter how many friends you have around you (tons! every time!) – you always give me a hearty shout and a hug whenever I run into you. It isn’t easy for me to get out and be social, but when I see you on the invite list for some gathering, it gets a lot easier. I’m sure you remember the conversation that we had when you got that job at BOKA. I was feeling stuck in place in my job, and I sent you a note telling you how inspiring it was to see you step off the career path that wasn’t making you happy, and achieve something that you’d worked so hard for, that you loved doing. You told me that you had been similarly inspired by a big career change that I’d made many years ago. I had to laugh. And so the wheel goes around, sometimes you’re up and sometimes down. People come and go in your life, but I’m glad you’ve been a constant in mine and I want you to know how much I love and appreciate your friendship.” – Chad

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“You burn bright, my friend. You’re the best of the best. The realest.”
“His determination, his outlook and his wanting to not let anyone down because of what he’s going through is baffling to me and inspires me. He is at times in pain and not able to play music with us and do what he loves to do. This is hard to watch and we yearn for a way to help and make him feel better. Instead he turns around and keeps US positive every time. He cares for people immensely and has been a good friend, often going out of his way to include others when they are having a hard time. All of this while having to deal with cancer and feeling the horrible effects of chemotherapy. I have been inspired to look at my life differently and change my outlook to a more positive one, thanks to Jason. I love his love for music and the electricity and spark that resonates when he talks about it or plays music. I am privileged to have that connection and watch his eyes light up when we are hella shredding so hard. I also enjoy his laughter and his really really crappy jokes.” – Justin

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“Your compassion for others and your push to keep your friends positive has touched me personally many times. You have helped me up when I’m down even though you are having a hard time yourself. The world would be a better place if others were as giving in this regard. I’m so appreciative of this and grateful to call you a friend and bandmate. ❤”
“Hi, My name is Luke. I have known Jason for what seems like a lifetime. But, in fact, it has been a decade of love and loss that has cemented our foundation. I was a boy when Jason and I first started playing music together, following his reply to a cardboard advert looking for a bassist. What followed was a harsh but true career in music and life. We both found that no matter how hard life, love, and the pursuit of both led one to the present tense; blood runs deep. Blood works in strange ways. It keeps us alive and it kills us. Those of us with a heart pumping too much blood go in two directions; one kills and one survives. Jason taught me that I could be a boy lost in a city with a home. He brought a familiarity to my life I thought was a bullshit vibe only found through iPhone apps. God made dirt, and dirt fills the holes. I don’t believe, but I believe in this: Jason was there for me when I was a piece of gravel in the yard, and I landed myself in his tire for a while. That was the best journey of my life. Life will kill us all, but I hope I lived like Jason.” – Luke

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“Through the garrulous waves of life, vexed and debated, this is the hour for which we waited.”
“At your core you are a decent man with fierce loyalties to your friends that have really become your extended family. I admire your ability to connect with people on such a deep level and proud that you are such a wonderful friend to many, including me. You have endured the lumps and bumps life has offered up with a sarcastic comment and a clenched fist to the sky; you are a warrior and you are my hero. Also you are handsome, talented, funny and smart.” – Marilyn

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“Sometimes you question your strength, you are incredibly strong never doubt that.”
“Jason is the strongest person I have ever met. Let me repeat: Jason is the STRONGEST person I have ever met. In his lifetime, he has been through more hardships and struggles than any one soul should have to endure, and somehow he still has it in him to be the kind, thoughtful and charming man he is today. He is a true renaissance man; changing paths several times in his life, he always follows his heart- something I think we could all stand to do a little more. He finds a way to achieve in all of his endeavors, and I believe that is a true testament to his strength as well. Whatever new challenge is placed before him (or he places in front of himself), Jason works so hard to not only overcome it, but to be the very best he can be. He is so naturally talented, and I admire his will to constantly grow, change and learn.
Jason’s positivity and seemingly bottomless sense of humor are things I most appreciate and love about him. Even through the low times, and there have been some seriously low times, his ability to bring levity through laughter has saved us both from the edge on more than one occasion. Jason makes those around him feel at ease, and he is so engaging… it’s impossible to ignore his energy in a room. It’s no wonder why he has an endless list of good friends and people who hold him in high regard. The guy knows A LOT of people in a lot of different walks of life, and all of them have great stories and a kind word to say about him. I love Jason, with my whole heart. I can’t imagine where I would be without him. He challenges me to be a better ‘me’ every day, and he makes me feel good about the woman that I am. He is my best friend, my confidante, my cheerleader and often times, my voice of reason. He is truly my partner in life. We’ve been on many adventures together, but with each one I learn more and more about the enigmatic Jason. He’s not perfect, and I’m glad he’s not. He’s real. He makes mistakes and owns them (most of the time). He doesn’t hide behind his past, but rather embraces it and uses it for fuel to become better than he was yesterday and that’s what I think I love about him best. I’m so grateful for his presence in my life, and I look forward to many more good times by each others’ side.” – Jayme

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“YOU ARE AMAZING. You are strong and brave and I am so proud of you. We all are.”

(Video: Jason hearing some of what his friends/family wrote)

(I recently did a shoot with Jason, documenting a day-in-the-life of his current fight against Stage 4 pancreatic cancer – you can see just how kickass he really is here: Fuck Cancer)

group13men_tylerinsw

Tyler – Insecurity ~

“My dad has never shown any interest in my life, unless it benefits him. Since I never got into football, dressed weird, and ended up w/ a lot of tattoos, he’s decided to focus on my younger brother. The star child. This is something that eats away at me daily. I find myself constantly questioning, “am I good enough?” That, on top of extreme abandonment issues. My dad has always been cold, emotionless & crude. I find these narcissistic traits surface in me from time to time, which makes me feel even worse about myself. Seeing the qualities in myself from a man who emotionally abandoned me. I have been estranged from my dad for 4 years now & he has given up all attempts to contact me. My hope is that his lack of pretense in my life will rectify these feelings of abandonment.”

(Video: discussion about Tyler’s insecurity)

What do you find is the biggest challenge for men these days?

“Keeping up w/ the status quo of what a man should be. Continuously judging one’s self on their own & other’s manhood.”

 If there is one thing women should know about men, it is…

“We are not all pigs & misogynists. Most of us look at you the same as we would anyone else. We are all equal & strive to make that evident.”

What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?

“Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t let anything or anyone change you. You will be loved by those worth loving back.”

 

group13men_tylerschoicewTyler’s friends and family ~

“Pratt is always someone who will make someone feel apart of the group. If you’re an outsider he will make you feel welcome.” – Jack

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“No matter how many times you fall down the stairs you always get back up and laugh it off. You aren’t going to let some stairs get in your way of having a good time.”

“Tyler has had to overcome adversity since he was a very small boy. He has overcome many obstacles and challenges to get to where he is today. He is a problem-solver and he is resilient. He has integrity, is an independent thinker, always sticks up for the underdog and is not afraid to take a stand against social injustice. Tyler is creative, talented and a gifted writer. I am so proud to be is mother.” – Jennifer

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“That you matter, you are loved, you make a difference, and you deserve the very best.”

“Tyler is GIVER. A NURTURER. The STRONG, SUPPORTIVE backbone to all that he has PASSION for; whether it is someone, or something. He has such a strong DRIVE and DEDICATION to anything that he puts his head towards, a GO-GETTER. A hard worker who puts his all into everything he does. Whenever you’re around him, regardless if it’s your first time meeting him, or your millionth – he is so PERSONABLE, BONDING, JOYFUL, GOOFY, it’s hard not to smile. He’s the most PASSIONATE and ENTHUSIASTIC person I’ve ever had the pleasure to have in my life. That boy has a spot in a lot of hearts.” – Brittany

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“Passion. He shows such drive, dedication in everything he does. He never half-asses anything, always giving his all. In work, hobbies, love, goals, ANYTHING. Gotta love him.”

(Video: Tyler hearing some of what his friends/family wrote)
group13men_chrisinswChris – Insecurity ~

“One of my main insecurities is that I don’t believe I am good enough at anything I do to be considered good enough. I do not think I am good enough at being a friend, since most birthdays I have I am lucky if I have anyone besides my husband to celebrate with – that includes parties/meet-ups that I have tried to throw. Nor do I receive messages from people who want to hang out, which itself makes me feel like I am uninteresting or people just feel meh around me. I don’t think I am smart enough with regards to my job – I feel that I don’t retain all the information in my head that I should, despite studying for it in college. I am not good enough at making financial plans, so putting off buying a house and having a family seems all too distant. I am not good enough at making sure I diet and exercise right and won’t be at my ideal body ever (especially doesn’t help now that I found I have genes that increase obesity likelihood). I am just not good enough and I am so lucky that I had someone marry me despite this. To quote/paraphrase Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek – The Next Generation, “you can do everything right and still lose” – which is basically what everyday feels like.”

(Video: discussion about Chris’s insecurity)

What do you find is the biggest challenge for men these days?

“I don’t think there is a single biggest challenge, but, one of the biggest challenges I see for men these days is critical thinking regarding their own conditioning. After having society (or even some families) telling you how you are supposed to be or act in life – it has to be asked why something makes sense and what actual evidence is provided for that determination. Questioning conditioning isn’t always something that increases productivity – but, it certainly keeps you from accepting what you are told.”

 If there is one thing women should know about men, it is…

“That men and women both have insecurities, many of which are similar in nature.”

What advice would you give your 10 year old self?

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do something, including being too tall to be a gymnast, as you are really good. Also, learn now how to invest.”

group13men_chrisschoicew

Chris’s friends and family ~

“His intellect, his sense of humor, his compassion. His love for food, music and art. His love of the Golden Girls.” – Del

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“You are loved.”

“Chris and his big, beautiful brain always make me smile. He’s got mathematical tattoos and understands so much about the natural world. I’m so encouraged by his love for the world and fellow humankind, and his fierce adherence to the greater good in all things.” – Tom

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

 He had the best wedding in the world. Everything and everyone was perfect.”

“Chris is super intense – he’s really an intelligent and analytical person, but he doesn’t let that get in the way of being a really deeply loving guy. He is just a kind person. It just comes to him naturally- I’ve always admired that about him. He makes being a truly good person look easy- and to be honest I have always felt that was something I personally have to try at more times than not.” – Calli

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“That he is loved by so many because he truly is “that friend”, one of the special ones❤”

“Chris Mooredrall is a very dear friend of mine. We met while I was married to a man and we hung out. We clicked right away! Chris and his husband were also some of my first art patrons, so they have a special place in my heart. I would describe Chris as sarcastically funny. I particularly value his sense of human consideration. Very kind-hearted and amiable. Sometimes he opens his mouth too much when he’s drunk, but it’s always a party during social occasions.” – Julian

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“He should always remember to keep collecting gemstones and minerals, and to come opal hunting with me.”

“Chris has a beautiful heart… it draws him to the beautiful things in life and he gets so much joy from sharing these things with others… whether its food, a beautiful jazz song or the love for his husband. I’m always so inspired by him. He is incredibly smart and so confident and a hard worker…. those are things I admire above many other things in my friend. He always has an encouraging word and always seems to know when someone needs a compliment and his heart again is so open and so giving… but, don’t cross him…he will tell you about your life…but, in the most politely stern way, lol.” – Najamoniq

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“People see you…and admire the way you’ve constructed a life of wonder, beauty and love.”

“Chris is fucking awesome. He can sing, he can dance, he can recite pi to fifty digits and solve physics equations in his underpants. He makes me giddy and misty eyed with handwritten notes expressing his love for me in cosmic analogies. When he holds me, I know I am safe in this world. Thoughtful and sensitive, strong and compassionate, he is my handsome husband, and one day, coming to a future near you, a proud father. How he acts with our younger nieces and nephews, and our friend’s children, only confirms my suspicion that when ours arrives, he will be the greatest dad in all of the universes. There is so much about Chris that I love, I just want him to know that I see all of this, I know all of this, and that I feel all of this. A brilliant romantic, his laughter fantastic, a bit quirky and spastic: he is perfect as is, but I know! He will continue to grow at an easy flow – a slow burn of eternal beauty and power, and Chris, I hope you see what I see, foreverly I love you” – Nick

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“You are strange and beautiful. Embrace it all.”

(Video: Chris hearing some of what his friends/family wrote)

group13men_steveinswSteve – Insecurity ~

“I have sporadic, yet, constant flashes of self-doubt/paralyzing fear about not being “enough”; that I’m not good enough of a father, boyfriend, friend, brother, son, writer, photographer, historian, lodge brother, Cub Scout leader or bearer of the family name. Thank goodness, I am not the eldest son. I’m just the spare heir. These flashes come at odd times and range from shocks like I Iicked a battery to downright lightning bolts of terror. They then disappear and I continue with my day. But, sometimes they linger, like a bad haircut or nose zit before prom. I fear I don’t measure up, ever, anywhere, randomly. Most of all, that I don’t measure up to my family heritage and honor. My parents are proud of me, sure. They get a kick out of area notables asking if they are related to “The Steve Dunkelberger.” But in the end, I feel it is not enough. I don’t want to be memorialized in bronze, but I do want someone to say at my deathbed, “Steve was a good man. He mattered. He upheld the family name.”

(Video: Steve elaborating on insecurity)

What do you find is the biggest challenge for men these days?

“Not being “allowed” to be real, with each other or with their relationships. Women have the cultural acceptance to some degree of pampering themselves (retreats, spa days, girls night outs) and self-exploration and reflection. Men do not. So we don’t, and the world suffers from that.”

If there is one thing women should know about men, it is…

“We are all vulnerable and just like to snuggle on the couch. Some just don’t want to admit it.”

What advice would you give your 10 year old self?

“Making friends is easy, keeping them close is hard, but, well worth the effort. It is not how much time spent with them, it’s how real and rooted you are during that time that counts.”

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Steve’s friends and family ~

“Dear Steve:
You are not afraid to be who you are. You are you. No matter what people say, or think, you know the person’s opinion that matters most is yours.

You are quirky.
You are a nerd.
You do an amazing Hot Dog Dance.
You are Captain America.
You are an awesome Dad.
You are my brother.

Love you, poohbear!

Joel”

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“When someone tell you you’re weird say, “Thank you!””

Steve,

You are a man of amazing intellect, talents, and gifts! Your incredible wit and wisdom make you one of the most engaging people to talk with that I have ever met (a trait that I am extremely envious of). I truly enjoy hearing your insightful perspective on our world and the people in it. You see the goodness and the goofiness in everything around you and while you certainly see the bad (e.g. greed, power/fear mongering, and hatred), you don’t dwell on that; you instead share with others the beauty and humanity that you see around you. You are a fantastic human being! The world could use a lot more Steve Dunkelbergers!” – James

 

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“You see the things that others don’t!”

“What I admire most is Steve’s integrity. I love his sense of humor even when some of it is beyond my real understanding. He is a walking book of trivia and some useful knowledge, too.” – Constance

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this:

“To believe in himself and be true to himself.”

“I admire his positivity and ability to be in a cheerful mood even when it’s difficult. I love his generous nature, always helping out a friend or loved one. I love the way he supports me, never tears me down, always lifting me up. I love how I can talk about anything with him.” – Kathleen

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about himself, it is this: 

He is worthy of love. He is the one I choose to be with.”

(Video: Steve hearing some of what his friends/family wrote)

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Group 12 – Reunion Group, raw.honest.loved.

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“Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings.
To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness.
Yes, we are totally exposed when we are vulnerable. Yes, we are in the torture chamber that we call uncertainty. And, yes, we’re taking a huge emotional risk when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
But there’s no equation where taking risks, braving uncertainty, and opening ourselves up to emotional exposure equals weakness.

‘When I see you doing something vulnerable, it looks like courage; when I do it myself, it feels like weakness.” – Brené Brown  (Daring Greatly)

You will hear me refer often to Brené Brown. Her research and writing has meant so much to me in the facilitation of this project.

She also said something that struck me and made me question my furthering of the project, however, and it was this: “Vulnerability without boundaries is not vulnerability.” Essentially, that we should be careful who we are being vulnerable with – with whom are you sharing? Has this person earned the right to hear your story?
This made me entirely nervous that for the last three years I’ve been putting all of these participants in too fragile of a spot. Sure, the groups themselves have been safe places, ones in which those with whom we are sharing deserve to hear our story because they are sharing their stories as well. But, these stories are also made public, a fact which obviously all participants are aware, however, are there repercussions for them that are too overwhelming? Is the overall outcome of doing these groups beneficial or something I should rethink?

It had been ten months since the last group of the Raw.Honest.Loved.Project had taken place. I missed it. I wanted to get back to it, to get back to talking about things that I feel really matter. But, I wanted to know if it’s worth the emotional upheaval that happens every time, the exhaustion that overwhelms each of us for the next few days. So, in order to answer that, I decided that Group 12 would be made up of participants from former groups. Maybe I could get some answers regarding the benefits vs. hardships resulting after being a part of this project. So, we did it. And I got answers. I got answers to questions I wasn’t even asking.

There is something unique that happened with this group. It seemed like each participant had a realization that they had held back somewhat in their previous group. That they had spoken of their insecurity, and it was extremely difficult, but most of them had spoken in generalities. In their first group, they were dipping their toe in this vulnerability thing without knowing what the outcome would be.
So, this time they were ready. They were going to dig deep, they were going to be specific, they were going to get to the crux of the insecurity. This is not something I asked them to do. To be specific, I only asked them to share their insecurity, to specify whether it was different than previously, to share what effect their prior participation had on the insecurity they had shared (if any), and to share what effect their prior participation had on their life in general (if any).
They got specific on their own. They went deep. And they poured their hearts out.

Depression. Teen suicide. Racism. Miscarriages. Infertility. Addiction. Alcoholism.

None of these topics are easy to discuss.
All of these topics were discussed, plus more.
And no one expected it to be easy. They expected it to be difficult and emotional to share. They also knew that others would relate, after their experiences previously.
What I don’t think anyone expected was how incredibly important some of them would prove to be for each other.
Without making this into a novel, hopefully, I want to let you in on some of the things that went on in this group that you can’t read simply through their insecurity write-ups included here.

Melissa was the first to share. Melissa had participated in the very first group and in Group 9 – Moms & Daughters. Even though she had participated twice, not just once, I felt she needed to be a part of this one. Melissa and I have been very, very close for quite a few years. She is one of the most important people in my life, so, I knew some things that she had been experiencing of late and I felt like this group could be beneficial for her and that her participation would, likewise, be beneficial for others. I had no idea how beneficial, however.
Let me tell you something about Melissa…she’s a pretty private person. She doesn’t share personal/family information with just anyone. She is pretty selective about who is allowed to really know her. Coming into this group, I thought she would share again in a bit of generalities and not want to pinpoint some of the exact trials her and her family had been experiencing.
She read her insecurity, we briefly left the group while I took her photo, we reconvened with the group, and that is when she blew me away. I asked her if she wished to share anymore than what she had written and she let loose.
She shared that her 15-year-old son, Ryan, had conveyed to her last spring (in a text, while she was at the grocery store – just to put this in perspective) that he didn’t think he was going to make it through the end of the year alive. He had been contemplating suicide. You can only imagine Melissa’s response to receiving a text like this. Thank goodness Ryan was brave enough to communicate this with his mom, even if it was so difficult for him that he couldn’t do it in person. Melissa did all she could think to do and took him to a hospital. ***As an odd side note, at this very time, I had just reached the airport, ready to fly out to Iowa for our Group 11, dealing with the very subject of teen suicide. Just as we arrived at the airport, I received a message from Melissa, alerting me to what was happening and thanking me for what I was heading to Iowa to do. I was heartbroken for her and confounded at the timing.*** Melissa ended up getting Ryan checked in for treatment, something he really didn’t want to do. He is now in therapy and working through best he can with the love and undying support of his family. She says in the group, “I don’t know if it was the right thing to do (checking him in for treatment against his will), but he’s still alive. We’re still struggling, we still don’t have a handle on it, but, he’s still with me.” She’s learned that, as Ryan told her, it’s not her fault. But, she also has learned that it is up to her to share her feelings, to let her family know what she is thinking. She can fix herself and herself alone and she can just be there for her family through it all.

As Melissa was sharing this, Ana contributes and relates to Ryan’s experiences, thinking back to her own teenage years and how difficult it was to get through them. As this is happening, I’m noticing Bella. I knew Bella had (and continues to, to a degree) experienced her own struggles with the very topic, as well, and as she is still a teenager, I knew she was going to be invaluable to Melissa. I noticed her wanting to say something, so, we just decided that she would go next with her own insecurity. Almost immediately upon returning from her reading her insecurity and us photographing her with her board, she turns to Melissa and says this:

“Melissa, when I was a freshman, when I was 14, I got diagnosed with really severe depression and anxiety. When I was 16, I tried to kill myself. I tried to overdose on the antidepressants I was taking…and I promise you, what you did for your son is so much more than you’ll ever know. I know maybe sometimes you feel guilty, maybe you feel like you forced him to do something, but one day, after so much hardship, he will get to this point where the little things make him happy again. That’s what my mom did for me and I cannot imagine what would have happened if she hadn’t. And I promise you it was the best possible thing you can do and that he’s sooo grateful, even when he’s hurting.”

Not sure there was a dry eye to be found. It was a serious mic drop moment. I actually said afterward, “Welp, we’re done.” Bella summed up what Melissa didn’t even know she needed to hear. In her wiser-than-17-years, she had provided the exact kind of comfort Melissa needed. And, I know this to be a fact, her honesty and her raw truths, along with Melissa’s (and Ryan’s willingness to let this be told), will go far in helping many others. You never know who your words are going to touch.

There are so many things I wish to write about everyone’s experiences in the group…Sylvia’s fears about where this country is heading, fears about her mixed-race children growing up in a country that seems to be reverting to a disgusting time when racism runs rampant; Liz’s feelings of inadequacy, feeling like she’s a fraud and faking it and people just haven’t quite figured it out yet; Ana’s feelings that she has regressed into less than – that she is a shell of herself and is trapped by her depression and anxiety; Joshua’s feelings on all of the work he’s done and yet how this still finds him empty when it comes to personal relationships that he craves (Oh Joshua, and all the work he’s done! Amazing!); Ian’s feelings regarding his lack of motivation and how much he could be accomplishing if he could just find the drive (and he found the love of his life! YOU GUYS, I somehow acted as the weirdest cupid ever! all because of this project! read that!); Rosie’s admittance about her constant struggle dealing with loss, how the loss of her son is something in the past for most people but is fresh in her face on a daily basis; how this affected her with the birth of her grandson.

Please, please, please read all of their stories, in addition to Melissa’s and Bella’s. I wish I had time to go into detail on each and every one. But, I’m sure I would lose you if I kept spewing out all of the words that are running through my mind regarding this group.
I must, however, discuss Summer.

Summer was originally in Group 10 – Couples. She participated with her husband of 20+ years, Daniel. And they held hands the entire time. And he comforted her and was there for her. Unintentionally, I took that away from her this time. When I realized that I had asked her to participate by herself, I wasn’t thinking at the time about how I was essentially taking away her security blanket of sorts, without having Daniel there. Somehow, Summer still agreed to do this, even though she was going to be so very raw and exposed for the world to see. And she went deeper than I ever would have expected. And she put her heart out there for me, for you, and for herself.
She spoke about loss. About the profound desire to be a mother. About experiencing loss in that way eight. different. times. Being pregnant eight times and having not one child to show for it.
…I hate even writing that and I feel like I need to take this giant pause. We all should take this giant pause and let that sink in. The weight that one bears at the loss of a child is so heavy, and one that I can’t even pretend to understand. But, my heart is gutted for her. And for anyone who has experienced this kind of pain. Make sure to read Summer’s story further down the page, but, in the meantime, I want to relay what she said after she read her insecurity with us, when I asked if she wanted to elaborate anymore…

“It just sucks. And I think if anybody could just not say that one phrase to people…that ‘everything happens for a reason’…because it rips me out inside…and I understand and I try to understand that it’s coming from a place of trying to make the world make sense for everybody and that they’re finding faith in that, and you’re trying to say something because you just don’t know what to say, but, it’s just cruel to say it to somebody who’s had any kind of loss. It’s just a cruel thing to say.”

Let’s talk about that – “Everything happens for a reason.”
Can we just call bullshit on that line, please?
Sure, there are reasons for everything.
Scientific reasons. Health reasons. Mathematic reasons. Emotional reasons. All of the reasons. But when does this line ever actually comfort someone? When does it do anything more than relieve your own discomfort for a brief second by giving you something to say?? Don’t get me started on things like “God has a plan,” “He/She is in a better place,” and the always-cringing “God must have needed another angel”.
As Summer said, most of the time these comments come from strangers. Strangers who asked if she had any children (a common question, understandably) and for some reason demanded to know “why not??”
Guess what, guys? Sometimes it’s none of our goddamn business.
Sometimes we need to realize that someone may be going through a bigger struggle than they are willing to share…a bigger struggle than we, as strangers, are deserving of knowing. Let’s just keep that in mind.
First off, maybe just don’t ask the questions of which answers we’re not entitled. You don’t really need to know “why not,” you don’t.
Second, if they have shared their struggle and we don’t know what to say, how about nothing…? Maybe an “I’m sorry” and that is all. Maybe an “I’m here for you,” if you really are. Maybe a hug. Maybe a comforting, brief hand holding. But, maybe really nothing at all.
Not “everything happens for a reason.” Not “God has a plan.”

There are so, so, so many more things I could say about this group. So many things I could say about how participating has affected them. How their participation has affected me. How I am always without words for several days after each group. How beautiful and equally exhausting each experience is. How much I want to shout all of their stories to the world to see who they stick to, who they help. Because I know they do. And it’s why I will continue with this. Indefinitely.

Thank you for sticking with me. Thank you for reading their stories. And now, in their own words:

(p.s. we did something a little different this time and, instead of ME reading everything their friends/family wrote in to them, we surprised them with these messages from their friends/family member’s own mouths. RIGHT OUT OF THEIR FACES.🙂  Those who were able to do so either came in to record with us or sent me recordings. I thank each of you SO MUCH for this. I can’t even tell you how much it meant to your loved one. Ask them. They’ll tell you. I, for one, appreciate you greatly. All of you who wrote in and especially went out of your comfort zone and recorded a video. You are awesome. Thank you.)

(p.p.s. I will include links to their prior groups when I am not rushing off to work. I will maybe include videos, as well. So, come back later. There may be new stuff for you.❤ )

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Melissa (Group 1 & Group 9 – Moms & Daughters)

“That I will fail my children.
I am still struggling with my same insecurities as the last round I was in, “Mothers and Daughters”. I can handle my personal failures. Failing my children is gut wrenching.”

 

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

 It doesn’t. My family is what matters most to me, so that is where most of my insecurities lie.

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

 “I was in round 1 and I played it safe with my insecurities. I have issues with my body, but don’t well. I revealed that I’m really good at putting up a strong front, but I’m scared on the inside. In Group 9, I addressed the challenges of raising children.
Since my last group, we have struggled more as a family. I felt broken, my family felt broken. I tried to be strong, but I couldn’t keep that up. I had to give that up. I fell apart, each of us felt apart. But we didn’t give up.
We are truly Raw, Honest and Loved.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

 “The past year has been really rough for me. I know I’m not perfect and was never meant to be. I’ve learned to own my shit.
In those dark moments when everything seems to be crumbling down around me and I’m fighting to keep my head above water, whatever choice I make at the moment is what I am capable of. And that’s okay. My words may have been wrong. My actions could have been better. I’m not perfect, I wasn’t meant to be.
Living my life does not make me a failure. My mistakes do not own nor define me.
I have control over me, not my husband, not my son and not my daughter. It’s not my fault, it’s no one’s fault. Sometimes it is what it is. And that’s okay, I’m okay.”

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Melissa’s friends and family ~

Gail – “Melissa is very kind, generous and passionate. I admire her ability to separate herself from a conversation without saying anything negative but yet still listening to what others have to say and respecting their opinions. I love how she is passionate about her family and friends. Melissa has a quiet confidence about herself that is encouraging and makes those around her confident. She is selfless, compassionate and fun-loving. I feel as though I have become a better person by having her in my life. Melissa is a beautiful person, both inside and out. I appreciate her and love her for the person, friend, wife and mother that she is.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Not sure when she started this, but she has always been a beautiful person to me.”


Ryan – 
“That she is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of others’ happiness. She comes home from work and cleans, cooks, cleans that, and then repeats everyday, not to mention also taking care of her mother. I would never be able to do that. My mom keeps our family from falling apart. If she never had, everything would have gone to shit years ago. I love her.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“She has a more upbeat view of life.”


Lily – (Thank you for the video, Lily!)
Mom, it is one thing to say that I love you because you’re my mom, but to me I love you because you’re also my best friend. I look up to you so much more than you think. You are so empowered and strong that, no matter what, I know you will stand up for yourself and everyone you love and that makes me so proud to be your daughter. You don’t take enough credit for what you do as a parent and as a friend. You help Ryan and I get through so much and you are always there for us when we feel nobody else is. I can’t thank you enough for being the amazing, beautiful, sassy woman you are. Also not to mention your fabulous dab skills😉 I LOVE YOU MOMMA YOU ROCK!”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“She seems more open and refreshed, so now it feels like we can talk about anything and there’s no fear of judgment…it’s hard to explain but that’s what came to mind.”
Alana – “Hey, Melissa…you didn’t ask me to write in for you. Preeeeeeeetty sure you didn’t ask me to write in for you the first time, either. Because you’re like that…and you probably think I’m going to embarrass you. Because I am. Maybe.
I cannot NOT write in for you, however. You’re too important to me to pass up talking about.
You are my sister. My Filipino, lumpia-cookin’, bacon fried rice makin’, sister from another mister. You are my blood even without being my blood. I like a lot of people…I’m a pretty social girl…but there is a small handful of people that I keep in my pocket, that I know are solid, loving, loyal, hilarious friends that are in it for life with me. You are unique in that way. We have laughed so hard we cried, on many occasions. On fewer occasions, we’ve cried so hard we’ve laughed. When you hurt, I hurt, and I’m damn sure the same is true, vice versa. You’re the first to call me out when I’m being a dumbass, in the most hilarious way possible. You’re the first to hug me when I don’t even know I need it.
You are tough as nails and mushy as a marshmallow. It’s one of the things I love about you. You put on a tough exterior (and, don’t get me wrong, you’re pretty badass), but, you hurt and you feel and you care and you love. While this all makes you one of the best friends ever, it also makes you one of the most fantastic moms I’ve ever known. Your heart is carried with Ryan and Lily. You worry about them, you cry when they are hurting (even when you’re doing your best not to), and you rejoice when they are excelling.
You are everything I want to be. You’re one of the best right-hand ladies I have. We will always be connected. I will always keep you close, and not just because of your killer lumpia. I love you, Melissa!”

 

Group12BellafinalBella (Group 2 – Teens)

Oh boy. Fuck. Shit. Here we go. This was really hard to write at first but it’s gotta happen.
I am totally, completely, absolutely worthless.
All I am capable of is exhausting those around me. I am too loud and too emotional too often; I will never be loved. . This seems like a huge thing, something too over-dramatic to be an everyday insecurity, but it’s something I carry everyday. If I think about it too much, I melt down confronting the thought that nobody could ever love someone with so much baggage. Nobody will ever want a girl with daddy issues, or depression, or anxiety, or problems with trust. Nobody will ever want someone with the tendency to explode emotionally over the smallest thing, or someone who will rant for hours over a random fixation that changes every day- someone overwhelming and inconsistent. Nobody will ever want someone with messy hair and too much eyeliner and no real talent. I can’t even succeed in killing myself. I will never be worth investing time in because I am broken, something you complain to your friends about, something you avoid, and something you hate. From tip to toe, I am soaked in flaws, all adding up to one obvious conclusion:
I am unlovable. I am scary. I am worthless.”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

 A lot, yes. At fourteen, I don’t think I was ready to be very raw with Group 2 – I didn’t know Alana or the other adults helping out at all, and the few girls that I did know I had just met a few months prior at the start of my freshman year. At the time, I had just been diagnosed with severe depression and had a very hard time coping with this idea. Unfortunately, this only amplified the insecurity I had already developed (namely) after years of emotional abuse by my dad. My previous insecurity was a real one, but I think it was the undetailed version of my true fear.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

The project helped me realize I wasn’t alone, and that I could be brave and talk about the things I kept inside that were hurting me. Even though I still struggle with my mindbeast (new word), the sliver of time I got with my group was forged in my memory, and in many ways reminded me to keep going on later when things were rough.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

 As mentioned above, the memory of participating in the project triggered positive, comforting thoughts that reminded me that I don’t have to be perfect and I don’t have to be defined by what I am insecure about. After RHL, I also grew much closer to a few of the girls from my group, and these lasting friendships have had a HUGE positive impact on my life!”

bellachoiceBella’s friends and family ~

Adam – Dear Bella, You are a wonderfully smart person who is very committed to being there for their family. Seeing that in someone is very special. Your passions are very important to you but you don’t let them get in your way.
You tend to be hard on yourself due to prior experiences/over-arching thoughts and you should know that you are brilliant.
Don’t stop being brilliant.”

 


Ruby – (Thank you for the video, Ruby!)
“I admire how outgoing, creative, kind, good-humored, thoughtful, intelligent, beautiful, and loving Bella is! She is an amazing friend and I love her so much.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I didn’t know Bella that well before she participated in this project. But, since becoming much closer, I have definitely and without a doubt watched her grow and unleash her true self. It’s been such a beautiful experience getting to know my now best friend.”


Maya –
“Bella not only has a beautiful heart and mind, she is one of the most down-to-earth people I know. I know I can talk to her about anything and ask for advice and get a realistic answer. Bella has a personality that makes you love her. She is a reliable friend that you can always count on and is a confident person with a strong opinion. Whether it’s about politics, art, or music, she is not afraid to voice her thoughts. As well as having a beautiful heart and mind, she is quite beautiful herself. Bella is a strong-hearted young woman with so much ahead of her. I know that whatever life presents, she will overcome it gracefully.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Bella seems like she has become so much more confident in herself and really seems like she is enjoying the company of her friends. She has grown so much in the past two years and seems like she really found out more about herself. Even in this short timespan I have really noticed a positive change in Bella.”
Alana – “Bella, When you first did the project almost three years ago, meeting you for the first time, I was already impressed by you. You were timid, yet bold. You were sad and yet unashamed. You put your heart out there, you broke down, and you found understanding in the group. You were there for the other girls, as well, understanding and encouraging them.
Since the group, I’ve watched you grow. You are a super talented photographer. You have a laugh that is addicting. You have a shyness about you that is sweet and somehow inviting. You are very self-aware, maybe sometimes detrimentally so. Things you see as flaws in yourself are so often things that draw others to you and make them feel closer to you and understood by you. You have the ability and the insight to make so much change in this world. You have empathy and compassion for so many others; I just want you to have the same for yourself. My wish for you is that you show yourself the same kindness, love, patience, and understanding that you demonstrate for the people in your life.
You have soooo many opportunities available to you, with the talent and drive you possess. You have already done so many cool things. I’m so excited to see what Montana has in store for you and to watch you take this world and make it yours. High school is such a crazy time, trying to find your way among everyone else doing the same, so many influences affecting the outcome. I swear to you, it gets better. Sometimes it’s easier, sometimes it’s not. But, it does. It gets better. I look forward to seeing the adult you become and the effects on all of the people who are destined to be inspired by you. Take this world, grab it by the balls, and don’t look back.❤ “


Ursula – “
I love so many things about Bella. She is beautiful inside and out. I love that she has a bubbly personality and a real zest for life. I admire her tenacity and the way she dreams big. I am so excited to see what her future holds because I know it will be incredible. I admire her for having so many closely held causes that she fights for and I admire her passion. I love that she is so empathetic towards others and that she is a loyal friend. I love that she is my daughter.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Every year that passes, Bella becomes more and more confident and fully herself. She is great at sticking to her guns and sticking up for herself. She is more resilient, she takes what she needs from difficult moments or experiences and moves forward instead of being “stuck.” I am proud of how she is evolving and taking care of herself.”

Group12SylviafinalSylvia (Group 4)

 “I find myself feeling powerless and fearful. I am afraid of our society and what the future holds for my children. I am afraid of the change I see in people, in the way we treat each other, in what seems to be a startling and sudden increase in violence and racism, in what might happen if we continue down the road we are on. I have this sense of foreboding… something big and bad is coming and I can’t stop it and I am terrified I won’t be able to keep my family or myself safe from it. This causes a lot of anxiety in me, and it affects the way I live my life from day to day. It makes me feel trapped and chained to my fears, instead of freely living my life every day and enjoying all of the wonderful things and people in it.”


Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

Somewhat. I still have a fear of conflict, but it seems to have taken more of a back seat to my current anxieties. It feels like my “scaredy-pussness” has shifted from having an overwhelming fear of conflict and how I am viewed to a fear of a more generalized sort…one that encompasses more areas of my life and puts me on almost constant edge.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

The project is wonderful in that it really shows that even something that feels like a huge negative quality or insecurity might not even be apparent at all to those that love us and care about us. I found it very interesting that so many people were surprised when they read my write up as they had no idea I felt that way about myself. It made me feel stronger just to know that my closest friends and family really did think I was strong, among many other wonderful things.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

I love that in times where I feel down on myself, or can’t seem to remember why I have people in my life that care about me or value me, I can pick up my book that has all of the kind and loving words from my loved ones, and be reminded that I am worthy. It’s made a big difference to me and I am so grateful to be part of something like this.”

sylviachoiceSylvia’s friends and family ~ 

Leah  – (Thank you for the video, Leah!)“Sylvia has the most profound appreciation for life. I don’t say that because she has all the answers about existence but because she lives in the present while working towards her future in the best way she can. She navigates herself in an ‘always aware’ manner even though she may not see it that way. I know myself and many around her do. Whether I am emailing, talking on the phone, or sitting across from her she radiates an almost special kind of joy. An energy that radiates from her love of her husband, kids, meema, friends, sister, other family members, and all that’s in her life. Even when struggling with bad news or a hard day she can find even the tiniest thing to laugh and smile about because she is grounded by her deep appreciation for all that she has. It’s one of the most stunning qualities I have ever seen in anyone before and the rarest. Sylvia is unique and someone to aspire to be more like. One of the most loving and selfless wives. One of the most positive and patient mothers. One of the most loyal and giving friends. One of the most grateful and supportive family members. She is one of a kind and should never forget that because it’s what makes her so amazing. Her beauty is flawless from the inside out.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I think having read what everyone wrote about her helped her embrace how much she was loved and how much she really loved in return.”


Chelsea –(Thank you for the video, Chelsea!)
I love that Sylvia is such a great and warm person who is excellent at all she does. She is a wonderful mother! Sylvia is beautiful inside and out. She is such a great cook. She is strong, with a big, lovely heart!”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“She has since become a mother of two and is now married. She is positive and stronger and happier than ever and I’m so proud of her and love her to bits!”


Justine – (Thank you for the video, Justine!)
Sylvia is one of the most caring people I know. She is always available for family and friends when they need to talk or vent no matter how busy she is. And, she is so practical in her advice and comments (never given unless asked for). Sylvia is always honest in what she says, but says it with love.
Sylvia is also very careful about people’s feelings and really thinks about how things will affect the person before speaking.
She is an amazing mother. She is so patient with her boys, explains why she is disciplining them and just enjoys being around them. One can just see the love when she looks at them. They are her priority.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Sylvia has always been a confident person, but now I think she carries that confidence with more ease.
I still don’t think she realizes just what a fantastic person she is.”
David – “Sylvia is an empathetic person, as sincerely as a person can be. I doubt she knows how obvious this is. Her love for others and her concern for their well-being shows in many, many ways… from tangible efforts to the comments she makes outside of their presence. When she’s allowed time to care about herself this much, there is no doubt that happiness and humor are contagious. This crazy world seems a bit more normal, and a lot more promising because she is a part of it.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Any changes must be things within her, because she is the same beautiful person she has always been.”

 

Group12LizfinalLiz (Group 9 – Moms & Daughters)

“Am I enough? Am I doing a good job at being ME? Would my dad be proud of me? I feel sometimes like I am a fraud. If people only knew what was really going on inside my head, i would be exposed. I fake it all the time – I fake being a good mom, being good at my job, being a good partner, being a good daughter, being a good friend. If they only KNEW! I am a hot mess. Often, paralyzing feelings of inadequacy keep me frozen. I can’t move on something because if I do, I may fail. If I fail, everything will fall down around me. I will undo everything I have worked for. Being frozen in fear makes me out to be a flake, but it’s all stemming from a deep-seeded feeling of doubt.”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

My group was the moms and daughters – so I was more focused on being a woman, and how my relationship was with my daughter. Being a mom to my kid. Feeling inadequate as a mom is only one piece of my general self-doubt. A big piece – but only one layer of a juicy onion.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

My girl and I are close – we were tight going into the group, and out – even more so. I think it helped her see I wasn’t making it up when I would tell her – “even the beautiful girls have bad days!” The group gave me more credibility with Caitie, somehow. Strengthened the trust level with her and that fed into me feeling more legit as a mom. I am doing right by her because she is a good kid – with a future. She makes good decisions because of what I have done as her mom.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

I am much quicker to squash other peoples’ self talk. Funny, I am not kind to myself, but am the first to point out the negative element to others. I say, “Be nice to you. No one else will be as mean and harsh as you are being to yourself. Knock it off!” – But I can’t seem to get myself to follow suit.”

lizchoiceLiz’s friends and family ~

Caitie  – (Thank you for the video, Caitie!)“My mom, Liz, is the most amazing woman I know. She is constantly putting my needs before her own. She is generous, kind, empathetic, and creative. She has a heart of gold. She continues to surprise me with her talents. She kicks ass at making jewelry, and she definitely knows how to bust a move. She never fails to make me giggle and I am so grateful to have such a close relationship with her. I love you more than you will ever know.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“My mom hasn’t been as quick to judge. She is more like “don’t judge until you know their story first”. Also, when I’m not having a good day and I’m hating on myself she says “What would Alana tell you right now”? In the sense that we’ve both learned a lot about ourselves, and how to love ourselves doing the RHL project.”


Michael – (Thank you for the video, Michael!) 
I sat to follow the instructions but the words seem to be repetitive … your motherly, nurturing desire to be consciously motivating, ambitious, creative, and loyal …things you already know about yourself; so I closed my eyes to find a thought more visual. It’s easy to point out the traits that show how wonderful you are as a person, how delighted I am to know you, your family and the positive springing effect in my own life while you’re sharing the beauty of hopefulness.
‘With my eyes shut …I see a porcelain doll dancing in the window in an antique shop with a smile on her face, there are a few books in the window also, while they are in pristine condition their titles worn away. On the other side of the window, in various cool hues, a seasonal mist but there are no clouds; from inside a man waves to a female child under a pink umbrella holding a bag of art supplies. This might be a painting with soft almost undefined pastel lines.’
Thank you for sharing your story with me.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“We’ve known one another a long time but we didn’t really know each other, so it wouldn’t be fair to lay an answer proper here. I support her progress as she feels the project has been beneficial.”


Dianne –(Thank you for the video, Dianne!) 
Liz has a heart of gold. She jumps to the rescue when or wherever there is a need without hesitation or even a concern for her own well-being. As an example, she offered to house, feed and even provide transportation for an old friend who needed a place to live “temporarily,” and when that favor lingered on for nearly a year, she found it very painful to tell him that it was time to move on.
It took great strength for her to finally take this step.
Liz is creative, designing jewelry from found or even discarded objects. She has her father’s eye for seeing the potential beauty in things the rest of us see as shabby. And she also shares her father’s skills in craftsmanship, qualities that are especially admirable in a woman.
As a single parent, Liz works very hard raising her challenging teenage daughter. It is never easy to parent a teen, but she deserves much credit for tackling this job single-handedly.
For these and many other strengths and qualities, Liz is a unique, strong and beautiful person, from the inside out. She is much loved.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Liz continues to grow in important ways, becoming financially independent and becoming more confident in her career, and finding the strength to deal with a 15-year-old daughter!”


Adam – (Thank you for the video, Adam!)
I love you because you accept me for me. You don’t walk in front of me or behind me but beside me. Your loyalty and willingness to give your all is something that I thought I would never find in another human being. You compliment me in ways that I can’t even describe. Just by being you, you have helped mend parts of me that I thought would never heal. You are my missing puzzle piece and my better half. You’re the foam on my latte. Not to mention it’s so hard to find a girl with “no” not in her vocabulary. This is the point where I’m supposed to say an ending, but quite honestly there isn’t going to be an ending.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“She wears her heart on her sleeve since I’ve known her. If anything, she’s been defined and distilled.”

 

Group12SummerfinalSummer (Group 10 – Couples)

“I am not a Mom.
I am not a mom so that makes me less. Less in a physical way. Less emotionally. Less biologically. Less socially. Less spiritually. Less in a human way. Being able to have a child is something that I took for granted. I come from a long line of breeders. Women that tried to prevent pregnancy and failed. I was a condom baby. My sisters were each a different form of birth control gone awry. I thought it would be easy. In fact, I spent years being super cautious. But, it wasn’t. It isn’t. In my youth and as a younger woman I didn’t want children. So, when it came up socially – when it came up in every complete inappropriate way – I was indignant. I stood up for my right to not have children. I spoke out loudly and proudly and confidently in my decision. Then a switch in my heart turned on and we were ready to have a child. We were excited and scared and expectant. And then I lost the first pregnancy. Then I lost another that threatened my life. So then I moved home. Then it became 8 losses in what has now been 9 years of heartbreak. Now, I am a woman that has had eight pregnancies and has no children. I’m not a Mom. Even though I want to be. Even though I’ve tried desperately to be. So that leaves this ache and need that is so deep, so private, so painful. Yet, this unbelievable amount of pain, of grief, of mourning, this private hell is open for public scrutiny within three sentences of meeting a stranger. I am reminded every day that I am not a Mom. With innocent enough, completely intrusive questions.
Questions that knock me to my knees and socially dictate that I only allow a public flicker of the pain to show across my face as I answer, “No, I don’t have any children.” Then comes the “Well, why not? You would have been a great parent,” and all of me wants to scream “I THINK SO TOO BUT THE UNIVERSE AND MY BODY TEAMED UP AND DESTROYED THIS DREAM 8 GOD DAMN TIMES. STOP TALKING TO ME.” And instead, I stand silently, awkwardly, letting the pause happen and then a weak smile cross my lips, anything to try to get the person to just stop talking to me. From seeing the pain I am walking around with. Because I already know I am less. I hear that voice at the edge of my pain that says ‘you don’t deserve that kind of happiness. You weren’t worthy.’ Not worthy of a basic biological function. How’s that for feeling insecure? Everyday there are reminders of how incomplete, how much less I am. From every marketed image of a woman in every media outlet to the quiet that is our life when it’s just the two of us at home on Christmas morning. I am fighting desperately to keep the bitter out. To not fill that big void of what we wanted, what we planned, what we tried for with a mounting and consuming bitterness. The bitterness grows to an all consuming pitch every time I hear, “Well, things happen for a reason”… If only the people saying this knew that one statement reinforces every painful and damaging thought I already have, it offers not a glimmer of comfort and makes me want to scream, “How can you possibly believe in the cruelty of what you are saying?” I still fight for the right of any man or woman to proudly and confidently know themselves and make the decision to not have children. But for me, I haven’t been allowed to make that choice. It’s been forced. I am not capable of creating a baby. So in that way I am less. Less in the eye of society. Less the baby, less the family, less the role of Mom I dreamed of and wished for. In these ways I am less me. I am not a Mom.”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

“The last time I participated in this project my phrase was “the sadness will consume me”. It was the larger pain. It was the all-encompassing lifelong struggle with feeling like not enough. Participating this time, I am sharing a very personal and more recent example of a struggle I am facing in my life. It touches on the entire struggle I shared last time but in a very specific, almost tangible struggle I am trying so hard to work through and accept. I was dealing with this same pain, insecurity and mourning last time, but it was buried inside of the larger thoughts. This time it’s more focused and a smaller piece of me. A piece of me that consumes me. But, it does not define all of me.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

Being in this project threw my darkest and worst fear and all of my worst thoughts right out into the light. It stripped them bare. It allowed the crushing weight I had allowed to build on my soul to be lightened. I didn’t understand the crushing weight I was living under. Facing my thoughts, my fear in a public forum left me no more room to keep it hidden. It left it no more room to grow. It took away the overwhelming feeling I wasn’t even able to fully articulate before the project and lightened the weight and place I held it in in my life.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

“Right after the project I was more raw then I think I’ve ever felt. I curled up with Dan and we just processed. Sometimes together, sometimes alone. We kept the dialogue open between us and kept discussing how we were feeling as we began to heal.
After giving it some space and some time, the one thing I saw in my own experience, in his experience and within the group was the power to just “say it.” It’s become my own personal mantra. I come from a family that didn’t let the secret, dark and painful stuff out. The beginning of my relationship with my partner was spent keeping all the secret, dark and painful stuff tucked and hidden. All of that not talking about stuff led me to live a life constantly trying to discern what someone else was thinking, feeling, doing. It left me creating entire internal stories that were not based on facts, truth or reality. I listened that night to my own voice releasing that insecurity and realized how powerful just having the ability to “say it” out loud was in letting it go. I also watched the human I know better than anyone else on the planet release his insecurity by reading it aloud and watched how that changed him. How had I spent 25 years with him and not known what was holding him back and weighing his soul? Sometimes you just assume people understand or know something. Or you assume you understand or know something. Until you “say it” you have no chance to open up communication and understanding. You block all of those opportunities to connect, learn and share.
I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life also playing the middleman. Interpreting for family. Running protective barriers around them. Trying to help control how information was shared, what was shared, how it was shared etc. Trying to explain intention. Trying to control the painful emotions, conversations and events. I am now pushing back on those closest to me and instead of trying to protect them and run interference, I am pushing them to have direct conversations. Pushing them to stop making up what’s happening/happened and ask the person in question directly. It’s a slow and painful process. For all of us. It’s also the strongest and most open I’ve ever felt in each of these relationships. It is more transparent. More open. More genuine. The secrets we protect have the power to destroy. I’m done with intentionally holding secrets. It’s a new stage in my life, the “just say it” stage, and it’s a welcomed breath for my soul. I don’t think I could have landed here at this particular time without having gone through this project.”
summerchoiceSummer’s friends and family ~

Patricia – “Talking about Summer is so easy to do. She has the biggest heart and gives love to all willing to accept her. She is an amazing talent with a creative eye both behind and in front of the camera. Strong and smart, even in adversity, she rises to face all that is handed her.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Not sure I have noticed any change in Summer. She always greets me with honest and sincere love… the best of her.”


Jessica – “
Summer is more determined than anyone I know. She is motivated beyond belief and pushes through when all the walls are caving in. She’s thoughtful and has a way with words that can bring tears to your eyes. She sees the glass as half-full. She is strong even through disappointment. Her laugh and smile are genuine. I admire love and respect the woman she is. She’s beyond talented with her camera. Her eyes raise the ordinary to extraordinary. She is committed to her husband and they have an inspiring relationship and love story.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“She is more honest. Not that she wasn’t before but she’s sharing more and putting herself out there more. Rather than keeping things bottled up and closed in. She’s taken ownership of areas of her life that she was private with before – her work, her health, and her relationships with others.”


Daniel – (Thank you for the video, Daniel!)
Summer,  I love you because of George! (For the uninformed George is a wild Muscovy duck that about two weeks ago adopted our rooftop as it’s home in downtown Tacoma.) The very first day I walked in the door and you told me his (we later learned he’s a she) name was George, and I knew. I knew because I’ve seen it happen thousands of times over the years I’ve know you. I’ve seen it happen with everything from a piece of discarded piece of furniture on the side of the road, to a potato bug trying to cross a busy street. You are in LOVE!! All the way, and I mean all the way, I mean the kind of Love that poets attempt to capture. The kind of Love that makes you giggle for no reason, that makes the world brighter. The Love that destroys limits and understanding. It doesn’t need a reason or to even make sense to you. You just are. That is absolutely the number one reason I Love you.
I’m not sure why, or when it happened, or what I said or did, which god or demon I pleased, but I’m blessed that you Love Me in that way. Being in the depths of your Love gave me the freedom to be Me. I feel like I should put parentheses here for the uninformed and explain how I use language simply and all that, but instead I’ll return to trying to bare my soul on paper and pretending that knowing other people will be reading this scares the shit out of me.
Thank you for LOVING Me. I look forward to the next 70 years!

Yours forever + 2
Daniel

P.S. did you see how I was being Me and making a joke when I was feeling emotional vulnerable? Seriously, though, I feel blessed that you Love Me.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“The biggest change I’ve seen in Summer since the Project is that she is more forgiving of herself.”


Kirsten –(Thank you for the video, Kirsten!)
“Summer, What can I say… you are an amazing woman. You are talented in so many ways. I respect and admire your many gifts. You love with your whole heart. Once you decide to love someone there is nothing you wouldn’t do for them. You give more than you receive and that is something I admire about you. You have always been my big sister and have always looked out for me. In turn, I have always looked up to you. Your strength inspires me to be a better me. You are dedicated to your family and friends. Your sense of humor is great and cracks me up. Your love and infatuation with George makes my heart smile for you. You are an incredible person who is always striving to be even better. You are relentless in your efforts to always improve on you. You are a great storyteller who has an incredible ability to bring out the emotions of others through your words. You never pretend to know all the answers and aren’t afraid of admitting that. You are a good friend who always remembers to check up on important things in other’s lives. I could go on for days but I am a procrastinator and there is a fast approaching deadline for this… So I will leave you with this, you are pretty darn great, someone I love and admire. I am honored to be a part of your life. 
Love you most,
Kirsten”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“The biggest change I have seen in Summer is that she is actively working to say what she feels. She is working on being direct. I do not know if this is a reflection of her participation in the last group, but it is definitely something I think is great. The environment in which we grew up taught us how to put up a front and pretend everything was perfect. Her renewed effort to breakdown those walls and openly express her feelings is admirable. I understand the strength this takes for her to do so and I am so glad she is on a path to being more true to who she is, letting go of the past.”

 

Group12AnafinalAna (Group 4)
“I feel pale, somehow, compared to who I was before. Like I’ve lost who I am amid all my recent upheavals, changes, and struggles. I’m less funny, less clever, less pretty, less kind, less social, less…. everything less. I feel like I’ve faded.
It’s as if a fog of anxiety, depression, and illness has wrapped me up and cut me off from the vivacious parts of myself.
More hoodies, less dresses, more black and gray, less color. I feel monochromatic in every sense of the word.
And I feel like everyone is impatiently waiting for me to step back into myself, pick up my hair dye bottles and erupt into my colorful, sassy, witty, comforting self. And I’m over here waiting to feel real again.”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

 “Before, I felt like a burden, an unwelcome obligation to the people in my life. And while I still struggle with that from time to time, it’s not prominent at all. I think this new insecurity is fundamentally different.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

The people in my life have made it very clear over the last couple years that I offer more than I ever thought I did. That I have intrinsic value. The people in this project helped me see through unbiased eyes. They saw a valuable person who is loved.
I saw that they couldn’t all be wrong.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

“It made a tremendous impact. I forgot how powerful being open, soft, and vulnerable could actually be. It’s a needed type of strength, the type that allows you say the important things to people before they need to be said, before you’ve lost the chance.
I don’t judge as quickly, either. In fact I find I rarely have snap judgments at all. This really opened my eyes to how everyone I meet has a whole life; things I’d never know and I have to be gentle of that fact always. With everyone.
I feel braver than I did before.”

anachoiceAna’s friends and family ~

Amy – (Thank you for the video, Amy!)“Beloved Ana,  How DID this chick end up in my nest? What kindness of fortune presented me with an opportunity to share in the adventure of a lifetime, being mother to such an enduringly passionate soul rife with unimaginable spirit, endurance beyond the telling, child-like delight, encompassing compassion, insight into realms unseen? How did such a generous nature develop in one who has struggled over terrain that would daunt the courage of those deemed heroic? What conspiracy of otherworldly souls contrived to capture your imagination and verse you in their ways in order to assist your navigation of the world in which you grapple with realities undeserved? No matter what answers might be, it remains unquestioned that I have been blessed by your presence in my life, gifted by your love, delighted by your spirit, inspired by your enduring perseverance, captivated by your whimsy, and made forever aware of the better angels who battle with demons…. thank you for the gift that is you.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“This remarkable young woman has shed from her life influences that sought to keep her in a state of disbelief regarding her genuine worth. That courageous action freed her to move ahead, to embrace new relationships that honor her and in turn are honored by her. She has emerged from a cocoon of self-doubt into a winged self-awareness that allows her to test those wings in the genuine support and encouragement of those who know her true self and love her delight in its awakening! YOU ARE REMARKABLE, daughter mine, one of the greatest delights of my life.”


Courtney –
“I love her enthusiasm. It’s so real and genuine and infectious. Incredibly unmaterialistic, she values the little things and small gestures in life. She is truly the nicest and most generous person I’ve ever met. I wish, one day, to be able to show just a fraction of the kindness that she shows so effortlessly every day.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I’ve noticed more confidence. She’s happier. She smiles a lot more, that real, genuine and infectious smile I love so much.”


Micah – (Thank you for the video, Micah!) 
“Dearest Ana, I know you don’t hear enough about how wonderful you are, and how much I admire you for how you approach every day, especially now after all of the changes over the last couple of years. You have the biggest heart of anyone I know and I think it’s only gotten bigger since you’ve started to learn how to love yourself as much as you do the people you keep close around you.
It takes great strength to remove the negative influences around you, especially when those are people you’re close to and have known a long time. Even when you don’t see it, it’s there and a part of you now. And I think it’s even greater that you don’t hold any contempt for those people and still wish them the best that they can get. There’s not time or place for hate in your life!
Your excitement is contagious and I know I’m not the only one that loves being around you and the positivity it brings. You play life on hard mode and still come out ahead! I can’t wait to see where you take your life now.
Lots of love,
Micah”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

‘Since the previous session Ana has become much more sure in her own life and in her ability to drive her own fate. I started noticing the changes in her almost immediately after the session, and they’ve only grown outward from there. I believe that the experience with this project was one of the influences that drove her to make hard choices in her life that are now leading her to a better and more independent future. I can’t express how happy I am to see her deciding what’s best for her own future and removing the toxic people in her life that only held her back ever since she participated in this project.”


Erica – “
Ana has always been passionate and kind, incredibly patient listener, and loyal friend.”


Madeline – “
Ana is truly special; I am lucky to have her in my life. It is not a secret that she has her demons, but she is one of the strongest people I have ever met, and never gives up. She is very loyal, and passionate about what matters to her. This can be seen in how she cares for those she loves, and in how she fights for what she believes in. She accepts those she loves completely, despite their flaws. I have seen her have to cut people out of her life, but even then it is obvious that she accepts them and wants what is best for them, but she has learned that she also needs and deserves what is best for her. I admire the strength it takes to take care of herself and distance herself from people who are hurting her, that she cares for.
I trust her to be honest and to call me out on it if I’m doing something stupid and don’t want to admit to it. I trust her judgment, as she is insightful and often sees things that others miss. She’s knowledgeable too, and challenges me to think about things I hadn’t considered.
She is eloquent, and writes beautiful, expressive things, both joyful and painful. She shares so much – her thoughts, time, and energy. Her enthusiasm and joy are contagious and adorable. Her sense of humor, wicked and ridiculous, and we can have a conversation that is crazy and perfect (zombie octopi). The joy she gets from planning something special for a loved one is obvious. She worries about us too; sometimes more than she needs to, but her affection and care are easily apparent. She makes sure we know we are loved.
She is a stunning individual, someone whose soul shines. I am a better person because of her.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I have seen changes in Ana in the last few years, although which have been since her previous participation and which have happened otherwise, I’m not sure. I feel like she has gotten better at loving herself, and at times when that is more difficult, admitting to herself that all of the positive traits others see in her are there, even if she has trouble seeing them at times. She seems to be more accepting of the fact that it is okay to take time for herself, regroup, and go forward. Like she can forgive herself for not being able to do everything, all the time, and that others can forgive that too.”


Cat – “
Ana is a special light in this world; caught in this place that wasn’t built for people like her. She is possibly so much more real, that she is raw, and that’s why this world fails her.
Ana is unique; so very much her own entity, that it is difficult to summarize what comprises an Ana.
Ana is emotion; she is care and glee and love with everyone she chooses to keep in her company. She is also sorrow, nostalgia and fury for those close enough for her to feel their injustices for them.
Ana embraces ideas too big for most to fathom, and still finds appreciation and joy in the most humbling notions and gestures.
She’s too smart for her own good.
She’s too good for her own preservation. And she is something rare and precious that should be protected.
She is my friend; muse; confidant; sister; wifey and fae-kin. My world, at least, is better for having known her.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Old habits die hard; Ana surely still struggles with her fears and insecurities, but in the time since the initial project, there are some changes to note. While she is still soft hearted, and can bruise easily sometimes, she will more readily forgive herself now. Likewise, she is also quicker to see when it is other’s actions that are pressing in on her, and braver in the face of it; she has set boundaries for the treatment of herself and others and diligently holds these lines. Ana continually challenges her own boundaries of comfort and knowledge and approaches situations with a ready mind, when she may have shied before. And when such instances arise, as they will, she knows herself well enough to reach for help when she needs it.”


Group12JoshuafinalJoshua (Group 7 – Men)

“My main insecurity is in my ability, or lack thereof, to have & maintain some kind of romantic partnership, and by extension, whether I will ever be a father and start a family. I’ve often pictured myself as the one among my siblings that would never have kids. But that image of myself has been melting away, along with nearly every other limiting thought or identity I’ve had of myself. I believe that I could be a capable father, but the question becomes whether that is the best route for me to take, as an individual, a (hypothetical) partner, and a member of society . . . and whether it is in the cards for me at all, anyway.

While I am occasionally driven almost mad by the desire to be a father, my insecurity is more focused on having a partner. A companion. Someone with whom to have a healthy, mutually supportive relationship in which we both flourish individually and together. Having historically been someone who dives too far, too fast, into relationships, and having a knack for subconsciously picking chaotic situations, I have to be very careful. And as I’m changing and growing so much on my own, I have to wonder: What does romance even look like for me anymore? I am fine-tuning my life and my routines, becoming ever more a minimalist, following spiritual & creative pursuits, and needing significant amounts of solitude. While I think I have something to offer the world, people in general, and addicts in particular, I’m not sure what I have to offer a partner. Certainly I want romantic companionship (despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise), but, again, I just don’t know what that looks like for me anymore.”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

Yes, my insecurity in my prior group was about feeling like an utter failure, a completely confused, underachieving mess. Now I am only a confused, underachieving mess when it comes to romance.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

“Participating in RHL allowed me to think in a focused, organized way about my life and insecurities. It gave me a goal, a solid reason, to think & share about myself. It gave me a chance to connect with other people and to begin to see the chasm between my self-perception and the way other people saw me, and the damage that self-perception was doing. My insecurity did not immediately diminish, but I had done the important work of identifying it and sharing it.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

“Coincidentally, before I was asked to be a part of this group, I wrote a letter to Alana on this very topic, which I shall copy below:

Recently, I made friends with someone who, it turned out, also participated in one of the Raw. Honest. Loved. groups. In talking about it with this person, I realized that today I feel so distant from the person I was then, when I was in the group. At first, I had no desire at all to read again what I’d written for the event. But over the following couple of days, curiosity built and when I found myself at a computer, I also found myself reading my submission again. Sometimes it is good to remind yourself where you came from.
When I read my submission, I read a person struggling with self-hatred and fear, and being honest, but not yet being honest enough. There was no mention of my alcohol abuse. I’d yet to take the leap of seeking mental health treatment. I felt lost and powerless and I was certainly confused. At that time, I may have made certain steps in the right direction (such as participating in RHL, which was my first experience of group therapy), but in my insecurity letter, I was dancing around some of my most major issues, which reflected how I often danced around those issues in my regular life. My self-medication with alcohol, which had already wreaked such havoc on my life and friendships and romances, was one of those issues. I know my depression was preexisting to the flourishing of my alcoholism, but my drinking seemed to have exacerbated my depression to some awful degree. RHL was a good first step that I am grateful for. But I didn’t follow it up with anything. No change in my routines or habits, no substantial efforts to change or better myself. I continued to struggle in the same patterns, and had not fully admitted and embraced some of my fundamental problems.
Eventually, I started mental health treatment, and receiving my diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD, and alcoholism was validating. All my life, I’d really felt I just wasn’t trying hard enough, and that if I’d made better choices, I wouldn’t be depressed. I remember being afraid that they’d tell me I was just being weak, and that I needed to suck it up and get on with life. I guess I preferred to suffer in limbo rather than risk being told that I wasn’t mentally ill. But no, the intake therapist said that I in fact had a “whopping case of depression” (which I guess in clinical terms is Major Depressive Disorder). As validating as it all was, I still wasn’t ready to get better. I kept drinking, and I didn’t last more than a month in therapy, missing appointment after appointment and eventually dropping out altogether. My drinking worsened, somehow, and I further isolated myself. I missed all sorts of social events and obligations, I made no progress in finding or keeping work, and I caused a lot of worry for many of my friends and family (whichever ones had a concept of what was going on). I missed a gallery showing & reunion of RHL participants because I was a complete mess. I wasn’t well enough to go anywhere, but even had I gone, it would have been a lot like going to a high school reunion and having nothing to say except that you are unemployed, you drink too much, and you hate yourself. (Or say nothing at all.)
That pattern was essentially how my life went for the first year or so after participating in RHL: knowing I’m cataclysmically depressed, hating myself, feeling completely inept and fearful I would never be able to do what it takes to dig myself out of my hole, and as often as I could physically manage, drinking myself into a stupor. Occasionally I would do something mildly productive, maybe string together an achievement or two, but nothing continual or that would provide me any stability. In February of 2015, I had another heavy night of drinking, this time at a friend’s party, and another obnoxious two- or three-day hangover . . . nothing particularly unusual, but somehow or another, this time I felt I was completely and utterly sick of the way my life was going. I was tired, and sad, and frustrated. Many, many days and nights I had laid around just wishing I would die, and I had been slowly drinking myself to death. I quit drinking February 17 of 2015, and I began the process of trying to find some kind of treatment for my addiction. I knew my drinking was completely out of control, and with all the failed attempts I’d made at quitting, I knew I needed somebody else’s help, and as well I knew that I’d never make it in mental health therapy if I didn’t get my drinking problem under control. I managed to find an organization that offers chemical dependency treatment in an intensive outpatient setting with licensed chemical dependency treatment professionals. I knew that was something I needed – something structured and involving professionals. So I mustered the strength to go down there and apply and start treatment. My beginnings were very humble. All I could really manage was going to my group counseling sessions, eating tons of junk food and watching endless episodes of The Wonder Years on Netflix. (I did eventually finish the series. It’s not as good as my nostalgia led me to believe it was.) But it was far, far better than what I had been doing. In April, with the help of my alcohol rehab counselor, I got back into mental health therapy. In November of 2015, I graduated from my alcohol rehab program, and I continue my therapy. Still sober, of course.”
joshuachoiceJoshua’s friends and family ~

Jesse –  “Google’s definition of a saint is as follows:
“A person acknowledged as holy or virtuous and typically regarded as being in heaven after death.”
Josh has always met this criteria. I have seen Josh at his lows, and his highs, but he is the living definition of a saint. He is an intelligent, artistic, and beautiful human being, inside and out. I have been lucky to call him my friend. He has, and will continue to do great things. He touches more lives and hearts than he realizes.”

 

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“He has grown to love himself more. He also has become a stronger person.”


Donna – “
I love his empathy and caring, his ability to see through people to their good on the inside. I admire his desire and ability to help others see the best in themselves.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“He has gained in confidence and self-esteem, he is very focused on all the good things he wants to accomplish for himself and others in similar situations, his spirituality and happiness.”
Ann –  (Thank you for the video, Ann!) “Compassionate, kind, intelligent, artistic”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“More self-confident and determined. Less impulsive, thinks things through before making decisions.”


Tina – 
“Joshua is incredibly easy to talk to, sometimes after a long conversation with him, I think “jeez, I really threw it all out there” but it just comes easily when talking to him. He gives awesome advice, & he’s a great listener. He’s also great with kids, gives his whole heart to them, & they love him too!”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Joshua has gone through huge changes since the last time he did this! He’s a recovered alcoholic, I think it’s been over a year, I know he’d say “recovering”, & I know there’s always new challenges, but he takes every step in the name of sobriety, & he takes it seriously. It’s not just sobriety that’s his goal either, it’s anything that he thinks affects his life in a negative way, he even works on small social ticks he feels get in the way. He’s working very hard to rebuild his life as a whole.”


Susan – 
“I admire his openness, his reflectiveness, his ownership of feelings and his constant inquiry into how he “works”. He cares about his family and friends. I adore his sense of humor and wit. I admire how smart he is on many topics. I admire his musical talents and abilities.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“He is more reflective and owning of his feelings. He continues to grow in all avenues and I love being a part of it!”


Tyler –
“Even in hard times, Joshua has always been there for me in periods of struggle. I have watched him crawl from the bottom to the top, and through that entire process he remained a faithful and kind friend to everyone. The ability to remain sincere and friendly during one’s darkest hour is very indicative of strength and perseverance, both traits that Joshua certainly exemplifies.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“When I filled out this form about Joshua last year, he was fresh into a fight against his own demons, and frankly, the demons were winning. Today, Joshua is dominating that battle, and continues to push forward every day in establishing a much better life. I am very proud of him for pulling himself up from the ground and turning his life completely around.”

Group12IanfinalIan (Group 7 – Men)

So many to choose from. My current main insecurity would have to be that I’m not doing enough. Not living life to the fullest. I have so many unfinished projects that I KNOW will be successful, but I can’t seem to find the time or motivation to finish them. It makes me feel ashamed.”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

 “Very much so. My prior group insecurity was based on love and romance, impermanence and not being remembered when I’m gone.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

 Well, this project has been incredibly important to me, actually. As it turns out, I’ve met the love of my life as a direct result of this project. She read what I’d written before and that encouraged her to reach out to me. RHL is actually directly responsible for my finding lasting love and the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

I tell people regularly that they have probably never in their lives met someone that’s as happy as I am. I have literally everything I need in my life and with no exaggeration, I can say that it’s a direct result of this project.”

ianchoiceIan’s friends and family ~

Sharon – “Ian can do anything! Not only does Ian have a good heart, he is intelligent, creative, patient, and really a nice person!

Christine – “Ian is and has always been a dedicated, loyal friend, father, and family man. Honest and trustworthy, always willing to help, and always a gentleman.”

 If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

 “He has finally found love and it is wonderful to see him in a great relationship!”

Liesl –  Dear Ian, First off, I miss you! I smiled when I saw messenger light up and it was you.
I don’t get to see you as often as I would like but I do know this: You are there. I feel you there. Through the phone, computer waves and wires, with a watchful eye. Always on the ready to help in any number of matters at a moment’s notice. Kinda like Santa. Myth and mystery most of the year followed by sheer joy when I do see you.
And Santa is how I met you. Remember? Santarchy. You were the tall, dark and stormy Santa with those eyes that just seem to see so deeply into your soul. I remember thinking you belonged to THAT group. The edgy, Tacoma artistic folks dressed in black or some sort of hip retro thing. I emailed you in awe and shared I thought those kinda people just don’t hang out with a girl like me. How I would have missed out on all the awesome that is you with that mindset.
As I got lucky enough to get to know you, you were the one who encouraged me to write. You said you felt like I was right there in the room with you in conversation when you read what I wrote. I will take that with me the rest of my life. You encourage, well inspire, the artistic and creative in those you let in.
How many random nights did we find ourselves chatting about your latest writing or film? Or you espousing on the finer point of Insane Clown Posse or the movie I JUST had to see. Or last minute help desk freak outs where once again I’d fried my computer no thanks to something I never should have clicked on in the first place. The save from the side of the freeway when my truck broke down? Remember that?
While I’ll save you the Golden Girls “Thank you for being a friend” moment, I do want to thank you. For your kind heart, your spirit, your generosity and your gift for seeing endless possibilities in well, me and everyone who has a chance to get to know you.
See. Here’s the deal. You are one of the glorious ones Ian. The ones we love. The ones we hold deep in our pockets and close to our hearts because we know how rare friends like you are. Because you share you. All of you. Nubby bits, warts and all. And I’m so grateful for that.
Now, about my hard drive…
XO Liesl”


Rhi – “
Dear Ian, You continue to be the most fiercely loyal person I know. When you have decided to let someone close to your heart you protect them with that same heart like you would with anyone in your close family. Your enthusiasm and willingness to help people who need it is one of the reasons I love and respect you so much. You are genuinely a valuable person with a rad soul who is respectful and loving of animals, children and the elderly. I love how vulnerable you are with them even against the stigma of being a man and what that means you should be to the rest of society. That being said, I have no doubt you would use your man-power to defend your loved ones, or even just the underdog being unfairly treated. You have always been a sensitive and romantic individual but now that you have finally found the love of your life you are absolutely not ashamed to show your love and passion to her no matter who is in the room and it has softened you even more. It has really allowed you to grow more compassionate and aware of those around you because of your journey. I love the way you conduct business with that buttery-smooth voice of yours. It fascinates me to watch you make a commission while in a nonchalant conversation with a client who just called to ask a simple question and you are always honorable and fair with your business skills; always making sure that your clients are getting what they need to make their lives more convenient. Your video talent and unique ideas impress me more and more as the years pass and I am just so incredibly honored and fortunate to be able to call you brother.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

Ian’s transformation is probably the most dramatic I have seen. Before he did the project a couple of years ago he was struggling with direction and joy. Because he put himself out there, vulnerable to the world about his doubts and secrets, he attracted someone who identified with his character and they have been together ever since. He has grown into a man who can see a productive, loving, passionate, prosperous and full future; just because he exposed a tender part of himself for the entire world to see and judge. Instead of being scared he was brave and now he isn’t fearful of the future anymore.”


Jayme – (Thank you for the video, Jayme!) For my Ian, When I laid eyes on you more than twenty years ago, I thought you were one of the most beautiful men I’d ever seen. It took all those years, after reading what you wrote in your Raw, Honest, Loved interview, to make me really want to know you. I remember that you wrote that you weren’t afraid of being hated, but that you were afraid of not being loved, and of being forgotten. The vulnerability and strength that you shared was unlike what I knew about other men. You stirred me up.  My love, my other half… I can tell you, with no doubt in my heart, that you are loved completely and you will never be forgotten. You have changed every facet of my life for the better. You challenge me to be a better woman, a better partner, and a better human. I’ve truly never known anyone like you, someone who is unfailingly generous, loyal, supportive, and kind, without expectation. You have a way of making me feel precious and safe, all the while making me feel capable of everything. I’m still astonished at the depth of you, and how you make me feel.

You are the truest friend I’ve ever known. I love to watch your “thinking face” when an idea strikes you. I love your enthusiasm about everything that could be more beautiful or more efficient or just better in an Ian kind of way. I love that there are still people out there who see you dressed always in black, and they don’t know that you are made of the fluffiest pink kittens. I used to think that was a secret only I knew, but anyone who knows you, knows the sweetness of you. I love that you giggle at cartoons, and that you hold my hand every chance you get. I love that we kiss in line at the hardware store, and every second with you is an adventure and a delight. I love that you watch over me, and my children, and I never ever have to doubt anything that you say. Your word is made of iron. I love that you refuse to give up on something that you’ve started, even when it means hours of cursing at your computer, because it has to be done right.
I still see the most beautiful man, Ian. I see it in your blue eyes that make me shiver, and I see it in the way you treat people. I see it in how passionate you are about fairness and doing what is right. I see it your optimism and concern for others. You are made of magical things and I’m so grateful and happy to be by your side.
Yours forever, Jayme”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

 “While I had traveled in intersecting social circles with Ian for many, many years, I can’t recall ever having a conversation with him prior to 2014. We’d been Facebook friends for a few years, and the night he posted the Men’s Group, I was intrigued and more than a little smitten. Also, jaded and very pessimistic about men in general. However, I was moved by what he wrote. Moved enough to have a few glasses of wine to work up the courage to message him. After a few weeks of messaging, I invited myself over to use his hot tub, not expecting anything like a date, and certainly not expecting to spend hours and hours talking with him, like we’d known each other a lifetime already. Raw, Honest, Loved changed MY life, and I wasn’t even part of it. It brought us to each other, and for that, I’ll always be thankful.”


Group12RosiefinalRosie (Group 3 – 55+)

“Right now I am a complete mess!!! As far as my insecurity about loss, well it hasn’t changed really. It’s different because I’m not as numb so the reality of my son Brian not being here cuts like a knife and I feel it. It was very evident when my Grandson Jameson was born. I helped in the delivery along with Kristen’s mom and Jim’s stepmom and it was a beautiful moment, but Joan and Lindy were crying and I was locked and loaded. I turned into the coach and cheerleader. They see this beautiful little baby boy and can’t stop crying and I’m thinking, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I not crying?” I never held him until that evening. Well, I didn’t want to get too close or love him because if I did I knew in my heart I would lose him or get hurt. I also didn’t want to hold him because it was a part of me, which meant it was a part of Brian. This still scares me, but I love him and he is my best bud and he loves his Grammy!!! It all sounds so silly, but it’s how I feel or felt.
Body image sucks and the whole “am I good enough” bullshit. God, will that ever end?”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

 “Nope, not really. It’s just different in the intensity. That comes and goes.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

 “I am able to verbalize my feelings a bit better when it comes to Brian. When it comes to the body image…. Its just believing them for myself that is still hard.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

I know the value in this project and how it can keep people from hurting themselves both physical and emotional. I can reach out beyond myself and help others. I have had a few wonderful things happen to me: 3 CD Covers, Grandbaby, Photography, travel.”

rosiechoiceRosie’s friends and family ~

Ron – “I’ve known Rosie for the last four (4) years and found her to have a number of attractive qualities that many women would desire. As one of the most creative individuals I’ve met, Rosie has an incredible eye for photography and ear for music.
Many of the photos I’ve observed are more than just a picture bur, rather, they tell a story of the depth and heart of her view of her surroundings. Her compassion for nature and wildlife are captured through scenes of soaring eagles or the waves on a surf, an image of unbridled freedom. Her artistic creations expressed through her sensitive spirit and compassion for others is truly exceptional.
Her love for music and vocal abilities provide enjoyment for all both on stage and off. Expressing her gift of song launches all who listen to a magical place. Audiences of all ages continue to enjoy her musical abilities.
Rosie touches the lives of many with through her many talents and gifts.”
Leah  –(Thank you for the video, Leah!)My Dear Rosie, When I see you, I see Jesus. You have been through so very much pain and struggle and through that have known deeply what the grace and love of Jesus feels like. So much so that you exude it out of every ounce of your being. You are simultaneously a lighthouse and tractor beam of heavenly comfort and understanding. It’s so difficult to put to words how beautiful your heart is because I feel like so many of these ideas; grace, forgiveness, understanding, have been diluted into a hall pass or pat on the head. They have been cheapened, and by themselves do not do you justice.
You are not merely strong. You are a fighter. You do what is right and necessary, not what is easy or comfortable. You protect all that is precious in your life fiercely. You take on yourself what others are unable or unwilling to do without ego. You do all this while fighting your own demons within the confines of a tired and broken body, and yet only a precious few even know a fraction of the depth of your physical pain.
You are a survivor. You keep going. No matter how difficult, how painful, you keep going and – although I know it isn’t – you make it look easy! You are constantly reminding me of the silver lining. That doesn’t just make you strong. In my book, that makes you Super Woman.
Of all the things that you are to me, the part of you that I am most thankful for is your trustworthiness. In a world of deception and lies, I know that you are trustworthy. It is a rare and precious gift to know that your heart can be safe with someone. That is what you make me feel. You make me feel safe. For that, all I can say is thank you. You are so much more than words! I love you!”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I have had the great fortune to see amazing growth in you Rosie. This past year in particular I have seen walls come down around your heart that I know have been there for many many years. I have seen you be brave with your heart and with your life. You have made powerful changes and taken career and relationship chances that I know were very difficult. I know that for a long time it has felt as though your pilot light had gone out. I can see your fire coming back. I am so proud of the deep work that you have done, and are doing and I know that Brian is too! I love you!”


Debbie – (Thank you for the video, Debbie!) “
Rosie has always been a very gentle and loving soul. She is very giving and caring to others more so than they are in return. She is strong and more creative than anyone I know. She really has no idea just how truly amazing she is. I have known Rosie McPherson for 48 years. Since 5th grade. I can’t think of anyone who makes me laugh more or whose company I enjoy more.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I have known Rosie for 48 years and, though we don’t talk all the time, when we do it’s like we just talked yesterday.”


Larry – 
“One of the things I love about Rosie is her support of others. She’s always been quick to help others. She’s very talented with the camera and is usually willing to help and share her talent with others. She has a laugh that addicting and a smile and spirit that special.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I think her confidence has grown quite a bit since becoming part of this project. She’s always helped and believed in others it’s good to see her believe in herself now. :0)”


Sandy – “
Ahhhh this list could get pretty long – Rosie is tenacious – loving – kind- a promoter – resilient – beautiful – humorous – fearless – fragile – tender – strong – you get the idea – Rosie is a beautiful mix of every adjective at extreme polar opposites – at anytime – she is spontaneous & planned & organized – she’s a bit of a minx at times – a big dose of wonderful sarcasm and raw truth!!! She has endured more on this earth than many others and she still smiles & laughs & knows how to play – and still she grieves and cries – my favorite thing about Rosie is that we have known each other for a very long time and she loves Jesus which tells my heart we will be friends throughout eternity <3″

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Rosie has always been free spirited and at times legalistic (hey Mom) – she’s a fascinating mix of all kinds of wonderful & I just adore her – Love you Rosie girl – always have, always will❤ Sandy”

 

 

 

 

erin

community, #rhltoiowa style.

A few days before we left to take the RHL Project to Decorah, Iowa, I proposed something to those who follow and support this project…especially those who have been participants. I asked that they show these girls in Decorah that they are already becoming part of a new community, one which may have started across the country, but that is fully supportive of them and understands their struggles. These ladies came through – they posted these as #rhltoiowa and can be found with that hashtag on Instagram.
Join the community! Get on Instagram and add your own #rhltoiowa photo of support! Thank you, all of you ladies!!!

aarde

Aarde ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Group 1

adrian

Adrian ~ Washington ~ Supporter of RHL Project

ana

Ana-Elizabeth ~ Wisconsin – Participant in RHL Project Group 4

becca

Becca ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 1

brianna

Brianna ~ Wyoming ~ Supporter of RHL Project

carly

Carly ~ New York ~ Supporter of RHL Project

eden

Eden ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 1

erin

Erin ~ Washington ~ Supporter of RHL Project

heather

Heather ~ Washington ~ Supporter of RHL Project

karla

Karla ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 6

kate

Kate ~ Washington ~ Supporter of RHL Project

katie

Katie ~ Washington ~ Supporter of RHL Project “Trust your instincts. Believe in yourself. #rhl #rawhonestloved #rhltoiowa”

laura

Laura ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 5 ~ “#rhltoiowa. All of the Iowa ladies are joining a wonderful group of people.”

mallery

Mallery ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 1 ~ “Participating in the #rhlproject seriously changed my life. I still struggle with my insecurities but it’s much easier to stop myself from thinking negativity about myself and other women. Love love love. #rhltoiowa Have fun, ladies!!! 💜👯🌻 @alanatphotography

nichole

Nichole ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 8

rhi

Rhi ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 1 ~ “For my special lady friend @alanatphotography for starting a movement of self love and respect for our fellow lady friends. #rhltoiowa #alanatphotography #selflove #ladies #smashinsecurity #RawHonestLoved #betrue “

shari

Shari ~ Washington ~ Supporter of RHL Project (mother of Maya & Sophie from Group 2) ~ “My heart is with this project and these girls. @alanatphotography #rhltoiowa #rhlproject #rawhonestlovedproject #selfworth #selfesteem”

tina

Tina ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 8

mylafinal

Suicide. Insecurity. Self-Esteem. And the power of communication. Group 11 – Decorah, Iowa Teens!

beccafinal

leahfinal

teressafinal

oliviafinal

rebeckafinal

mylafinal

decorahgroupandi

the girls and I.


decorahgroupandles

the girls and Leslie.

“I am so excited to be able to be talking to you about the wonderful things you are doing! I just wanted to ask you a few questions and if you have anything extra that you think might be helpful, feel free to let me know. I just want to know how/why you started doing this? What made you get inspired? How has your life been affected since you began this project? I’m really interested in the entire idea behind it and hope to hear from you soon!”

And so began my interaction with a 17-year-old high school student in Decorah, Iowa.
What began as simple research for Becca’s end-of-year presentation on the subject of self-esteem soon resulted in the apparent need for the Raw.Honest.Loved. Project to travel across the country, from its base in Tacoma, WA, to six female students in the small town of Decorah, population 8,000…give or take a handful.

Why Decorah? Why Becca, Leah, Teressa, Olivia, Rebecka, and Myla?

Becca reached out to me in December of 2014 for this assistance with her presentation. We exchanged emails, I explained to her why this project started in the first place…we talked about the subject of bullying, and how this project has had an effect on how we view ourselves and how we view others. How those who participate tend to become more open as people, less judgmental of others, with a renewed sense of self-worth – how insecurities lose their power. We planned to FaceTime soon and really talk about a few of these things, instead of just emailing.

And then January 13th, 2015 happened. 

Jason, Adrian & Raidyn.

Jason, Adrian & Raidyn.

Raidyn Culp became a victim of suicide. Raidyn was fourteen years old. He was the only child of a friend. A friend of twenty years. Adrian was pregnant with Raidyn at the same time that I was pregnant with my daughter, Ravyn, fifteen years ago. We hadn’t remained necessarily close with each other over the years, but we were also not separated by much. The news of Raidyn’s death gutted me. Immediately, a couple of friends and I went to be by Adrian’s side. We cried and laughed and cried some more. We listened. We spoke of the heartache that lies in all of the unanswered questions…

I was due to respond to another of Becca’s emails around this time. I found myself kind of hiding from life for about two weeks and didn’t know quite how to function as a normal person again. If there is anything that my friends and family know about me, however, it is that I am an open book. I lay my heart out; I take chances that others aren’t going to stomp on it. I would rather share the deepest feelings that are at my core than have you wonder why I’m acting a certain way. It is how I work. It is how I interact. It is how I function. This was no different. I needed to share with Becca what had just happened, as I had sort of disappeared. And so I did. Here is where life took a turn…

Becca responded with what would be the most heartbreaking news: “Our town knows the feeling of loss. My freshman year we lost a girl named Melody in a car accident. The following year, a boy died from a town nearby, but he was well known here. A few months later, a girl in the grade below me committed suicide. The next year, a girl in our grade and a boy who had graduated two years before both committed suicide. This year nobody.. but the feeling that it might happen anytime is very great. Our community is one giant family. We are such a small town and everyone knows each other. What you are doing is bringing so many people together.”  (***EDIT***It was pointed out to me afterward that one of these girls’ perceived suicide was not that, but, a very unfortunate accident. I understand the importance of noting that for her friends and family.)

WHAT??! I know suicide is a problem, but, three suicides in their small community in a matter of less than two years?? I began really reflecting. I graduated from high school almost twenty years ago. If I looked back and three people from my high school community had committed suicide SINCE we’ve graduated high school, I would consider that too many. In TWENTY YEARS. So, this news just slowly tore a hole in my heart.

And then on March 5th, it got worse…

I received another email from Becca: “This project now means even more to me than it ever has. On Sunday I was informed a friend of mine from a different town had committed suicide.”

Tears.

I couldn’t believe how my heart was breaking for this girl.

“We Snapchatted a few times recently. The other day I sent him a snap chat that was never opened and now it never will be and now I know why.”

………..

“The moment my stepdad’s mom told me, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to. I cried, a lot. At first I thought I was being over emotional because we haven’t been close lately, but that’s just the thing. People don’t realize how many people they affect, along with others not realizing how much the people around them actually affect themselves either. The past week this is all I have been able to think about. I hope that through this project I can teach others about their effect on themselves and others and how important relationships are. Everything you are doing is very helpful and I appreciate all the time you have given me.”

What in the world had I done that was helpful?!?!  I felt the opposite. I felt helpless. The hole in my heart grew and I couldn’t digest what she was going through.

Becca and I were able to FaceTime fairly quickly after that email. Seeing her (sort of in person) endeared her to me even more. Where I thought I cared for her before, now I saw her personality, I listened to the inflections in her voice, I read the heartbreak on her face. This girl and I would be forever connected.

Soon after this, I spoke with my dear friend Leslie. We have been friends for twenty years…Leslie is very close to Adrian. She had been spending countless hours at Adrian’s, comforting her after the loss of Raidyn. We spoke about Becca, about Decorah and the surrounding community, and we knew that something needed to be done. Leslie shocked me by suddenly saying, “You need to go there. You need to take this project to them.” The second the words came out of her mouth, I knew she was right. I wasn’t sure how to go about it, but, I was determined to figure it out.

Things began to snowball…into the best, largest, most perfect snowball ever. On March 27th, I asked Becca if she would be interested in getting a group together…she was at first very hesitant, as she had been experiencing many changes in the dynamics of her friend relationships of late. Typical high school stuff. As she thought about it, though, she got more and more excited to do this. I thought this group may happen sometime in the next few months or so. As these girls were completing high school and would be going off to college, we realized there was an impetus to do this group much sooner than we thought, however. In a matter of days, a group was formed.

Meanwhile, I had been updating followers of the project online, regarding Becca and our interaction. I knew people in my community already cared deeply about her and what she was going through. I decided to put that positive energy out into the Universe and see if we could all band together to make this group happen. Let me tell you, my community is amazing. These people came through and paid via GoFundMe for us to get to Iowa. These people cared enough about these girls and the struggles they were having…these girls they had never met in this town they had never heard of. I love all of these people so much.

This group took place on Sunday, April 27th. Exactly ONE MONTH from the point in which I asked Becca if she’d even be interested in forming a group.

Anyone who has been involved in a group knows that you come into it with a certain level of nervousness…a certain amount of awkwardness. Really not knowing what to expect. Imagine how these girls must have been feeling…why in the world was this blue-haired woman coming across the country to their super small town with her friend and her equipment in tow?? Why did she find it important to do this with them?? That level of nervousness was apparent in the immediate energy surrounding us. As happens in every group, however, this soon faded. With the first insecurity read, you could feel the apprehension melt away. Becca began reading and the room came together. The understanding, the shock at how much they could all relate to what she was saying…it was powerful.

The evening went on to reveal the pattern I had been heartbroken to see over the last month, as they sent their insecurities to me…THEY WERE ALL. THE. SAME. Not enough. Never enough. Not important. NOT ENOUGH.

The discussion began to unfold. We talked about the loss they have experienced in their community. I think the saddest part for me at that point was realizing how commonplace loss had become for them. They spoke of it in a way that seemed separated. Surely a mechanism in protecting oneself, but, it hit home for me. And then they really started to share their feelings…and they were angry.

Teressa had recently earned her Gold Award with Girl Scouts after becoming concerned with the suicide rate among young people. She did much research in and out of the community and produced a website that can be found here. She shared that there were high schools in surrounding towns that had experienced multiple suicides over the last fifteen years. 7 in one town, 9 in another…etc. As we spoke about this, all of the girls began to get fired up. We spoke slightly about bullying, but what they really wanted to focus on was the pressures they are under as teens. I don’t want to pick on their high school, as it is just one among many high schools that may be missing something important here, but this needs to be discussed. The girls spoke about how they have many supportive teachers, but, there are so many overall school pressures: about awards there for being 4-sport athletes, about awards for many giant academic achievements…about how, if you’re not measuring up, if you may not be able to succeed in all of these various avenues, you may get lost along the way. You may get swept under the rug a bit. The focus is on the achievers. The focus is on what makes the school look good. Test scores! Sports! Grades! College prospects!

And then a child does get lost along the way. And, for whatever reason…be it an inability to measure up to the high standards and expectations, mental illness, bullying; a combination of all?…they find it easier to escape their life. To end it. And the school sends a standard letter out to parents, in effect: “‘So-and-so’ passed away on ‘such-and-such’ day, etcetera…” and encourage the parents to maybe talk to their kids about it…

This is where I get enraged a bit. High school is COMMUNITY for these teens. Yes, the responsibility lies with us as parents to discuss everything with our teens, but, when a death happens among their community…a community that we as parents can only slightly be a part of…should it not be discussed THERE?? Where is the assembly to discuss suicide? Where are the classes that focus on the topic? Why must the teens seek out a counselor in order to discuss this? Maybe one in twenty teens is compelled to actually do that. WHY ISN’T IT A TOPIC THAT IS DISCUSSED? Are we treating it like we once treated (sometimes still do) the topic of sex? Maybe if we don’t mention it, they won’t do it…

Well, I call bullshit.

I’m tired of this.

And I’m tired of talking about suicide and having numbers thrown at me. I’m tired of words like “percentages”. I’m tired of statements like, “Well, actually that’s pretty low compared to the national average.” The fact that we even have to talk about a “national average” when it comes to the subject of children taking their own lives…that instantly feels like I swallowed an anvil. It makes a giant pit in my stomach and I find it hard to breathe.

Don’t you find it hard to breathe?

It’s time for a change.

When visiting the lovely town of Decorah, I had many citizens there ask me what brought us to town. And I told them. I told them all of this in not as many words. And they reacted. They were happy to hear that we were there for that reason. They agreed that this is a huge problem. They also wondered aloud why this isn’t a topic that is discussed. And they endeared themselves and their town to Leslie and I for life. This is a special place. And, because of them, I get to write this blog. And my community has grown. And the girls’ community has grown. And these lovely ladies will forever be a part of our lives. I am indebted to both those here in Washington that cared enough to get us to Iowa, and to those in Decorah that made us feel right at home. Especially to these six. You are forever family to us, Becca, Leah, Teressa, Olivia, Rebecka, and Myla. Thank you to you ladies for being so brave and honest, and to your parents for raising such AMAZING, inspiring, selfless individuals. Here are your stories.

***Becca and I were privileged enough to be interviewed on Iowa Public Radio last week regarding all of this. You can listen to that interview here: Building Self-Esteem Through Photography (Thank you SO MUCH to Iowa Public Radio – to Charity Nebbe & Emily Woodbury for deciding this was an important enough subject to talk about! Thank you to Craig Steuer for alerting them to the project!)

beccains

Becca’s words ~ “Justsomegirlll_ is my name on twitter and Instagram. I chose this name when I first started my twitter, when I was about 11 years old. Ever since I made it, the name stuck. Most people can hear the name and relate it back to me, but nobody knows the reason I chose it.
I chose the name because I truly believe that I am just that. There is nothing special about me, I’m just ordinary. I am an average to below-average girl who is average to below-average at everything and that’s all I will ever be. People will jokingly use the name to address me. While they think they are being funny, it’s actually just a reminder of what I hate most about myself. I’ve proven this insecurity to be true, which is why it makes it even harder. When friends and I have got into conversations about topics like insecurities, mine, being just another person, has been brought up. This then leads to them trying to prove me wrong and failing. Sure, they can name a few things I’m okay at, but that’s it. I know I will never be the best at something because that is nearly impossible – there will always be someone who is better. My point of proving them wrong is not to think I need to be better than everyone at things, but the fact that I am just average or below average at everything and anything I do. Most peoples’ twitter names are just their names or something catchy; however, mine is my biggest insecurity.”

(I asked the girls a few other questions, too…)

What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

“Not being enough. Everyday, all day, teens struggle with the competition of being the smartest, prettiest, strongest, quickest, etc. From school to work to sports, everything is a competition.”

What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

Losing so many people that when someone who actually does care comes along, it’s close to impossible to actually let them in and believe someone could actually care for a person who was left by so many other people. It makes it hard not to believe that maybe I am just an awful person.”

What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

“No matter how bad things seem to get, how much you struggle with grades, how many people end up changing, life gets better and the people who truly care will always be there.”

Becca’s friends and family:

“Rebecca is a very outgoing young lady. She loves to work with others. She is very helpful to all. She is a very positive person. Looking to help others when possible. She is strong headed too. She knows what she wants and how she wants to do it.” – Wayne

“Becca,
You are an extremely genuine and amazing friend. I remember when I first moved here any didn’t have many friends, but you always would talk to me and we have remained close friends ever since! This is something I admire about you. No matter what anyone else thinks, you will always be kind and be a friend to those who have none or are suffering. You see beauty in everyone and it’s clear you believe everyone deserves to see it in themselves. I love how caring of a person you are. I love how you can always tell if I’m feeling a little down, or more happy than usual, and act in a way which makes me feel better. You have an amazing ability to read people. Thank you for being an amazing friend for all of these years!
Rebecka”

“Rebecca has so many great traits that she doesn’t even realize. She’s intelligent, beautiful, and a great friend to have. I can tell her anything and know she will keep my secrets. She tells the truth and always makes me feel better when I need someone to cheer me up. She has gorgeous hair and can wear any outfit and look amazing. She has her own style and is her own person.” – Alicja

“Becca you are absolutely wonderful! From the first time we met I felt like I could really open up to you and be myself around you! Not only are you crazy beautiful, you have a wonderful personality and bring so much joy to my life. I picked a couple awesome traits that you have and wrote them down to make you smile if you are ever having a hard day.
You are so real and I appreciate that so much about you, it’s so hard to find someone who is genuine and who says what they feel. I love how you aren’t afraid to be who are and I can always count on you to be 100% honest.
You’re such a fun person to be around! You always have positive things to say and you always have a smile on your face, even on the hard days. I admire your strength so much – it makes me stronger to see you push through the hard things in your life and inspires me to be strong.
I also admire your independence, your persistence and the hard work that you do for yourself and the people around you. You honestly care so much about your loved ones and put so much time and energy into keeping them happy! You are selfless and it’s incredible to see someone who genuinely cares so much about the well-being of others.
You are one of the few people who accepts me even with my weirdness and quirks…that means so much to me and shows that you are accepting of others, which just adds to the list of awesome qualities that you have. I hope that we can always be here to uplift each other and eat great sushi together😉
LOVE YOU, Myla”

“Rebecca,

You are an amazing individual and I feel so blessed to have been given you to guide. You are such a remarkably beautiful, very loving, caring, smart young lady. You are so insightful, talented and giving. All the accomplishments that you have made up until now are remarkable. Although I gave you guidance in your middle school years and pushed you to get your homework done, I have not had to in your high school years. You have taken the reigns and flown, soared and greatly surpassed my expectations all on your own. I can’t wait to see you continue to grow and mature over the years.
I know there have been times when we have not always seen eye to eye but in time I hope that you understand why I did or said what I did. I know you’re an amazing young lady and very smart but sometimes as a teen it is easy to go with the crowd. Sometimes I think that you have, but you knew your boundaries and knew when to bow out.
Just please don’t shut me out. Keep me in the loop and please share with me your hopes and dreams. I do love and care about you so much and I think sometimes you don’t know just how much. Please know that you can always come to me and talk. If you just need an ear, just say, “Mom, please don’t talk just listen.”
My fear for you is that you don’t appreciate yourself as much as you should and you don’t have high self-esteem. You sell yourself short and allow your self-worth to be measured by others. Stand tall, baby, and know that you are worth far more then I think you see your self-worth to be. I know it’s hard to see past what others do or say sometimes. Your peers can be so cruel, both the boys and girls, and sometimes that influences your decisions.

Take the time now to have fun at college. Study hard, get involved in as many activities you feel that you can handle without jeopardizing your studies and set your goals. Where do you plan to be in the next 5 to 10 years? What do you want to do, be and achieve in life? Set your sights and don’t let go, ‘cause you can do it. You, my lovely child, can do and be anything in this world that you want to be.

I love you so much!

Love,
Mom”

leahins

Leah’s words ~ “I have many insecurities, but the one that bugs me the most is never feeling like I am enough. I am very involved in school and have friends from multiple friend groups, but I always find myself asking to join other people. I am never the one being asked to do something. And when I am with others, I constantly feel like a bother and a hindrance to them. A “best friend” at the time even told me it was a chore for her to make me feel like I was included when we hung out. Ever since then, my self-esteem has become even worse. I wish I didn’t feel so unworthy of people’s time or attention. I wish that just for once I could feel like I am good enough again.”

What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

I think the main issue teens deal with today is pressure. I mean sometimes your classes are hard enough in the first place, right? And on top of your studies you still have pressure to maintain a social life both at home and with your classmates. Teens are so influenced by media these days that they feel pressure to have a “perfect” image. They feel pressure to act, walk, or laugh a certain way in order to fit and be accepted by others. This is just plain stressful and ridiculous. It’s energy wasted! I wish that teens knew being unique and true to their own personality is way more interesting to others and creates a more enjoyable life.”

What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

Realizing the fact that people change. I have gone through all of my school years never having a set group of friends. Sometimes I find this enjoyable. I don’t have to worry about starting a new class or going to lunch by myself since I have an array of friends from different “cliques”. But even though I remind myself that I shouldn’t worry, I still fret about going new places. I become anxious wondering if I am going to fit in. And with moving to college this coming fall, I am afraid of this even more. After my best friend quit talking to me just a few months ago, I constantly think about what-ifs. What if we run into each other on campus? What if she’s telling people things about me that aren’t true? What if I don’t have a best friend at college? What if I lose a friend like this again? What if I really wasn’t worthy of her time or friendship? Thoughts like these are always nagging at me. I know friends aren’t always there for you when you need them. But I take these experiences as a way to learn. I will always be there for any friend of mine.”

What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

Be your own best friend. People will try to shake you and people will push you to your limit until you can’t take it anymore, but how strong you stay is what makes you. And through all of that, your friends will come and go. Possibly even your best friend. But know there are people who love you and you are not alone. Even at your darkest and scariest times, remember there are others who may be looking up to you for the same reasons you think you aren’t good enough. When you feel broken, remember that it’s always darkest before the dawn. Do for yourself the same that you would do for a friend who is hurting.”

Leah’s friends and family:

“Gorgeous
Sweet
Caring
Selfless
Smart
Talented
Amazing :)” – Maddie

“Dear Leah,
You are amazing. Your fun spirit, smiles, and laughter are a joy to be around. You’re funny. You’re supportive, caring, accepting, and generous. You are wise, courageous, thoughtful, smart, talented, spunky, and unique. You are absolutely beautiful on the outside and inside! You inspire me. I love you always!” – Lucas

“Leah likes to offer help all the time to help me farm, especially with the livestock. I love her “street smarts ” sense of a lot of outdoor things. She is such a capable person in so many things.” – Alan

“I love her unconditionally. She has a loving good heart. She is kind, thoughtful, considerate, sensitive, and good-willed. She cares for her family, friends, animals, and our environment. I admire her strength to help others, to try to help herself, and to continue forging ahead. I appreciate her humor, spirit, spunk, and sense of adventure. I admire her for her courage to not compromise her integrity. She is strong and determined. She is beautiful inside and out, and is a delight to see grow up and gain poise and confidence.” – Michele

teressainsTeressa’s words ~ “I think my biggest insecurity would be that I am not perfect. I understand that nobody can be perfect, but I try so hard to do everything that I can to be the best that I can be. For some reason, every failure, even a small one, makes me so upset. I want to be good at everything I do, and I want people to look at me as someone who accomplishes things. I am always trying to get the best grades, work a lot, look good, have everyone like me, and earn every award available to me. After everything, it still seems like I do not do enough to be the person that I want to be.”

 

 What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

“I definitely agree with a lot of people who say that media is a huge problem. Also, other girls definitely make girls feel bad about themselves. So many times it is not enough to just be yourself, you have to be like everyone else. A lot of things turn into a competition. Girls feel like they have to be prettier or funnier or smarter for other people to like them. Also, the media just further contributes to making girls feel like they can never measure up to the girls in magazines or on TV. Overall, girls just feel like they have too much to live up to especially in the physical looks category.”


What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

“My toughest time in high school is probably right now. I am very uncertain about what I want to do with my life and am having some difficulties making plans for next year. Honestly, I am just very stressed.”


What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

“Have fun. Don’t take anything too seriously. Take chances. Try everything once. It is so important to just be yourself, find people who care about you and do what you want. Grades are important, but don’t stress over them. Just work as hard as you can, and accept that it is not possible to do everything. High school will be some of the best years of your life. Even though some times will be hard to get through, the great moments you have will make it all worth it.”

Teressa’s friends and family:

“Teressa, you’ve been my best friend for what seems like forever. You’ve always made me want to be a better person. You’re definitely the smartest person I know, and I love the way you use your knowledge to help others out. You’re not only kind and generous, but you’re also down to earth. Your perseverance is admirable and someday I hope to take the punches as well as you do. I want to thank you for always being a great friend to me.” – Mckenzie

“Teressa has been my good friend since the middle of middle school. Regardless of what people think, she had the best style of clothing and was an amazing trendsetter. She has the highest goals and strives to achieve them. Her dedication to being the best is inspiring and it’s amazing to watch. She has learned and grown so much in the past four years. The amount of issues she has pushed through is amazing. She has thrown herself into school and it has shown. I hope her future is bright and I can’t wait to see what she becomes. She is stunning, strong and beautiful.” – Talia

“Dear Teressa,
I know that you struggle with feeling accomplished and feeling significant. You know that I do not understand you blight. I do not understand this because you are the most ambitious and determined person I know. You have accomplished more in high school than some people do in four years of college. You have more college credits than Dave (my roommate) will after a year of education. To polish your work off, you have done so impeccably. You have maintained a 4.0 GPA while taking all these classes. You are destined for greatness in whatever area of life that you apply yourself. I wish that you could see yourself in the eyes of another. Teressa is a determined, willful person. When she sees a wrong or a task she will tenaciously pursue her objective. The best side of Teressa is that she easily can relax and be a goofy person <—-[you should use this word at least one point in your process describing her, she will love it :)]. She can go from dead serious to complete comedian, keeping everyone on their toes. Teressa is the whole package.” – Nick

“Teressa is a very motivated young lady. From early on, she has challenged herself by setting high goals and striving to reach them. Even though pushing herself and working very hard, she has managed to achieve a balance between school, work, family, and friends. She has managed to stay well grounded even with the pressures of being a teen and especially with the recent stress of trying to figure out future plans. She is bright, beautiful inside and out, and is able to see the positive in everyone.” – Tiffany

“Her willingness and determination to go the extra mile. Her inner and outer beauty. Finally challenging herself to be the best she can be!” – Dan

Oliviains

Olivia: “From the time I was a little girl, I’ve always tried to hide any flaws that I have. I constantly compare myself to others. I’ve always wanted to be the best but I feel like I can never do it. I feel like I fall short of everything. There is always someone nicer, smarter, or funnier than I am. I feel like people look at me and see all of the things I am not. I’ve been in some bad places. I’ve gone overboard while trying to make myself better. A few years ago I stopped eating in an effort to make myself better, I’ve pushed myself to spend hours at the library to get better grades, I’ve stared in the mirror for hours on end and asked myself why I can never be the best. My biggest insecurity is that I am never enough.”

 

What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

Teenagers have a lot on their minds in this day and age. We are just expected to be one thing. We should be great daughters, sisters, friends, athletes, students, readers, writers, speakers, workers and so much more. With all of those thoughts flying through our heads there’s a strong possibility that we feel we feel we fall short in some category. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others.”


What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve come home crying to my mother about not feeling adequate. Girls are cruel. There’s no if ands or buts about it. Even my friends have tried to tear me down before. Some days I’ve really felt as if I was alone in this world.”


What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

“It has taken me a really really long time to realize this…Everyone feels insecure in their own ways. A lot of the time when a girl says something catty about you, it’s because she is feeling bad about herself. Don’t let anyone have the power to make you feel bad about yourself. You are the only one who truly knows your own thoughts and intentions.”

Olivia’s friends and family:

“Olivia, you are one of the sweetest people I know. I’ve always admired how humble you are. You take bad situations and turn them around, by adding humor to the situation. You’re talented and passionate, and honestly I’ve never met someone who walks the line between bubbly and annoying so well! You’re optimistic and inspiring, and definitely genuine. You’re beautiful and I love and appreciate your friendship.” – Mckenzie

“Olivia Claire,
Hi Beautiful! I was asked to write a letter to you about all the amazing qualities you have, and honestly, I’ve had a hard time figuring out where to start! There are so many inspiring qualities that I’ve seen in you over the years. You exude beauty, kindness, happiness, and a certain warmth. People are drawn to your sweet smile that lights up a room in seconds. You make people comfortable and because of this, you’re the girl that everyone wants to know and be close to. You are truly a good person deep down in your soul and that’s something that isn’t very common anymore! Focus on never losing that.
You are such a smart person! I’ve watched you become a driven, hard working young woman and I couldn’t be more proud. It amazes me how much effort and energy you put into everything you do. Having gone through cheerleading, school, and work with you, I know that there’s nothing you can’t do! I’m excited for you to get to experience college. I feel like you will really get your chance to blossom, grow, and shine when you enter that next chapter! Not that you don’t shine already!😉 There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that you will be beyond successful in everything you do!
I know you have your insecurities. Everyone does! But I want you to know without a doubt that you are absolutely perfect! You’re strong and beautiful, and if anyone tells you differently, they’re wrong. And stupid.😛 I want you to always remember that you have so many people who are unconditionally on your side. No matter what’s happening in life there are always people to turn to and ways to make it better. I am always just a phone call or text away if ever you forget your worth.
As you take on the next few big steps in your life, know that you are loved. You are beautiful. You are strong, and inspiring, and flawless! I love you, baby girl! Never stop being you!❤
Sydney”
“Olivia is a very important part of my life, and it’s sometimes hard to say these things in person. She is someone that you can be open and honest with, and probably knows me better than I know myself. She is the most dedicated person I know, which only motivates me to be better myself. It’s difficult to see her be hurt from what she doesn’t show or talk about. However, that will not distract her from striving. She is full of energy and is an overall lovable person. You are sensitive and bright and altogether beautiful.” – Talia

“Words to describe Olivia…there are so many things that I admire about this young woman. She is outgoing, wise, spirited, trustworthy, determined, loving, fair, intuitive, kind, respectful, beautiful, insightful, energetic, compassionate, dedicated, efficient, hard-working. Olivia is a great leader due to being motivated, enthusiastic, courteous, honest, dependable, vibrant, and supportive. She will accomplish great things in her future, as she is independent, bright, intelligent, talented, logical, adventurous, warm, generous and brave. I feel so blessed to have a daughter that is so vibrant, affectionate, courageous, vivacious, and so incredibly accomplished. Olivia is so loved by those who know her. And I am so blessed to call her my daughter.” – Heather
rebeckains

Rebecka’s words ~ “I have a nagging insecurity that I am not important. As long as I can remember, I have always felt like the least important person in whatever group setting I am in, whether it be friends, work, or activities. Even today, a time where I have significantly improved on most of my insecurities from early teen years, I feel like I contribute little to nothing and that the group dynamic, whatever it may be, would not change without me. I always find myself saying things and being ignored and doing things without appreciation. While these findings may be figments of my imagination, they are very real to me.”

What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

Having to strive for perfection in every aspect of life and then becoming more self-conscious once they realize attaining perfection in every aspect of life is impossible.”


What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

I had an awkward time from freshman year to the beginning of sophomore year. I was still pretty new to Decorah and was struggling to make friends (thankfully now I am blessed with the best friends possible, it took time but it was so worth it!), on top of battling a severe eating disorder and anxiety. All of these combined drained everything I had emotionally, mentally, and physically and it definitely hurt my relationships.”


What advice would you give other teen
s starting high school?

“People will always be mean. These people will not get far in life with this attitude and are not people you need in your life. Worry about your own opinion and the opinions of those who care and are looking out for you.”

Rebecka’s friends and family:

“Rebecka is the best friend who I wish I’d had all my life, but showed up just in time when I needed her the most. Now, despite anyone in my life who will walk away from me, I know Rebecka will always be at my side. If I text or call her at 2 am crying, I know she won’t mind. She’s supportive, encouraging, and understands my problems like no one else does. Even if we get in a fight, I know she still loves and cares about me. Even when she doesn’t approve of my decisions, she will still support me, but doesn’t put up with my bad behavior. She lets me know when I’ve messed up and won’t help me justify my mistakes, which I need and appreciate. She keeps my feet on the ground when my head is in the clouds. She’s more than my best friend—she’s my sister, my soul mate (of friendship). I would defend her in any circumstance because I know she would do the same for me. She’s warm and everyone likes her, and those who don’t must not know her very well. She’s witty, clever, and undoubtedly smart. She’s one of the bravest girls I know. Despite all of the struggles that she faces herself, she still puts others first. No matter what she thinks of herself, I know that she is one of the most beautiful, smart, funny, caring girls I know. It breaks my heart that she doesn’t always believe that that is true. She’s responsible, but crazy fun. She’s a beautiful person inside and out, the best kind of friend to have, and she will thrive in whatever she chooses to pursue in life. There’s nothing that I value more than her friendship.” Annalise

“I admire Rebecka’s outgoing personality, her humorous wit, and the way she sticks to her beliefs. Also, I appreciate her love of makeup, clothing, and celebrities as we bond over those greatly. She’s beautiful inside and out and no matter what we do together, I always have a good time with her. I admire her ability to make friends wherever she goes.” – Maddie

“Where do I even begin? Becka moved to Decorah in 8th grade and we have been super close ever since. We have gotten a lot closer as the years have gone by. Our hangouts used to just consist of going to Mabes and eating buffalo chicken wings but our friendship has moved on to bigger and better meals. Now she even makes me mac n’ cheese. That’s true friendship right there.
Becka is the one friend I have had all through high school. I don’t know how many times I have gone to her for support and she knows exactly what to say. Without her I don’t know what I would do. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have stayed at her house. I mean, I walk in and her dad says, “Welcome home!” With me living so far out of town, she constantly lets me spend the night. This helps me so much more than she could ever imagine. From gas money to just all that driving time that takes away from the sleep I need on nights I have early-bird the next morning, I know I can always count on her. I remember the morning she was leaving for her semester abroad in Sweden last spring, I was not ready for that at all. I went to her house that morning to catch her before she left and I couldn’t help but cry. She kept telling me to stop. When she left, I gave her a small heart locket necklace and she still wears it almost every day. Through losing close to all my friends just earlier this year, Becka stood by me through the whole thing. I think everyone should have a friend like that.

Becka is one of my best friends and I love her to death. Even the tiniest little things can be appreciated; helping me with French, letting me borrow her computer, teaching me how to do makeup, always listening to my rants on bad days, never telling anyone my secrets, the list goes on and on. Becka has constantly been there day or night for me and she always pushes me to be a better person. Our friendship might have started with hot wings and it might have just turned into mac n’ cheese and endless bowls of cereal but the amount of friendship in the middle of all that and the things we have been through truly shows how great of a friend and person she is, and I could never even put into words the appreciation I have for her.” – Rebecca

“Rebecka is incredibly funny – definitely one of the funniest people I know. She is kind and loyal to her friends. She is compassionate and has a strong sense of fairness and justice. She realizes the world is not the place it should be, and she wants to work to make it better. She is more conscious of what is going on in the world than most adults twice her age.
She is a gifted speaker – incredibly articulate for someone so young.
She has a strong sense of self and a healthy self-confidence.
She is a loving daughter who enjoys spending time with and talking to her parents. I have not encountered too many teenagers who seek out their parents’ company. I will miss that when she goes to college.” – Todd

“Dear Rebecka,
In the past year we have become really close and I cannot tell you how thankful I am for that. You are a loyal and supportive friend. But even people around school who are not your friend are drawn to you. You’re confident, hilarious and kind to others. I don’t even know how many people I have heard say that they don’t know you but they would love to. I have no doubt in my mind that you will succeed with flying colors in any endeavor. Thank you for being you.
Olivia”

“Rebecka,
I appreciate your great sense of humor and sassy attitude. I love that you know what you want and go after it. Your love of animals shows that you have a big heart. Of course, you’re also so, so beautiful. I’m proud of how you turned your life around and how you are now helping others do the same. You’re a great role model and an all-around great person.
It’s fantastic that you already know what you want from life: doing what you love with lots of freedom. Go for it!
You are perfect, just the way you are. You look exactly the way you’re supposed to look and have the talents you’re supposed to have. When you smile, the world becomes brighter. Your laugh means all is well in the world.
Dad and I lucked out when we had you.🙂
Love,
Mamma”
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Myla’s words ~ “My biggest insecurity is probably the feeling I hold inside of myself of not being good enough for the people that I have loved and love. I have had so many falling-outs with people i’ve been close with and they all have ended up saying very cruel things about me. I take all of these things people have said personally because I truly cared about them. No matter what, i will always feel like it was my fault that people left me, and it’s hard to hold all of the negativity projected on to me by these people. When people you love tear you down its very hard not to start believing you really are what they are saying. You start to believe you are a horrible person and it just ends up hurting not only your self-esteem but has a huge impact on how you view yourself as a person.”

What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

“I think the biggest issue is probably the amount of time that teens spending cutting each other down. We are all going through the same stuff and it would be so cool if, instead of tearing down those around us, we uplift each other and spread positivity.”

What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

“My advice for people who are starting high school is to take everything a day at a time. Realize that many things will change as you grow and that is totally okay. During high school it’s okay if you fall out of relations with some of your close friends, its bound to happen because everyone is growing up and taking different paths in life. Don’t get too attached to any relationship with a significant other unless it feels 100% right. Know that guys will always be there. Focus on yourself and doing well in school but also have some fun with your friends and go on some cool dates. Make friends that are from all different corners of life and it will help you have a greater appreciation of individuality.”

Myla’s friends and family:

“You are adventurous! You have a great sense of humor. You are strong – in your passions, your dreams, and your opinions. You are loyal, creative, and have great integrity. You are beautiful inside and out!” – Pam

“Brightness, intuitive intelligence, creative, a very good friend and listener, supportive daughter, has an eye for excellence, cuddly. – Mary

“To my little sweetheart,
I am honored that you asked me to take part in this project. I was noticing the last time I saw you how much you have matured since I had seen you previously. I am so proud of the beautiful, thoughtful and compassionate young lady you have become. You are so hard-working and responsible. You are mostly gentle with your little brother. You listen and learn from your big brother. You are a support to your mother. You love your dog and care for animals and nature. You are loving and caring to all, and that is a gift. You are creative and intelligent. You are serious and silly!
I want you to know what an amazing young woman you are. I want you know that you are very loved. I want you to know that you always deserve to be treated with respect. I want you to know what a gift and a joy you are to me, to your family and others. Allow yourself to dream and reach for the stars.
With All of My Love,
Your Aunt Suzy”

“Dear Myla,
I admire you for how caring and understanding you are of those around you. You seem to always be willing to go out of your way for those who are in need of help. I have always appreciated how hard you work in whatever you do and how you always find a way to complete what you start. Another thing that I have always admired is your artistic ability. I think that you got all of the good genes for artistry since I’m still stuck drawing stick figures. Most of all I’m so glad and so honored to call you my sister. Love ya.” – Ames

“Dearest Myla, there are many things that I love about you. You are extremely smart, you are honest, you know how to be real with friends, and you are warm and loving only when it comes from the whole of you. You are never a fake. You are trustworthy and I love that you are open with your mother. You are loyal to your family and pets.” – Kim

 

I asked the girls’ friends and family to answer a couple other questions, as well. (Thank you to all of you for writing in! This project doesn’t work without you.)
Here are their insightful responses: 

What do you think is one of the main issues facing teens today?

“Teens are always constantly comparing themselves to others. They feel that they will never be quite smart enough, or quite pretty enough, or quite good enough for someone else. There’s a struggle for acceptance and a struggle to fit in.” – Annalise

“Negativity among friends and family.” – Wayne

“Insecurity and lack of confidence with the way they appear or act. Also, apathy and ignorance about issues in general.” – Maddie P.

“There’s too much pressure on teens today to be the most skinny, or the prettiest, or the most athletic. People aren’t really encouraged to do what they want to do. Then when they get the courage to do what they love, they can be put down for it.” – Maddie D.

“I think one of the main issues facing teens is separation from nature.” – Tabita

 “Peer pressure to do things that they are unsure of, but, they do anyway because they don’t want to be the odd man out. Sex, drugs, speeding…” – Katarina

 “Self-esteem is definitely a big one. Lots of teens face media and culture that tears down what teens think about themselves, especially girls. The media is so misogynistic and sexist that it keeps girls from thinking of themselves as people, and instead as objects, which is so sad.” – Mckenzie

“I think one of the main issues facing teens today is the pressure to be perfect in so many different areas. I think being on the team is just as accomplished as being in the number 1 or number 2 spot on the team. All members are needed to support number 1 and 2 athletes.” – Heather

 “I believe the main issue is that teens really care too much about what others think. This is a hard biological check that all teens must overcome at some point. The feeling of belonging is of utmost importance to the mental well being of a teen. For these reasons, teens get caught up in what others are doing and thinking. Teens must stay true to themselves.” – Nick

“A wide range of mental health issues (depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.)” – Todd

“Peer pressure.” – Pam

“I feel that social media is a major issue in a teen’s life. Because of magazines and TV shows, we all have this idea of what we’re expected to be. We see other girls who have qualities we admire and feel bad that we don’t have that. We are programmed to compare ourselves to others. To feel inadequate when we feel we don’t measure up to someone else. There’s such a slim window of who and what is considered beautiful, when, in all reality, confidence in who you are is what makes us flawless.” – Sydney

“Competitive society” – Mary

“I believe teens must try so hard to be “perfect.” There is so much pressure on them.” – Olivia

“I believe that girls put a lot of pressure on themselves whether it is about their weight, insecurities, or faults. This can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and many other issues.” – Talia

“To me, all teens seem to feel like they are not good enough. We live in a society of pressures for success, money, happiness, and togetherness. Through the struggle to achieve these pressures, we become more self-conscious and are filled with the need to achieve the perfect life.” – Rebecka

“I think a big issue is constantly pushing teens to do more, achieve more, and work harder. In Decorah, kids are drilled about the “Decorah Way”. This means doing things well, displaying good sportsmanship, and being a role model. It has also pushed kids to be involved in many activities and groups and to excel in everything that they do. Some kids feel that they can’t do as well and so give up. Teressa has been able to do well academically, but even with taking enough classes to enter college midway through her sophomore year, having a 4.0 GPA, a 33 on her ACTs, her girl scout gold award, and being involved in many other activities as well as working as a CNA and lifeguard, this was not enough to earn herself her dream of making it into an Ivy League college.” – Tiffany

“I think the main issue facing teens today is body image. There’s so many kids and even adults that hate their appearance and body because of what the media portrays as “attractive”.” – Alicja

“One main issue teens face today is media’s negative influence on teen’s worth, self-esteem, body image, and confidence. There’s too much pressure towards growing up too fast in terms of how a young lady should act and what she should do, and how she should look…” – Michele

“Self-doubt, too much self-consciousness, pressure from society and peers.” – Lucas

“Abstinence from sex.” – Alan

“I think one of the main issues facing teens today is the fear of not being accepted or loved by others or not belonging.

Others issues teens are facing include:
Low Self Esteem
Family problems/communication issues
Stress about school, friends, family, sports or activities, future
Depression
Peer pressure to engage in substance use and premarital sex
Bullying” – Suzy

“In today’s society there are countless numbers of impossible expectations set for teens. These expectations are set by family members, media, peers, and even ourselves. When teens inevitably are unable to reach these impossible expectations they feel as though they have let themselves and those around them down. This creates insecurities and a lack of confidence in many teens.” – Ames

“Peer pressure.” – Kim

“Pressure from adults to succeed.” – Dan

 If you are out of high school, what advice would you go back and give yourself?

 I would tell myself that I am far stronger than I think I am, and that the terrible things happening right now won’t matter in a few years. If anything, they’ll have shaped you into a better person. Don’t keep struggling to fit in with your “pretty, popular friends.” They are NOT your friends because a friend doesn’t repeatedly kick someone once they’re already down. Ignore the classmates who call you crazy, because they don’t realize how beautiful your mind is and how blessed you are to be able to feel so deeply. These kids, this school, this town is so insignificant and does not define who you will be. One day, you will find people who deserve and appreciate all the love and friendship you have to give. You do matter, and you are most certainly good enough.” – Annalise

“Be more positive and be more outgoing. Never say you can’t do something. Always try and see what happens.” – Wayne

“Don’t care what others think of you!” – Tabita

“Stay in school. Don’t be too excited about getting married, you have your whole life ahead of you. Plan for the future by saving money, setting goals and following through with those decisions.” – Katarina

“I would give myself the advice to be more involved in activities, clubs, sports, fund-raising etc. I have seen how involved my daughter has been and it has made her so incredibly efficient and so well-rounded as a person.” – Heather

“I believe the main issue is that teens really care too much about what others think. This is a hard biological check that all teens must overcome at some point. The feeling of belonging is of utmost importance to the mental well being of a teen. For these reasons teens get caught up in what others are doing and thinking. Teens must stay true to themselves.” – Nick

“Try to be more comfortable in my own skin and embrace my passions and own my own voice.” – Todd

“What you are experiencing right now will not define the rest of your life!” – Pam

“I would tell myself to embrace who I am. Don’t hide in the shy shell you’ve created over the years. You have every potential to be beautiful and happy if you just let yourself. Also, don’t rely on others to give you reassurance that you’re good enough. Because most of the people you currently surround yourself with will not come through when you need them most. Be strong, be independent, and you will find the people who make you better!” – Sydney

“Be gentle, patient and kind to myself” – Mary

“Well I am almost out of high school…and looking back at my first few years I would give myself a hug and tell little Olivia that everything will turn out for the best. I would tell her not to worry so much.” – Olivia

“I would say to have fun and not take life and school quite so seriously.” – Tiffany

“Take time to think about what I want for myself instead of worrying about pleasing others all the time. Be nice to others, but that doesn’t mean I should let people walk all over me nor do we have to be aggressive. It takes strength to stick to your beliefs, but it’s worth it.” – Michele

“Don’t worry so much about what others think of me; that doesn’t matter. Be myself. Be thankful for my experiences, find and focus on the joyful aspects of everything that comes my way. Make good use of my time; do what I will regret the least in the future. Enjoy the journey.” – Lucas

“Don’t experiment with alcohol.” – Alan

“I was really afraid to make mistakes for fear of looking “Dumb” so I would tell myself that it is OK to make mistakes and that we learn from our mistakes and often grow from our mistakes. I was always my own worst enemy so I would tell myself to look at my strengths rather than my deficits.” – Suzy

“I would tell myself not to worry as much about what other people think.” – Ames

“To be true to myself and keep open communication with my wise mother.” – Kim

“Enjoy every single day.” – Dan

If you are still in high school, what advice would you give others who are starting?

“Stay true to your beliefs while keeping an open mind. High school is where you form your true self and find who your true friends are, but it’s not the end. There is so much more after high school, don’t sweat the small things. Also mental/physical health comes before grades.” – Maddie P.

“Don’t freak out too much, and don’t let what other people say get to you to a point where you constantly are hating on yourself.” – Maddie D.

“Be Yourself! Be a good friend. Trust your instincts. Don’t do things just because other people want you to. These four years do not define you!”

“I would tell high school girls that it is very important not to worry about what others think. The most important opinion is what you think of yourself.” – Olivia

“People are always going to be mean. If someone is judging you or is saying mean things about you, I know it is hard to push it aside. I want you keep in mind that these people will not be going too far in life with that attitude, and if they are behaving that way towards you, they are not at all someone you need in your life. Love yourself first. How you feel about yourself is what matters.” – Rebecka

“Stay away from as much drama as possible and be friends with as many people as you can. Be your own person and be kind to everyone.” – Alicja

Links to past groups can be found here:

Why this project began
Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2, Teens!
Group 3, 55+!
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7, Men!
Group 8
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Melissa & Lily)
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Liz & Caitie)
Group 10 – Couples!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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*EDITED* another day that I had a face for radio…

We just returned from taking the Raw.Honest.Loved.Project to a group of amazing teens in Decorah, Iowa and I’m still recovering emotionally from the whole thing. The photos are up on the project’s Facebook page. The blog will be up here when I can get all of my thoughts and feelings wrapped up into something that makes sense.

For now, however, I can share with you a LIVE interview that went underway this morning with Iowa Public Radio.  Becca, from our Decorah Teen Group, joins me on the program. Becca is the reason that this project went to Iowa in the first place. Listen in and see why. And ignore my various “um”s.

LISTEN TO THE PROGRAM HERE: http://iowapublicradio.org/post/building-self-esteem-through-photography

Building Self-Esteem through Photography

Rebecca Haars

Rebecca Haars
CREDIT ALANA TAMMINGA

Students at Decorah High School have lost friends in recent years, some to accidents, some to suicide. Senior Rebecca Haars saw that her fellow students were hurting and vulnerable, so she decided to do something to help. She brought the Raw. Honest. Loved.project to Decorah.

On this Talk of Iowa segment, host Charity Nebbe talks with Haars and Alana Tamminga, the woman behind this powerful project.

Tamminga says that the Decorah teen group taught her some things as well, and she hopes this session helped them work through their insecurities.

“They have so much to offer,” Tamminga says. “We could see ourselves in them. We lived it, we were feeling that way in high school too; we’ve felt it since then.”

“So I’m just hoping for them, that they don’t [carry their insecurity] as much as we did. This is something that maybe they can quash now and know that they are absolutely good enough, to hold their heads high.”

TAGS:

Can you help us take the Raw.Honest.Loved. Project across the country?

Get the Raw.Honest.Loved. Project to teens in Iowa!
Can you help?

Even the smallest donation helps and is greatly appreciated.

Recently, this Tacoma, WA based project was contacted by Rebecca, a high-school senior that lives in the small town of Decorah, Iowa.
She had found the project through a friend and Facebook and hoped it could possibly make some sort of change for teens in her area.
Rebecca is very familiar with loss in her community – when we originally became acquainted, their community had dealt with the death of five young people over only the last few years – two to accidents, three to suicide.

Since our original contact, Rebecca lost yet another friend to suicide just a couple of weeks ago.
She and I recently got to FaceTime about self-esteem, its effects, suicide, and the RHL Project.

I am excited to announce that there is now an opportunity for us to go to Iowa to do the project with Rebecca and six of her peers.
If you are able to help us in any way toward this cause, we and this group of teens would greatly appreciate it.
We need to round up funds for this quickly, as this group needs to take place at the end of April.
We’re very excited about this opportunity!
Please share if you feel so inclined.

Please go here for the GoFundMe Link: Get the Raw.Honest.Loved. Project to Iowa!

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group 10 – Couples!

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“People say, “You’ve been together 25 years, what’s the secret?” Honestly, some of it’s just dumb luck. Some of it is that maybe we happened to step right when we should’ve, instead of stepping left…” – Daniel
“We didn’t give up at the same time.” – Summer
“Yeah, we could have given up at the same time, but, when one of us was down, the other picked them up.” – Daniel

This group was the same as the groups before it, dealing with personal insecurities, but, for the first time, we were dealing with the dynamic of how insecurities affect the intimate relationship of an individual and the person they’ve chosen to spend their life with.
It’s a pretty interesting dynamic.
How much do our personal insecurities play into our relationship with our partner?

Every time I put a new group together, one that is specific (teens, 55+, moms & daughters), my boyfriend mentions that I’m conducting some sort of social experiment. He’s right, I guess, although I hate the word “experiment” when it comes to dealing with people. But, all in all, that is essentially what is happening.
I’m wanting to see how this particular group changes the dynamic of the conversation.
How being in a specific group of peers influences how we view insecurities, how we talk about them, how we handle them.

Having a couples group seemed like the next obvious choice.
It was to be the first group where we were including both men and women.
We’ve had multiple women’s groups…we know it’s generally easy to open up in a group of women.
We had our men’s group (yes, there will be more), and we saw how awesome that was and how the men relate to and support one another just like the women do.
Now, how would they do together?

Seeing that they are in a partnership, it seemed obvious that they should communicate well together, but, it also threw in some anxiety for me.
I’ve said this a million times, but, I’ll say it again: I am not a counselor, not a therapist, not a psychiatrist, not a psychologist…I am none of those things.

These groups are not counseling sessions.

I am a photographer who sees the value in communication. Plainly that.

So, I was worried that the couples here could possibly see this as some counseling session and maybe start hashing out some issues. Thank goodness, that did not happen.
Kyle did mention in his post-interview that he hadn’t known what to expect and assumed it would be something like counseling, but, was surprised when it wasn’t. Instead, he found it was much more than he expected – in his words, “it leaves you with something. It feels like we have something to work for now, something to help each other out with, knowing we’re not alone. Now we know where each other is coming from, see each other’s perspective, know more about how we can help them grow, help build their confidence.”

There was something important that these participants took away – mainly, the knowledge that they are not alone.
That other individuals feel the same way that they do.
That other couples, no matter how long they’ve been together, struggle with the same things at different phases of their relationship, to different degrees each time.

Jessica mentioned, “It’s so crazy to me that, of all of the people who could be in this group, the three men and the three women are so similar. That we all ended up in this group together.”
It does seem crazy, like some sort of kizmet.
The crazier thing is…this happens in every group.
Everyone in each group is amazed that these are the people who ended up in the group with them – that these people feel so similar to how they feel. Why? Because we all feel this way to some degree or another.
As I told Jessica, we could have had three more couples added to this group and they would have felt the same way about all of them.
They would all feel like they’re not measuring up how they should.
They would all feel like they’re not enough.

“I’m not enough.”
“I’m inadequate.”
That was the theme of the night.
Honestly, it’s the theme of nearly all of the groups.
Have you seen how many boards from this project say something to the effect of being “not enough”?
In a total of 86 participants so far, I can tell you that at least half of them are directly about something to the effect of not being enough, being undeserving of love, being some sort of lost cause.
And that’s just those that chose that particular insecurity to directly write about…that’s not counting the things that the other half agreed with and proceeded to share their own doubts about themselves in their particular groups.
I’ve been at each group. I can tell you that out of 86 people, 86 people can relate to feeling like they are not enough.

Having people surround you that understand and can relate to how you feel is a very powerful thing.

The ladies in this group reflected on the fact that even if there’s just one other person that feels what you’re going through, it’s already better, already easier.
They spoke about the onset of overwhelming days of sadness. Summer is used to people seeing her as a generally happy person, but says, “The really good happy stuff gets lost sometimes and feels like it’s not enough to overcome even a couple of sad things. The happy stuff is so much bigger than these small sad things, but, those sad things can knock you on your knees some days. I can’t explain why I’m sad sometimes, it just is…it just is.

Tracy speaks about how it’s similar and, yet, different for her: “Sometimes I shut myself off so much that I’m not even recognizable. I may be happy, but the sadness sneaks up on me and that’s what I portray. It’s too hard to portray happiness.” She talks about how that’s what people view her as – as hard and cold. Because that comes easier for her.

The men discuss how they are portrayed.
Daniel is seen as being always on guard. People have told him that he projects a tough image. They say, “I was always scared of you.” It became easier for him to be the ‘tough guy’, to push others away, not because he wanted to, but, because it was easier than letting them see that he was insecure – as he said, “I don’t let you get close enough because I don’t want you to see that I actually don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”

Shawn and Kyle agree, “I’m not this guy that you portrayed me as…I was standoff-ish and just came off as that because of my insecurities, my feelings, how I was raised. You just have to get past that first layer… Men – we’re supposed to be tough, but we need this kind of encouragement. My dad shut everything away his whole life…I’m trying to do the opposite.”

As I shared with them, it’s funny to me with every group how this works: all of the new participants are mostly strangers to me upon arranging the groups. People who have written to me about wanting to be a part. People whom I add to a list. I don’t know them. I start to get to know them by what they write in to me about their insecurity. But, I REALLY get to know them through the things their loved ones write in for them. I first develop an image based on the things they dislike about themselves and then that image changes when I am flooded with these amazing things about them that other people want to share with me.
Guess which person I meet?
I meet the one described by the friends and family.
I meet the one who displays those awesome traits and qualities.
Always.
We are so in our own heads that we are overwhelmed by these feelings of inadequacy and such, but, we are outwardly SO MUCH MORE than that. If only we can get that point across to ourselves. That’s what this project is about.

In speaking about couples, we naturally talked about how hard it is to live up to the other’s expectations…and yet, how much harder it is to live up to our OWN expectations.

We talked about how we expect one another to be mind-readers. They should know we feel a certain way, right?
They should know that, in our head, we are getting pissed off every time we see that sock in the middle of the floor that they still haven’t picked up…
Summer phrased it well when she said that she just takes care of whatever she’s finding an issue with “without him losing a fight he’s not even aware he’s in.”
Isn’t this the case most of the time? We’re steaming, wrapped up in our own brain, festering about some little thing they’ve done that is aggravating to us…meanwhile, they’re clueless.
It’s the same with the positive things that we love about each other.
We assume they know.
But, as Kyle said, “that’s not the case. You have to get that stuff out…you’re helping build that person up so that there’s less fears, less insecurities. This group is different because what we feel for each other drives us to be better people and better for each other. We’re pushing each other to be the best person each other can be for the other. Now, voicing this stuff will push us to the next level to fulfilling that for the other person.”

Daniel also said, “The thing I find the most weird, even when I went to write it and now hearing us all talk tonight – this is the person you love the most, so, those feelings, you feel ‘em everyday, you live ‘em everyday – but, you go to say the words out loud and it…it catches you…what if you put them out and they don’t come back?

Insecurities.
We have them individually, we have them in relation to each other.
We learn as we go. We learn every day. We adjust. We adapt.

Thank you to everyone who wrote in for these lovely couples – this would not work without you. Through you, I got to know them.
Thank you, Daniel & Summer, Kyle & Jessica, Shawn & Tracy, for being so open and so honest. Here are your stories.

danielinsDaniel ~ That I won’t measure up. Whether it’s love, friendship, work, family, etc. I always have this nagging feeling that I’m not good enough, not strong enough, not smart enough, not worthy of this.”

Daniel’s friends and family:

“He is a loyal loving husband. He likes the spirit of freedom and working for himself. Likes to debate on more than surface issues. He is quiet unless you get to know him, sort of an introvert. He does like the opportunity to coach football and teach the fundamentals of the game.” – Gene

“Daniel is like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or the Cinderella Man.  His kindness in actions speaks louder than words and his Neil Young Heart of Gold is a beat that influences anybody who can hear it.  His imagination and love for art and design is of the most striking outlet of creativity I have ever seen, and I’m an art major.  He also has this passionate love for all things raw, which the world needs more of.  I’m not sure I could ever stop with the wonderful things to say about Daniel.  Bottom line, his simple breath makes people want to be better.  He is light.  He is a breath of fresh air.  He is one of the greatest men I will ever know.” – Lindsey

“Dan is one person in my life who I know I can count on to be 100 percent honest with me. Throughout my whole life he has always been there when I’ve needed advice, and I always know he will give me his honest opinion. He is one of the most intelligent people I know. I used to really enjoy our car rides from school to my house because he and I would talk about anything and everything. Whether it was school, work, politics, or music, he and I usually expressed mutual opinions. I really appreciate him and I know my life would not be the same without him in it.” – Kaylee

“Dearest Dan,

I appreciate your honesty. It is so refreshing to have a conversation with you and feel a common bond and enjoy a laugh about the state of our world at large. Your sense of humor is something I admire in my day-to-day hustle and bustle. I love your tolerance for your fellow humans. I have heard and shared your frustration at times when we have chatted at an event but you always have a smile for just about everyone. You also tolerate my love for the Steelers even with your loyalty to the Raiders. For that I thank you, my friend!” – Christy

“Dan,

We don’t normally do this “feely” stuff, but, maybe we should. You have been the best big brother a girl could ask for. You were the first man in my life that protected me. There are no words for how much that has meant to me. You are honest and real. I know I can always count on you to give it to me straight. I respect your opinion. You love people with your whole heart. You sacrifice for those around you. You tell the best stories! Your laughter and smile are contagious. You know who you are and you don’t allow other’s thoughts or opinions to sway your confidence. You know who you are and what you believe in. You are compassionate and caring, kind and loving. You are intelligent, one of the most intelligent people I know!
I love you brother!
Kirsten”

“Dear Dan,

It seems as though you have been a part of this family always. I am forever thankful that Summer chose you to be her life mate. You came into our lives at a time when my girls needed a big brother to help them understand that there are good men in life.

Over the years I have grown to love you as my son-in-law. I respect the person you are. I appreciate the way your mind thinks, the knowledge you possess and share. I like how you think of others. You are always there to lend a hand, to family, to homeless people, to children and the old. There is a gentle giant with an enormous heart inside of you.

You have always loved my daughter with your whole heart; of this I have always been certain. The relationship you have with my daughter shows in so many little ways to this Mother’s heart. It shows in the way your eyes light up when you look at her; in the gentleness you treat her with, in the caring you give her when she is sick. You carry the heaviest package, and give her the smaller one. You play with her and show her that her joys are yours also; you share the burden of her sorrows and let her know she is not alone in her pain. You are there for her emotionally. You are her best friend. I am so grateful to you for being a good and kind man, and for loving Summer with your whole heart.

The example that you and Summer have set as a married couple helped the rest of my daughters make wise choices of life mates, I truly believe without you in our lives, things could have turned out much differently.

I love your sense of adventure, and your playfulness. I appreciate how gentle you have always been with the grandchildren, and that you have been there for them with great “Uncle” advice.

I like the fact that you have belief in your dreams, and motivation, and persistence in accomplishing your goals. I like that you think outside the box, and that you do not color life inside the lines.

I am proud to call you mine. You are a wonderful person and I appreciate who you are.

Love,
Mom, (aka Ginnie)”

“Daniel defines growth to me. He is worlds away from the outer persona he portrayed when I first met him and has moved closer and closer to sharing with the world who he is at his core. He continues to learn, explore and apply all knowledge in his life. Internally he’s pushing himself to explore who he is and what he wants in his life and what he can give with his life. Externally he is learning how to read emotion and relate to people in new ways. When we were first dating we would take black and white photo booth pictures on our dates. In each one he looks so different over the years. Facial hair, weight, clothing. So much so that on our wedding cake I had 4 of these images on our cake and someone commented that he must be really understanding to have pictures of other men with me on our cake. Now though that same internal growth and change is happening. Knowing him for almost 25 years I can look back and see how very differently he’s evolved and become and grown. It’s almost like the wedding cake topper, the difference in who he was and who he is has become. I can’t wait to see how he grows and changes in the next 25 years.

He is protective. There are inner circles in his heart and once you’ve entered, even the outermost ring of his heart, he will be there for you. He will fight to the death for you. He will honor you. He will hold you close. He will not always know to ask, what you need but if you ask for help, come hell or high water he will drop everything else and find a way to be there for you. There are no limits to what he would be willing to sacrifice for those he holds close and dear. He doesn’t express it. It just is. It’s who he is and how he loves.

He is tender. He holds my hand while we sit in the car. We walk down the street and he reaches out to hold my hand, always. He kisses me on the head every night and tells me to “dream well my love”. When I wake him up, he sees me and smiles. He doesn’t project an image of someone who is tender. People see him as rough sometimes. As quiet. But he’s really very introspective. He wears his heart so much more on his sleeve than anyone would imagine. His heart is open and vulnerable. He feels things completely and his feelings have a way of consuming him.

He is brilliant. He has the capacity to learn rapidly and apply that learning. He absorbs information. It drove me insane when we were first dating. He would pick up a new passion and learn it inside-out in no time, and just when I thought he was on track for the next career, life change, defining moment, he would move on and pursue the next interest with the same passion. Now, I appreciate the flow of his learning. Although I’m still amazed. Sometime still shocked he doesn’t continue to pursue things he’s demonstrated such ability in. But I love him for it. He’s constantly changing, evolving and learning. It’s interesting to watch his process. And knowing now not to set or apply my expectations on how to use that skill or knowledge releases the frustration I used to experience and allows me to just appreciate him and value the process he’s experiencing. I’m jealous of his capacity to learn and apply his knowledge.

He is forgiving. He leads by example here. There have been so many times I’ve made a black-and-white, no-room-for-forgiveness call about someone. He’s the opposite. He believes everyone is capable of change and that they deserve the opportunity to grow and adjust and be. Through his example I am constantly challenged to let go of my judgments. He is gracious and unpresumptuous. He allows in his heart and mind room for someone else to be on their journey without his judgment. He might have to fight his own fears of an action someone else causes, but he doesn’t let someone’s action, or mistake or path define his perception of that person. One act doesn’t define anyone in his book.

He is dedicated. If he’s given his word, it will happen. He will find a way. Even when there is no way. It may not happen the way he wanted it to or thought it would. But it will. He’s been an incredible football coach. Even when we’ve had no time to give, he’s found a way to make it happen. When we didn’t have the means to help, he still found a way. He doesn’t let his pride get in the way of accomplishing what he’s set his mind to. He will simply fight to make it happen. And if he’s given his word, he will be there. His honor matters to him. His word matters.

He is funny. He uses humor to pull people in and hold people back. He pushes every joke as far as it should go, and given the right circumstances, further than anyone thought it could or should. He talks smack like a pro. He has laugh lines he’s earned. He’s given me laugh lines that I know will grow as we get older together. He comes up with things off the cuff that just crack people up and comes up with pranks and jokes he plots and plans that are un-topable. I think it’s one characteristic everyone that knows him has experienced in one form or another.

He is a true partner. We talk often about the word “marriage” versus “partner”. In Daniel I’ve found a true partnership. He acknowledges each of our strengths and weaknesses and we work together to bring out the best in each other and to help hold the other up in to overcome the weaknesses as a team. “Us” is an identity that is a living thing he values, protects, and holds dear. I really enjoy who he is and who we are together.

He’s a fighter. At one time in his life, it was about the physical battle. About pushing himself to the limit, pushing the other person to the limit. Letting the beast inside of him roam, and he found opportunities to make those fights happen. Now he’s taken on a much harder battle. He’s fighting his own demons, fears and insecurities. He’s battling with his own patterns to take control of his life and be the master of his emotions and their outcomes. These last few years of working for ourselves and trying to create these businesses have shown me a strength I didn’t even know he had. I’ve always thought of him as a fighter, as tough, as strong. Now, he also lets me see him as weak, he lets me see the battle scars. And in my eyes it’s made him stronger and tougher then ever. We have been pulling through situations I would have said NEVER for us, or to us, will that happen. But he’s not a throw-in-the-towel guy. He sees the big picture and understands the difference between a lost battle and a lost cause. His strength here gives me the strength day after day. To keep believing. To keep striving. To make it happen. That same strength and stubbornness and willingness to fight have kept us together. Have held us together. Have helped us grow together.

He’s my best friend. He knows me. He accepts the worst of me. (And he’s seen it.) He loves me. He understands me. He gives me the room to be me. He challenges me. He relaxes me. He deals with my fears. He kills the spiders for me. He lives in the chaos of my to-do piles. He loves our family. He calms my crazy medical fears. He enriches me. He appreciates me. He loves my crazy curls first thing in the morning. He loves me in sweats as much as he does when I’m dressed up. He loves my grey hair and ‘Dan wrinkle’ in my brow. He is the one person I need, I love. He’s my forever plus 2 days.” – Summer

summerinsSummer ~ “Not every day, but too many days, I wake up and the sadness is there with me. It’s hovering over me, surrounding me, and enveloping me. It fills me with thoughts about not being enough. Not doing enough. Not capable of enough. Not. Not. Not. That at my core, I will never be enough. That I deserve this sadness. That I was made for sadness. Other days it sneaks in. It invades a perfectly pleasant day. It pulls me into myself. It threatens to overpower me. It slows me. Stops me. Tries to define me. I fight it. I struggle with it. I deal with it. I’m able, most of the time, to still function with it. I shake it. I bury it. I fight harder with it. Sometimes I have a logical grasp on where it’s coming from. On what just triggered it. On how the PTSD I am experiencing is bringing in these feelings. This feeling. Other times it takes days or weeks or I never really understand why it’s there or was there. I don’t know why some days the sadness is winning or wins. I don’t know how to make the tears not fall. I just internally curl into a ball. A big ball of feeling sadness. Other days I am able to use one of my coping mechanisms and get through it. Still feel like the part of myself I want to be. The part of me that can take on the world. The part of me that has room for everyone else and the details of their lives. The struggle is feeling like two different people always at war. The internal sad girl and the outwardly happy girl. Where I am now is trying to understand that I am both. That one isn’t really bad, or wrong. It just is. It comes with its own gifts of compassion and empathy for others that I don’t think I would have without it. What I’m fighting with right now is still only wanting to be one. Just the happy one. The one I try so hard to project and be. The one that is socially more acceptable. The side that in every happy ending story is the side we see, know and love.” 

 

Summer’s friends and family:

“Summer is one of the most amazing people I know. She is generous, creative, warm, energetic, loyal, driven, has integrity and works extremely hard. Summer is one of those people who walks into a room and lights it up with her smile and energy. I love being around her because she makes me happy. Even when she has a difficult time, she confronts her challenges with grace and a smile. I admire her and often think about her when I think about the type of person I want to be.” – Kristen

“Summer was my first best friend. We played poker for candy, and talked nonstop. We used to dream about what we would do when we grew up. What I love about Summer is that she follows her dreams, even if they change. She is a hard-working, not afraid to take chances overcomer. She is also a great listener. She lets me talk and ramble and cry if I need to. She is talented in so many ways. I admire her creativity, her boldness, and her strength.” – Shannon

“When I think about the things I love, admire and appreciate about Summer, the phrase “the most…” is the start of nearly every phrase. She puts everything she has into all that she does and cares about and, because of this, she is the most positive person I know, the most selfless person I know, the most generous person I know, the hardest working person I know, the most caring person I know. She is amazing at lifting people up and giving positive words of affirmation and does so regularly. She is an enjoyable person with high energy who has a cheesy, yet, witty sense of humor that is charming and she can carry conversation on most topics. She is someone who I admire, love and appreciate for all of these reasons but even more so for the glimpses I get of the raw emotions she rarely lets everyone see. In these moments, I am honored to be her friend.” – Heather

“Summer –

When I think of you, four words come to mind: Strength, Sacrifice, Love, Selfless. Your creativity, eye for design, and ability to capture moments in life that are often taken for granted are inspiring. You astonish me with the energy you give to all those you love. Your strength is something I’ve looked to so many times in my life to help me get through. Despite the challenges of the last couple years, you still make the impossible possible. EVERYDAY. I’m constantly in awe of how you manage to pull it all off. You’ve been a role model to me, “what would summer do” is a phrase I’ve found myself asking so many times. You are always there to listen and advise. I truly enjoy spending time with you. You are fun to be around and I love the adventures we have taken together – remember the caves? I hope you know how loved you are by me, and not for anything you can do, just for simply you.
I love you sis!
Kirsten”
“Dear Summer,

You are my first-born child, from the moment you were placed in your bassinet and lifted your head to look around the room you were born in, I knew that this strong, curious, adorable, little person would rule my heart. When we name a child, we agonize trying to select the perfect name. You are your name, warm and kind, full of life. As you and I have grown over the years our relationship has grown and changed as much as we have.

I have always been able to depend on you to be there for your sisters and I emotionally and logically. We have survived pain and sorrow, and relished in laughter and love. We have exposed the past in painful and revealing talks with each other and as a group with your sisters. This was cathartic and necessary for us to continue to become healthy and happy in our emotional lives. I am forever grateful that you helped to bring this about.

We have laughed so hard that tears form. You bring a sense of adventure into life, be it simple or extravagant.
You love with your whole heart. You are the epitome of a creative thinker, and believe if you can visualize it, it is possible, and then with your drive and persistence it becomes what you dream.

I am intensely proud of the life you have lived, as a child, and an adult. You have made excellent choices in your life. I love the gentleness of your soul, the delight you possess in life. Your giving nature never fails to amaze me. You are intuitive and your instincts are spot on.

I am very thankful that you chose to move back home, I know that was hard for you, but you have brought so much joy to our lives, and the time I get to share with you is very precious to me. I look forward to every minute.

I know you think you are not an artist, but in everything you do, you are. Art is not limited to only one definition. Your muse leads you on paths that others could never follow. I adore you.

My heart overflows with love for you,
Mom…..“

“How do you tell a story about Summer. Summer is magic.  Summer is loving.  Her love for her husband is epic and the kind of love written about in romance novels.    Her eye for art and composition is heaven gifted.  Not one earth given gift like sunrises, sunsets, sweet babies sleeping, smiling, toddling, and springs first bust of flower are missed by Summer.  Appreciating the smallest of blessings this life has to offer is in her radar.  How do you tell a story of Summer just breath in and breath out. She is life!!!!” – Amy

“Dearest Summer,

I love the passion you have for your creativity. I admire all of the beauty you create. Your passion and creativity make my life, as well as the lives of everyone you touch inspired.” – Christy

“I started loving Summer a little over 24 years ago. The things I love about her have changed and intensified during that time.
I’ll go with some of the ones that have been there since I first realized that I was in love with her.
Summer is caring, compassionate, and loving. She gets the biggest joy for the simplest things. When she really smiles she shows her gums, and she’s uncomfortable when she does. When she tells a joke she usually laughs harder than you do. When she loves something she loves it with everything she’s got. When she believes in something Summer will fight for it, even if she knows she’ll lose.” – Daniel
 

kyleinsKyle ~ I worry that I am not going to be the man my wife needs or wants me to be. I know that my wife loves me, but, I sometimes worry that at some point that won’t be enough. This is kind of like me worrying that I’m not good enough nor do I deserve this amazing woman who I have been blessed to call WIFE.” 

Kyle’s friends and family:
“Kyle: Honest, adventurous, confident, trusting, brave, great company, charismatic, creative, good-natured, hardworking and active.” – Anita

“Kyle—this Guy has helped me in many ways—whether it be as simple as something around the house, or saving me from being stranded in the middle of the woods. He’s always willing to drop everything to lend a hand to those he loves. He’s grown into a Man of God, and I’m so proud of him for putting his faith in The Lord’s hands. He’s a guy I can trust, and a guy I can depend on. I cherish our friendship and am so thankful for him. Love, Aaron”

“Dear Kyle,
Well my friend, this is a tough one. I don’t know you on a super close personal level yet I do know how much my friend feels loved by you, which makes you a pretty cool cat in my book.
I admire that you have supported your wife in her business adventure. You not only accepted her idea to start her own business but also supported her in the journey. You allow her to often put others before you and accept that this is a just part of the process. Most important, it is amazing that you still love her even though she smells like liniment when she comes home!
I find it incredibly admirable that you were willing to take on a second job to support her in the start-up of her business. I know that 10 minutes in the porn industry is equivalent to a lifetime in an office setting so I appreciate that you sacrificed your dignity to support your wife’s dreams.
I love that you have discovered that it’s okay to be open to loving all types. Your exploration in an often-judgmental world shows your strength as a man. Not all men can make a connection with another man over the internet. It is fantastic that you never questioned his motives and allowed feeling to develop slowly over time. Those of us in that you shared your story with are impressed in how you have demonstrated that you are truly comfortable in who you are and that you respect the sanctity of your marriage by not keeping the feelings a secret. I am proud of you and Scott!
I admire that you have met the expectation we as women have of our man by becoming a true caveman. You have hunted and gathered…finally! Your ability to provide for your family in a very primal manner is impressive. It demonstrates yet another wonderful quality that you possess; you never give up!
Kyle, all kidding aside, you really are a great man. You put your family in the forefront, you love your wife, you are a hard worker, you have an amazing sense of humor, and you provide a wonderful environment for your kids to grow up in.
I admire that you are able to make your family a priority and work as a partner with Jess to create a happy home. The work you put into providing financially and emotionally for your family doesn’t go unnoticed by those who surround you. You possess the qualities that many people envy and yet to you, they all seem to come naturally. I know through the many conversations that Jess and I have had that you have an amazing heart and always live your life with the best of intentions. These are qualities we all hope to find in a life partner and I am glad you share those with Jess. You my friend are a wonderful example to those around you and most importantly to your children. You should be proud of the man you are and the family you have created.
Love to you!
Liz”

“Though I’ve only known Kyle for a few years, I have high respect for him and feel that he’s the best thing that’s happened to Jessica. He’s a very kind and gentle man, as well as a good father and provider. He loves the outdoors, but his first love is his family.” – Lanette

“Kyle- Smart, loving, sincere, funny spontaneous, adventurous… The Hunter. Just a few characteristics that come to mind when I think of you. But you are so much more than that. I know this because of the love you have for your wife and your children. You love despite the lack of the same DNA. You love because your heart is worn on your sleeve – your adventurous spirit and wanting to live life to the fullest is evident when one is around you. The way you take care of your family is a gift beyond measure. When one looks at you we see that your cup runneth over with love and appreciation for all that you have. You don’t take things for granted; you are the calm in the tornado. You are balance, peace, joy laughter and kindness. You see more than what’s on the surface, you go deeper, you trust your instincts.  You are a good judge of character. You are patient with your children and your lovely wife; you are an example to many men of who they could become if they would just let go of society’s expectations. You are handsome and sweet and oh so funny, too.
I love you both very much.” – JulieAnn
“Kyle is very social and he can make friends with complete strangers in any situation. Kyle has a beautiful smile and participates in sportsman type activities.” – Peggie
“Kyle was one of my first friends in Tacoma, and he quickly became one of my closest. He is like a brother to me, and his entire family embraced me as one of their own almost upon meeting. He is a wonderful person, with a smile that is infectious and the biggest heart in the world. He’s also completely hilarious.

Throughout my friendship with Kyle (and he’ll tell you this), I have never really loved anyone he dated. I always thought he went for girls that weren’t good enough for him, in one way or another. Not to say that there were a ton, but there were a few, and they all came and went. For whatever reason, they just didn’t compliment him.

Until he met Jess.

I knew immediately that she was different. She was more confident than the others, and she actually wanted to be MY friend. At the time, Kyle and I were very close and hung out frequently. Some weren’t too keen on that, but Jess didn’t sweat it, and I respected her for that. She also had a calmness about her that was very soothing to be around, and above all she truly LOVED Kyle. And you could tell he loved her, with the way he lit up after he met her… as though no one else existed.

Since they’ve been together, I’ve seen both of them grow into such amazing people. They are kind, generous and devoted to each other and their growing family. They are proud of the life they’ve made, and they work at their relationship every day, even if it’s in the smallest way. Their children are a reflection of the love they have for each other and I am so very proud that they’ve made it. If there is such a thing as soul mates, these two certainly embody the idea. I admire their love.

Although we don’t get to see each other nearly as often as anyone would like, I know they are doing just fine. I am so happy they are doing this project. I know that it will bring them even closer together, and will further strengthen the deep bond that they share.

Here’s to true love. <3” – Jayme

“What I love most about my husband… I’m afraid if this letter gets out I may or may not be the most hated woman in the world. You see my husband… he is perfect. I love the fact that my children love him. He is our daughters’ first love, and our son’s first hero. He is an amazing father in so many different ways, and he makes me proud everyday as those kids truly begin to look up to him. I love my husband because he makes it a priority to put our kids and myself first. His happiness is our happiness and he would do anything for us. He is a born provider, not just a hard worker but always improving himself as a hunter and fisher too, in order to provide food for us. I love my husband because he has a huge…giant…almost too big sometimes… heart. He supports me in almost all that I do and enjoy. He helped me take a risk and start my own business, he believes in me, he trusts me, he respects me. He treats me like I am the most beautiful woman on the planet, like he is afraid every day to lose me because of how wonderful I am. He is everything I ever wanted in a man. He sews, he cooks, he bakes, he does laundry. He lets me sleep in on weekends. He helps with our children, he fixes everything and anything when it’s broken, he does the gross chores that include garbage, poop and old wet food. He is strong. He is my protector. I’m proud to have his arm around me in public, I think he is a beautiful man.. inside and out. His beard is outstanding. He creates bromances and is a social butterfly. He doesn’t care that I hide money in weird places around the house to be able to save, or that I eat popcorn almost every night, or that I never get comfortable in bed until I roll around 32 times. He is my team-mate, my partner, my side kick. My husband truly is the definition of Raw.Honest.Love… and he’s all mine :)” – Jessica

jessicainsJessica ~ My biggest struggle in life has always been the same…never being good enough. It used to be not being good enough for my mother but now it is mostly always not being a good enough mother. I try constantly to give all I have to my 4 children but I never feel like it is enough… they deserve so much. I also always try to be respectful, loving and helpful to my husband but I don’t feel like I am enough for him too… sometimes I feel like he deserves more than I can give him because I am giving so much to the kids and I fear I don’t often put him first as much as I should. I own a business and with all the work, billing and paperwork that often takes me away from family also and leaves me feeling like I am not enough for those in my family. Or my friends at that…I have no time and have slipped away from all my friends as well😦 I cannot please everyone in my life and it hurts me endlessly. I want to love, fix, heal and lift up everyone that comes into my life and it drains so much of me that in the end I don’t know that I am even enough for myself.” 

Jessica’s friends and family:

“Jessica: Honest, big heart, capable, reliable, helpful, master of time, giver, creative, confident, healthy and balanced.” – Anita

“Jessica—she is the most caring, loving, forgiving, accepting you-for-you kind of gal. She truly is someone I could go to at any time of the day, for anything, and she would pray for me and offer her love. Jessica came into my life a few years ago, and from day one she was someone whom I felt safe with. I knew I could trust her. Jessica is a dear friend who I love, and know if our schedules don’t always allow us to talk or see one another, the time we do spend together is like we see each other everyday. Definitely blessed to know this woman, and love her dearly.
Love, Mandy”

“Dear Jessica,
Where do I begin when I am asked to share what I love, admire, and appreciate about you? First and foremost, I admire your bravery in entrusting me to write a serious letter for you. Not to worry my friend, I’ve got this one. If there is one thing that I take serious in life, it is the value I place on true friendships and the interactions I have with genuine people, so I am honored to write this for you and will do my best to keep this G-rated and appropriate for the experience.
Let me start with what I love and admire about you…
I love and admire your love of your family. You beam when you speak of your children. You provide them the love, support, and the time they need to grow up knowing they are loved. You take parenting serious in that you love and provide for them, but you also recognize that parenting can be fun, crazy, and at times out of control. You do what is best for your family at all times. You’re an amazing mom!
You are an incredibly positive person. You not only speak of positive things, but you exude positive energy. When I am around you, no matter the mood I arrived with, I leave with a much more positive attitude. That is a gift you share with the people you are around. I know this is cliché, but your glass seems to always be half full!
You have an incredible ability to not only listen, but to truly hear what people say. I love that when we talk I know you are listening. You share ideas, you laugh at silly stories, and sometimes you simply provide support and encouragement. I admire that you truly hear what other have to say. Life is so busy for so many that the art of listening is often pushed aside. It’s a wonderful quality I love about you.
You are smart; damn smart! You started a business, you manage your time to balance work and family life, and, shoot, you picked me to be one of your friends! I love that you can hold an intelligent conversation, educate yourself on the areas of life that you are passionate about, and share your knowledge without making others feel less intelligent than you.
I admire that you don’t judge me. You have seen my rear, yet you are still my friend. You have heard some of my deepest darkest secrets, yet you are still my friend. You listen to me talk like a drunken trucker, yet you are still my friend. I say shocking and horrific thoughts that randomly pop into my head, yet you are still my friend. I feel as if I have pulled out all of the stops, given you every opportunity to judge me and run the other way, yet, you don’t judge me and instead stand by me as a true friend. Rather than judge me, you support me, laugh with me, and sometimes even laugh at me, and for that I love you! People with the wonderful quality of being non-judgmental are rare and you, my dear, have this fine quality.
Now for what I appreciate about you…
I appreciate that you are not a quitter! When you want to accomplish something you do it. You don’t give up. You don’t look for the easy way. You go all in and you do it right. You do that not only in your life but also for those of us that come to see you with challenging problems. You don’t give up on us. You look for ways to help, you search for options, and you give everything 110%.
I appreciate that you refrain from telling me that my ass is huge! Yes, I know it is a large caboose. I know that seeing that each week must be traumatic for you but yet you treat me as if my ass is that of a 21-year-old hard bodied stripper! Come on, you didn’t really think I could keep it all serious, did you? But hey, I am serious in that I really do appreciate that you don’t bust out singing “Baby Got Back” when you walk in the room!
Ok, now for the thing I appreciate the most… you saved my life! When I met you, I had given up. I gave up hope of living a pain-free life. I gave up hope all together. I felt as if my pain was a burden to not only me, but also my family. I felt as if you were my last option for relief. As you know, I didn’t believe you could do anything to help me but then I heard you say something that changed my life. It wasn’t just the words you said it was how you said it. You said with confidence that you liked a challenge and you believed you could help me if I would give you the chance. You were one of the first people I believed in during my journey to heal. So, therefore, it is your confidence and determination that I admire most, because it was life changing for me.
I could go on and on about all of the things I love, admire and appreciate about you but what it comes down to is this…
I love, admire, and appreciate YOU! All that makes you who you are. I love, admire, and appreciate all of the things that make you obviously amazing as well as all of the things that you may question about yourself. It is all of these things combined that make you the perfect friend, an amazing mother, a wife who loves her husband, a healer to many, and a strong woman who will leave a lasting impression on those that you meet throughout your life and someone I am so proud to know.
I love you BEAUTIFUL!
Liz”

“Jessica, being my god-daughter, and knowing her since the day she was born, I knew the first time I held her in the hospital that there was something special about her. She’s the most kind-hearted and gentle person I’ve ever met. She’s a free-spirited individual, and puts other’s needs before her own. She’s the kind of person who would take the shirt off her back if someone needed it. She’s an amazing mother and puts her kids first. I am proud that she’s grown into such an amazing woman and mother. I am proud that she is my God-daughter and blessed to have her in my life.” – Lanette

“Jessica- I thought a lot about what characteristics and words I would choose to describe you. It is my pleasure and a joy to share how much I love you. And what you embody. I have known you since you were about 18 months old. You have always shone like the stars and are the light amongst the darkness. You shine like the sun, your loyalty is as deep as the ocean and your love is as wide as the sky. You are a wonderful daughter, mother and friend. You are patient, kind, and forgiveness. You embody Christ’s love and it radiates from you. You are beautiful, inside and out, you’re a good listener, creative, fun, spontaneous, thoughtful, sensitive, caring, and nice to a fault…at times!  Thank you for loving me, because you made a choice to love me. I’m not your blood, I’m not your family, but I love you like you’re my own.” – JulieAnn

“Dear Jessica,
I wanted to take a few minutes remind you why I love you and will always love you. First of all, you stole my heart the moment we met, with your beauty, humor, patience and giant heart (yes I could tell). You put such great love and devotion into all that you do, no matter what it is. I admire that. And whether failure or success is the result (more success than anything), you always find the positive in the end result. I absolutely love that you are so passionate about life and the world you live in, it drives me to be more like you and see things the way you do all the time. I find myself asking,”what would my wife do?” There is so much that I love and admire about you, there simply isn’t enough time in the world for me to tell you it all.” – Kyle

 

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Shawn ~ I struggle with not feeling wanted or loved. It affects my judgment with people because I’m giving out chance after chance in hopes that they are good people; in return I can easily be a doormat. I struggle with it as being a supervisor on my jobs because people take advantage of me. If I’m not careful, I can fall into being a people pleaser, and it puts great pressure on my wife.” 

Shawn’s friends and family:

“Shawn is a gentle man with what I would describe as a fierce, consistent, steadfast love. Shawn has staying power in my definition, when the proverbial poop hits the fan; he stands and remains standing, LONG after most have run away.
The Biblical King David had what was described as ‘mighty men’ or ‘Valiant men”.
Don’t see too many of these today, so in my book, Shawn is one of few…..
I’ve seen him up and totally down, and he usually bounces back and chooses to stand up, and remain standing.
This is a deep soul quality.
A RARE deep soul quality.
If I were asked to do the impossible, I would include Shawn in a list of maybe three men I would ask to join team with me to accomplish the impossible, why?
Because he is ‘fade proof’.

In my definition, Blue-collar workingmen are the true ‘gold standard’ in any nation. They are literally the backbone of society. Without them, every above and below would crumble. Shawn is a hard-working artisan in stone and brick. I have the utmost respect for him.

I am honored to call him my friend.” – Brian
“My brother has a heart of gold and tries to help all who need it.” – Jean
“My father, Shawn, is strong in his faith and love. He is a hard-worker and gives his best for his family. His love is unbreakable just like his faith in God. He is an incredible man. He is funny and caring. The word that can describe him best is “heart”. He has the biggest caring, giving heart I know.” – Reilley

“Shawn is humble, compassionate, forthright, and for the most part, pretty honest. He is quick to help, slow to find fault, and eager for opportunity to learn new things. There is rarely a time that he misses to involve himself in the lives of his kids, friends and family at large. Aside from his unfaltering ability to conduct himself in peace, patience, kindness and with self-control is mind-blowing to me. His loyalty and dedication are traits that I admire and wish to emulate. Strength & Resolve!” – Tracy

 

 

tracyinsTracy ~ I wrestle daily with the feeling of being inadequate. As a human, a wife, a mother, daughter, friend, employee, creator. Some days it lays me flat; conquering any energy I can muster to enter the realm outside my bed. Those days are fewer than they used to be. I have decided to give up and let God power me through whatever I’m purposed for, which has enabled me to live a life of acceptance and peace.” 

Tracy’s friends and family:

“One word that I believe truly describes my mom, Tracy, is strength. She has tenacity and a will power to get through anything. She is inspirational and lives a great tale of heartache, love, struggle, and empowerment. She is beautiful in every way, with her outer beauty and her spirit. She may have her dark sides but the good will always out weigh the bad. I strive to be like her. She will live up to greatness.” – Reilley

“My dearest Tracy, the things I love and appreciate about you are too numerous to mention. Words simply cannot describe the light you bring to the world. You are ever patient, humble, loving and steadfast. You truly love unconditionally. You give from your soul. You handle challenges with more grace than I could ever imagine. You grow more beautiful inside and out with every passing year. You are a rock not only for your husband and children, but to everyone you come into contact with. You have such an adventures spirit. You are so very creative and see beauty in things that most would toss away. .. The struggles you’ve endured have created all that is amazing about you.” – Evie

“I have always looked up to my sister-in-law Tracy, she is very creative.” – Jean

“Tracy is one of the most free-spirited, strong, creative, giving, energetic, fun-loving women I have ever known. She is beautiful and full of love, allowing it to flow unconditionally. She is steadfast in her beliefs and willing to share that belief in any form needed, at any given time to brighten the day or situation. Tracy is curious and intelligent and is always learning more, and in that creates herself to be an ever-changing, wise, caring, fabulous, mysterious, fun energy. Tracy sees the good in you and shares that with you. She will be your champion! I am so pleased she is being honored. And so blessed to call her my friend. :)” – Margot

“Tracy is my cousin, whom I dearly love. She is one of the best people I know. One of the things I like most about her is her ability to see potential in people and encourage them to be the person she sees they can be. One example of this is the work she does – she works at a building materials salvage store that warehouses and sells old building materials. She is really good at what she does because she sees the potential of how these old, discarded, building materials can be repurposed into something beautiful. Like how some old wood could become a bed frame, or an old door could be a beautiful table, and so forth and so on. In the same way that she sees beauty in the potential of old building materials, she gets excited and has vision for the potential people have. She’s an encourager and vision caster and I really like that about her.
Another attribute that relates to this is how caring and loving she is. She generously loves people both with her time and possessions – always welcoming people into her home and caring for those in need. Her amicable personality puts people at ease and makes them feel loved. She’s fun, bright, and full of life which is contagious to those around her.
Also, she is so creative. Over the years I’ve seen her come up with so many creative ideas for things – everything from fashion, starting businesses, decorating her house, coming up with games (hallway tennis) to keep busy during the winter, etc. She’s full of ideas! She’s also got the moxy to make those ideas come to life. When she lands on a solid idea she’s determined to make it happen and goes out and does it. It’s really encouraging to be around.
All in all, Tracy is one of the most kind, caring, and generous people I know. She’s an absolute blessing to those around her – the world wouldn’t be the same without her. I’m so thankful to have Tracy as a cousin and am constantly impressed and encouraged by her.
Tracy, YOURE AWESOME!!!! Keep being you. Love ya!” – Abe

“I love Tracy’s sense of adventure, how she can light up a room full of smiles and get people talking, and how hard she listens and interacts with people…I admire her vision and dreams and how hard she seeks freedom and health. I appreciate that she speaks the truth, even if it hurts or she may not get liked over it..” – Shawn

unnamed– Andi

summerdantogetherSummer & Daniel ~ Together almost 25 years

Describe the first time you became aware of your partner:

Daniel – “We worked together at a movie theater. I made her laugh while in the box office but no one else could see me, so it made her look a little crazy.”

Summer – “I first met Daniel at my first real job as a box office girl at a movie theatre. I was 16, almost 17, and he was 19. He was transferred in from another store as a manager and introduced to me as Mr. Briggs. He wore a suit. He was quiet. He paid absolutely no attention to me. And I was smitten. We were from completely different kinds of backgrounds. We had so little in common. I would come in on my day off wearing tiny black mini skirts and flirt unabashedly. One day he pulled a joke on me. And he laughed. That laugh turned into conversations. Which led me to ask him out, and led him to give me a very HR answer about no dating between employees. Which led me to put in my notice that night. We went on our first date that weekend.

Somehow in these last few years, though, I’ve become aware of him in new ways. I’d walked around with perceptions of who he is and was and they blocked me from seeing him, as he was, who he is in the very moment. My own expectations and needs were blocking me from seeing him. Working so closely together, through so much personal and financial and business opening chaos and stress has allowed me to see him. To really leave my perceptions and insecurities behind and simply see him. Who he is. What struggles he’s going through. What path he is forging. And it’s led me to be aware of him in new ways. To love him in deeper ways. To care about him more completely. To talk to him more. To understand him better. It’s almost like starting all over again after getting so much wrong the first 20 years.”

 What is the best relationship advice you’ve ever received?

 

Daniel – I don’t remember ever receiving any relationship advice.”

Summer – “This Valentines Day I was photographing people at a local business. A woman approached me to take a snap of her with her husband. She leaned in and told me “we’ve been together 52 years this year” with a wink. I let her know I was going on 25 this year. She looked at me very earnestly and said, “Oh, you’re young still. So much to learn.” And it put life in good perspective for me. Dan and I are far from figuring it all out yet. And that’s the beauty of this journey we’re on together.

The piece of advice that helps me the most, though, is from Daniel. He asks me to “Love him anyways.” It resonates so deeply with me. Living with anyone is compromise. It’s bound to cause your nerves to grate. Loving anyone is bound to cause disappointment, heartache, and some pain. During the little moments of crazy annoyance where he keeps adding to the garbage until it’s overflowing, I think, Love him Anyways. It helps. It is him to do that. It’s not going to change. Instead of being so frustrated, stopping to remember I love him anyways takes the frustration and anger out-of-the-way for me. It puts it into a different perspective and allows me to ask for what I need, the garbage taken out, or gives me the room to just take it out without “losing” a fight he’s not even aware he’s in. During the bigger hurts, the emotional reactions that threaten to pull us apart, I try to take pause and think Love Him Anyways. It helps me to remember this is one moment, one fight, one hurt, and we have a lifetime of other moments behind us and in front of us. This one doesn’t define us. It isn’t the end of my love for him or my commitment towards us. It’s just a Love Him Anyways moment we’ll get through. Most times stronger than where we started.”

Friends’ & Family’s thoughts on Summer & Daniel as a couple:

“They have a deep and refined understanding of who each one of them are. They support each other in their dreams. They build each other up as a couple and are happy to spend time with each other and not have to be in big groups.” – Gene

“I do not know Dan very well, but I appreciate the hard work they have put into their relationship. They are committed and resilient and have made it through some tough times. They support each other and work together to reach mutual goals. They are different but appreciate each other’s differences. Great couple!” – Kristen

“I love their playfulness and creativity.” – Shannon

“Caring, creative couple. They support each other and love each other unconditionally.” – Juliette

“Dear Dan & Summer,
I can’t describe in mere words how much your love for each other makes a positive difference in my day-to-day life. Your love for one another as well as your marriage has given me an example that true love is real.” – Christy

“Summer and Dan love each other completely and just as they are. They are so opposite but balance each other out in this unique and special way. Not many couples can spend as much time together as they do and still enjoy each other, but they do spend most of their time together and really truly seem to still enjoy each moment. I have never heard either one of them speak an ill word towards the other publicly or nag or pick at each other. They are life companions that not only love each other, but like each other too. They actually inspire me to love my husband better.” – Heather

“As a couple, Summer and Dan are so loving. I hope one day to find that kind of love – you can honestly see how much they love one another. Between their weekly Facebook hacks, their adorable hashtags, or the simplicity of their nightly walks, you can just see a level of love that many couples don’t seem to have. I admire the two of them so much. Throughout their hardest times they have been there for each other.” – Kaylee

“Most kids look to their parents’ marriage to understand love and what relationships are supposed to look like. They model their own love stories based on what they see growing up. I didn’t have that. I had Summer and Dan to look to to understand what love was about and how relationships should be. I feel so lucky to have had them for an example. This is what I believe about their love…Their love is enduring. They support each other through every up and down life has thrown at them. They really are best friends. They don’t see each other as being without fault, they embrace those faults and, rather than criticize and judge, they accept and love. They both put in the work it takes to keep their love and friendship thriving. They don’t take each other for granted. They are love.” – Kirsten

jessicakyletogetherJessica & Kyle ~ Together 3 or 4 years(ish)

Describe the first time you became aware of your partner:

Kyle – “The minute she looked at me and made eye contact.”

Jessica – “Mazatlan on Cinco De Mayo. He made me smile and I had not smiled in months. He made me laugh and I wasn’t sure I would be able to anymore. He made me feel like I was the prettiest girl he had ever seen… he is silly when he drinks and quite the social butterfly :)”

  

What is the best relationship advice you’ve ever received?

Kyle – “Never give up, never let it get stale.”

Jessica – “Do not go to bed mad, always communicate your feelings.”
Friends’ & Family’s thoughts on Jessica & Kyle as a couple:

“They have great teamwork and communication” – Anita

“We love their honesty. We love their admiration for one another. They support one another, and strive to GIVE to one another. We love them both, and are so happy they have found each other.” – Mandy & Aaron

“Dear Jessica and Kyle,
I am asked to write a letter to you both as a couple, which is a challenge for someone who hasn’t spent a ton of time with you both. I can really only write the letter based on the few interactions we have had when we have all been together and what I take from my conversations with Jess.
When I have been around the two of you, I notice a true connection. I see a friendship, support, and clearly a passion that exists in your relationship. I feel safe in assuming passion as you have two kids together in such a short period of time!🙂 It seems that you support each others loves and accept that time away from each other may make the time together more important.
Jessica, you seem to accept that Kyle has a love of the outdoors and you allow him to take the time he needs to be happy and enjoy his hobbies. Sacrificing your time together for time with another of his loves is a selfless act and demonstrates that his loves are equally as important to you. Kyle, you seem to accept that Jessica wants to grow her business on top of being a mother and wife. You allow her to take the time she needs and you support her by helping with the kids and sacrificing time with her. You have allowed her to share her gift with others at the expense of sacrificing some time with your. It is a true example of loving your wife.
You both seem to share a passion for art. You went on an adventure together to hear your favorite band. You focused on the two of you, left the kids at home, and created fun memories that can carry you through times when adventures may be limited. You identified a shared love of an artist and incorporated it into your marriage and doing something together. One of my hopes for you in your marriage is that you remember to take time out from your busy life to continue to share common loves and turn them into adventures.
Another quality I admire about the two of you is that you both display your loves in an artistic fashion on your bodies in the form of tattoos. I love this not because I love tattoos, but, because of the symbolism behind it. Jessica has symbolized just how much she loves you, Kyle. She has combined two loves together of both art and you. You know how much she loves you, people who know her know how much she loves you and her family, but she has gone as far as displaying her true loves on her body for the world to see in the form of a tattoo. She put thought into it and included symbols that translated to you and her children when displaying the verse on her arm. It’s the modern-day form of shouting her love for you from the mountaintops! It is a quality I truly admire. It is a quality that more people shouldn’t be afraid to share. It need not be in the form of tattoos but in any way that proclaims one’s love for another. Why not tell the world how much you love the person you are committed to? I am proud of you, Jessica, for sharing your love for all to see!
Kyle, you also display your love of Jessica for the world to see when anyone sees you with your kids! You nurture and love the things that a mother cherishes most. In a woman’s eyes, that is a true statement of love. You have taken on the true role of providing stability for your family and represent the wonderful qualities of what a husband should be.
The one thing I admire most about your relationship is that it is built on a foundation of love! Enjoy your journey, friends, and keep on loving each other whole-heartedly.
Love,
Liz”
“They are a couple that continues to grow together, and not only are they a couple, but they are best friends. They balance each other out.” – Lanette

“To Kyle & Jessica, I love you! You are both a gift, not only to each other, but to all you know. I believe that your loyalty and love outshine the hardships and challenges that occur throughout life.” – JulieAnn

“Kyle and Jessica together have embraced each other. Together they have found in every way to enjoy life as a couple. They have found in each other the family in which they have needed to feel blessed and whole.” – Peggie

“What I love most about us is how much we laugh…there aren’t too many people who get our sense of humor and can continuously have something to laugh about. I love how we both love deeply and always remind the other of exactly how much the other means to us.” – Kyle

“As a couple we work together and rarely step on each other’s toes. We lift each other up in times of need. We both work hard to give our children the best lives we can give and then some. We spoil each other. We are understanding, supportive, caring and try hard to never go to bed mad. We are raising four small children together and haven’t killed each other or them yet…I’d say that’s doing pretty good! We are always asking how we can be better spouses, we are ever evolving as partners so we give each other what we deserve. We are very open about feelings and good at communication, for the most part. Not much gets swept under the rug or ignored here. I believe we have finally both discovered real love and we are both willing to work to make it last.” – Jessica
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Tracy & Shawn ~ Together 23ish years

Describe the first time you became aware of your partner:

Shawn – “At a party I went to, she was sitting on a bed in the middle of the living room with a huge American flag that covered the whole wall behind her. I couldn’t stop gazing at her…”

Tracy – “He was brooding in a corner, confident enough to be just outside the group yet interested enough to watch.”

 

What is the best relationship advice you’ve ever received?

Shawn – “The Bible, when God said to love your wife like He loves the church and laid His life down for her…”
Tracy – “Don’t let the sun go down while you’re still angry.”

Friends’ & Family’s thoughts on Tracy & Shawn as a couple:

“I admire how long they have been together and how they have overcome a lot as a couple. My brother’s undying love for his wife is something every woman prays for. They have four wonderful kids and I see their parents in all of them.” – Jean


“Tracy and Shawn are a wonderful balance. I believe they take turns grounding each other in life, love and our Lord. They are both family oriented, fun-loving, caring and creative. They are a fabulous mix of fire and earth! I see Tracy as being the Fire;) and Shawn being the Earth;). I admire their strength and courage in their love, marriage and path in life. I congratulate them on their 20+ years of life and love together. They are strong good people, the best neighbors I will ever have, and my good friends!” – Margot

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Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and experiences, if you feel so inclined.

The reason behind the start of this project can be found here: If you don’t have anything nice to say…
previous groups can be found here:

Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2, Teens!
Group 3, 55+!
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7, Men!
Group 8
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Melissa & Lily)
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Liz & Caitie)

 

 

 

 

 

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Group 9 – Moms & Daughters! (featuring Liz & Caitie)

in super duper excitement and anticipation of Group 10 – Couples!! happening on Sunday, I’m reblogging one from Group 9 – Moms & Daughters. And, ohmygoodnessyes, I will be finishing the blogs from Group 9. I still have seven awesome women whose stories you need to hear. I haven’t done it yet because, 1) I’m the most terrible procrastinator, 2) I procrastinate even more when I’m scared I’m not going to be able to do someone’s story the justice it deserves, 3) I’m just damn busy. I WILL get to them, however. I WILL.
For now, enjoy this one again, ’cause it’s a good one…

alana t photography

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(The introduction for each of these Group 9 blogs will be the same…if you’ve already read it, feel free to skip down to Caitie’s & Liz’s stories…if not, Melissa’s & Lily’s stories can be found here)

“When people tell you that raising kids is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, it’s an understatement.”

Those were words written in and spoken by Melissa, the first mom to share her story. Melissa had participated in Group 1 and was ready/nervous/frightened/determined to participate in this group, as she thought it would be beneficial to share the same honest and open experience with her daughter.

This project had been going on for a year and a half by the time this group took place back in June.
Every group is eye-opening, every group is relatable, every group has compelling stories that evoke much emotion.
This group was all of those things and more.
The emotion…

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are you beautiful? I asked 100 men what ‘physical beauty’ is and the results shocked me

this goes along with everything I believe in and everything that the Raw.Honest.Loved.Project is all about. Thank you, Rozanne!

Life is Rozie

Tina Fey said it best in her book, ‘Bossy Pants’:

 “But I think the first real change in women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty.
Girls wanted butts now.
Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them.
And then, what felt like moments later, boom—Beyoncé brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired.
And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful.
Ah ha ha. No. I’m totally messing with you.
All Beyonce and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful.

Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose…

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