Never Out of the Fight

It may, or may not, pay to be a winner.

Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S)

Photo cred: commons.wikimedia.org

            Navy SEALs have fascinated psychologists, medical experts, and the general public for years. While they are held to high physical standards, it is the unique, positive mental attributes that separate successful SEAL candidates from the rest in the grueling BUD/S course and in future combat situations. According to Marouf Hasian, Jr. in his article “American Exceptionalism and the bin Laden Raid,” this fascination is reinforced by media-covered missions emphasizing the power and privilege of those sworn to serve, fulfilling a desired but distant relationship between them and interested media consumers worldwide.

Despite the deeply-rooted resilience of America’s modern-day warrior, studies show SEALs suffer from psychological and physical issues in lieu of tragedy. Every day, military departments work with experts to solve post-combat issues trending among veterans and rehabilitate training tactics to prevent future traumas, all fueled by the same fascination with the will and power of the human spirit that gave SEALs their coveted titles in the first place.

We’re not gonna stop until we get at least one quitter.

Photo Cred: Navy SEALs.com

Photo Cred: Navy SEALs.com

            Enduring the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs training course is essential to becoming a SEAL. Because of the intense level at which the course toys with SEAL hopefuls physically and mentally, BUD/S sees a DOR (Drop on Request) rate of approximately 70-80 percent depending on the class, according to Examined Existence. Prior to Hell Week, the most grueling five-and-a-half-day stretch of first phase BUD/S, candidates are required to spend five to nine weeks at Naval Warfare Preparatory School in Great Lakes, Ill. After successfully completing prep school, candidates are transferred to Coronado Island, a small, neat military leg jutting off of San Diego, California, where they spend 24 weeks in California if a DOR is not submitted (SEALSWWC.COM).  This includes a three week introduction, a first, second, and third phase, Hell Week, and is followed by SEAL Qualification Training, which polishes the skills of new SEALs in Niland, Ca. for West coast teams and Camp A.P. Hill for East coast teams (SQT-SEAL). The entirety of this process not only brings militants’ abilities and knowledge of demolition warfare, navigation, weaponry, survival strategies, engagement, leadership, teamwork, underwater techniques, medical management, parachuting and air warfare and more to a select level—it intimately challenges the mind and body.

Most DORs occur during Hell Week, when candidates are expected to perform at high levels despite intentional injustices, continuous runs through the sand, endless sets of push-ups and other exercises, ice-cold ocean plunges that bring candidates near the brink of hypothermia, executed in a chaotic environment complete with simulated explosions and gunfire. If the regiment isn’t exhausting enough, candidates do it all despite calorie deficits and an approximate four hours of sleep over a five-and-a-half day period  (Nichols).

Though instructors would never allow a candidate to perish during Hell Week, SEAL member and renowned author Marcus Luttrell described his experience as “fighting within an inch of my life” in his book, Lone Survivor, which begins with a detailed step-by-step take on Luttrell’s experience at BUD/S. He recalls an ambulance was parked on the shore at all times, which came in useful when he became so overworked he began hallucinating and couldn’t remember his name.

Surviving BUD/S separates the good from the best. Though combat missions be tough, the willingness to strive and mental drive to succeed in BUD/S alone has sparked the interest of psychologists, professionals, and public and contributed to the slowly growing bank of information derived from studies on the matter.

There are two ways to do something: the right way, and again.

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Photo cred: commons.wikimedia.org

The phrase “mind over matter” may be common, but the ability to push one’s physical boundaries despite instinctive distress signals of the body because of a mind-over-matter mentality isn’t common at all.

“Today, our primary weapons systems are our people’s heads,” said SEAL Team 10 Commander Executive Officer Mike H. “You want to excel in all the physical areas, but the physical is just a prerequisite to be a SEAL. Mental weakness is what actually screens you out.” (NavySEALs.com)

According to one of the few studies on the topic conducted by the Naval Health Research Center and funneled into a report by D.E. Braun and N.C. Pratt, SEALs scores differed from that of the average male population as follows:

-Lower in Neuroticism and Agreeableness facets

-Similar in the Openness facet

-Higher in Extroversion, Assertiveness, Conscientiousness and Excitement-Seeking facets

On even keel between the opposing study subjects were the hostility, impulsiveness, and feelings and values facets. This attests SEALs are born leaders, are less prone to negative emotions related to depression, and are more capable of handling stressful situations in comparison to their average male counterparts.

The study summarizes: “This subset of SEALs appear to be calm, hardy, secure, and not prone to excessive psychological stress or anxiety. They are level-headed, practical and collected even under very stressful or dangerous situations. They are rarely impulsive and have strong control over cravings or urges. Active and assertive, they prefer being in large groups and are usually energetic and optimistic. They seek excitement and stimulation and prefer complex and dangerous environments. They are very competitive, skeptical of others’ intentions, and are likely to aggressively defend their own interests, but are not hostile. Finally, they are purposeful, well organized, persistent, and very reliable.”

In Lars Draeger’s book Navy SEAL Training Guide: Mental Toughness, he chalked BUD/S candidates’ and active SEALs’ successes up to four tendencies: goal setting, mental visualization, positive self-talk and arousal control. More elaborately, successful candidates are known to attack one challenge at a time instead of focusing on an overwhelming big-picture achievement (for example, focusing on one set of push-ups or mile instead of the entire completion of Hell Week.) Luttrell lends his success to this, saying that the men who quit focused on the agony of the future instead of dealing with each moment of pain singularly. Mental visualization, or conceptualizing a success and believing it possible for oneself, supports the goal-setting tactic and incorporates positive self-talk. Arousal control is the ability to suppress panic in favor of clear, rational decision-making and the task hand. These four abilities are at the core of resilience and have been recognized not only in the forming of Navy SEALs as helpful practices, but in large companies and self-help enthusiasts looking to strengthen themselves and institutions (Mann.)

On your backs, on your bellies, on your backs, on your bellies. Feet!

commons.wikimedia.org

Photo cred: commons.wikimedia.org

Despite the mental resilience advantage SEALs have, it has become evident they are not exempt from post-combat mental and physical disorders.

National Geographic recently shed light on mild TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injuries) in Caroline Alexander’s article “The Invisible War on the Brain.” The term “shell shocked” has been used since World War I, symptomized by nervous or disconnected behavior as well as physical debilitation, such as hearing loss, memory issues, headaches, dizziness, seizures, and prolonged mood abnormalities that resemble those of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), issues which surface after exposure to an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or long periods of ordnance testing. The U.S. Department of Defense said approximately 230,000 soldiers/veterans were diagnosed with issues related to TBIs between 2001 and 2014. Medical professionals are stunned by the variances in which TBIs present themselves, and confirm that the issue is “unique to military experience.”

Though numbers are high for TBIs, they are put to shame by the high rate of veterans suffering from PTSD. In his article “Are We Winning the War Against PTSD?” Richard J. McNally estimates that most wars generate an approximate 30% PTSD rate among veterans, who will try to readapt to civilian life struggling with anxiety, depression, and/or thoughts of suicide. Many develop substance dependencies in an attempt to cope (Brady) and further their inability to function properly in society as they did prior to deployment (PTSD Prevalence).

In Janice A. Aloi’s “A Theoretical Study of the Hidden Wounds of War: Disenfranchised Grief and the Impact on Nursing Practice,” she states that many veterans are not able to fully heal due to stunted progression on the Kubler-Ross grieving table.

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross assembled grief into five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. According to Kubler-Ross, everyone experiencing grief naturally advances through the five stages with time—however, Aloi says in her article that many veterans are not able to reach full emotional health because they do not progress past the denial stage.

Admitting internal conflict is the first step toward addressing the issue. If this step is not completed, a healthy end result becomes less likely. Disenfranchised grief, or an external insinuation that a soldier or veteran are misunderstood or should not feel a certain way, contributes to the grieving militant’s inability to admit feelings of distress.

You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.

Photo cred: the BRIGADE

Photo cred: the BRIGADE

While veterans are guaranteed help post-combat if desired, it has become clear that preparing soldiers’ minds for war—alongside their bodies—creates insurance for medical and military departments trying to scale back PTSD numbers among veterans.

A stunning immersion journalism article titled “A State of Military Mind” by Brian Mockenhaupt reported that the military’s understanding and development of prevention tactics are rapidly growing. Meditation, yoga, and teaching soldiers how to “learn under stress” instead of simply minimizing it has become an urgent concern for military departments.

One technique used throughout the training processes is called habituation. Habituation is the continuous exposure to real-life incidences—familiarizing soldiers with potentially damaging scenarios in hopes of conditioning, desensitizing, and nearly immunizing soldiers to natural emotional responses (“Fear and Mental Toughness”). Though habituation has proven to lessen the level of suffering in militants post-combat, it has not even come close to erasing it. The advancement of technology has allowed for very realistic situations to be simulated in training environments, but instructors are still looking for ways to intensify the personality of simulated practice and emphasize habituation to better prepare their soldiers.

As they say in BUD/s, “It’s all mind over matter. If I don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Nothing lasts forever.

“Commanders at all levels must become more knowledgeable and proactive in developing ways to prepare their formations to deal with adversity during combat operations. Although Commanders are conducting tough and realistic training prior to deployment, the high number of returnees diagnosed with PTSD indicates we are not doing enough. In training it is difficult to replicate the true nature of war; specifically graphic injuries to Soldiers or other traumatic events. The Army must assist commanders by conducting effective mental health screening on Soldiers prior to deploying, provide training that strengthens Soldiers through resilience and exposure, and provide forward mental health support,” said Colonel Ricardo M. Love in Psychological Resilience: Preparing Our Soldiers for War.

Though a basic understanding of the rare SEAL mentality and development of the modern-day warrior has been documented, as well as the statistically stunning causes-and-effects of stress disorders in lieu of traumatic experiences, society has the potential to flourish and overcome these issues in and alongside the protectors of this nation if the number of directed studies increased, funded, performed, and released.

This includes, and is not limited to, studies on familial receptions and relations in order to lower divorce rates and misperceptions among military families, PTSD and TBI coping solutions and resources, pre-combat mind-honing techniques, medical advancements, and continued study that supports the unique gift of SEAL mentality and ability.

SEALs remember BUD/s as one of the most difficult challenges overcome. Many more trials via real-life missions and post-deployments arise as former militants adjust to being home again. Though the lives of SEALs are often extraordinarily uncommon, it is important that professionals explore all possible solutions to ensure veterans can reflect on their experiences with a separation and peace.

“I will never quit,” the SEAL Creed states. “I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.”

Photo cred: madworldnews.com

Photo cred: madworldnews.com

Bibliography

Alexander, Caroline. “The Invisible War On the Brain.” National Geographic 1 Jan. 2015. Print.

Aloi, Janice A. “A Theoretical Study of the Hidden Wounds of War: Disenfranchised Grief and the Impact on Nursing Practice.” Hindawi Publishing Company 2011 (2011). International Scholarly Research Notices. Hindawi Publishing Company. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. <http://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2011/954081/&gt;.

Boss, Jeff. 10 Inspirational Quotes from Navy SEAL Training (Entrepreneur)http://www.entrepreneur.com/slideshow/232209

Brady, T. Back, Sudie E. Coffee, Scott F. Substance Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 13, No. 5 (Oct., 2004), pp. 206-209. Print.

Braun, D. E., and N. C. Pratt. “PERSONALITY PROFILES OF U.S. NAVY SEA-AIR-LAND (SEAL) PERSONNEL.” The Black Vault. Naval Health Research Center. Web. 31 Jan. 2015. <http://documents.theblackvault.com/documents/defenseissues/ADA281692.pdf&gt;.

Draeger, Lars. Navy SEAL Training Guide: Mental Toughness. Special Operations Media, 2013. Print.

“Fear and Mental Toughness.” Navy Seals.com. Navy Seals.com. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. <http://navyseals.com/nsw/fear-and-mental-toughness/&gt;

Hasian Jr.,Marouf. “American Exceptionalism and the bin Laden Raid.” Third World Quarterly. Vol. 33, No. 10 (2012) (pp. 1803-1820).

“How to Be Mentally Tough Like a Navy Seal.” Examined Existence.Www.examinedexistence.com. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. <http://examinedexistence.com/how-to-be-mentally-tough-like-a-navy-seal/&gt;.

Love, Colonel Ricardo M. PSYCHOLOGICAL RESILIENCE:PREPARING OUR SOLDIERSFOR WAR. 23 March 2011. Print.

Luttrell, Marcus. Robinson, Patrick. Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. Little, Brown. New York. 2007.

Mann, Don. How to Become a Navy SEAL: Everything You Need to Know to Become a Member of US Navy’s Elite Force. Sky Horse. Print.

Mark, Divine. “SEAL Code: A Warrior Creed.” Navy Seals.com.Www.navyseals.com. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. <http://navyseals.com/nsw/seal-code-warrior-creed/&gt;.

McNally, Richard J. ARE WE WINNING THE WAR AGAINST POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER? Science, New Series, Vol. 336, No. 6083 (18 May 2012), pp. 872-87.

Mockenhaupt, Brian. “A State of Military Mind.” Pacific Standard. Pacific Standard.com. 18 Jun 2012 <http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/a-state-military-mind-42839>.

Navy SEAL BUD/S Training Stages Overview – SEALSWCC.COM | Official Website U.S. Navy SEALs (SEALSWCC.COM)

http://www.sealswcc.com/navy-seals-buds-training-stages-

Nichols, Katie. “Are You Mentally Tough Enough to Become a US Navy SEAL?” The Sport In Mind. TheSportInMind.com. 23 Oct 2013 <http://www.thesportinmind.com/articles/are-you-mentally-tough-enough-to-become-a-us-navy-seal/>.

PTSD Prevalence, Associated Exposures, and Functional Health Outcomes in a Large, Population-Based Military. CohortTyler C. SmithDeborah L. Wingard,Margaret A.K. RyanDonna Kritz-SilversteinDonald J. Slymen,James F. SallisPublic Health Reports (1974-), Vol. 124, No. 1 (JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009), pp. 90-102.

SQT-SEAL Qualification Training. Navy Seals.com. Web. 17 Feb. 2015. <http://navyseals.com/nsw/sqt-seal-qualification-training/&gt;.

22

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// What’s In a Name? //

Cara /ˈkɑːrə/ (Latin): Beloved

Cara /ˈkɑːrə/ (Irish): Friend

Beloved friend.

How fitting.

// Playgrounds and Parties //

My mother will tell you that as a child, I made friends everywhere I went. I’d stand in the sandy center of a public playground, swivel my head, and pick someone. I’d march up to them, introduce myself, and ask them to play.

I love people. If there’s one thing I’ve never been without, it’s an abundance of good friends.

So, this past fall, it was a bit jarring to find myself staring over the heads of people crowded into my friend Kyle’s apartment, feeling slightly lonely.

As a freshman in college, I was meeting new people on the daily. As a junior in college, I found that pattern slowly digressing.

Not only did I feel isolated from a pool of potential fresh-faced friends; I was also struggling with the fact that many of the people closest to me were either on exchange, married, very busy or attending university far away. For the first time in my life, I felt disconnected despite the constant contact and well-spaced visits I kept with those dearest.

I was wondering if there was anyone new and special to meet when my friend Patrick walked through the door with a wild-haired blonde girl in black and boots.

“This is Cara,” Patrick said. “And Cara, this is Miranda.”

I get a deep, intuitive feel for people the moment I meet them. Energy is so prevalent, and so telling.

If I had been seven years old, looking over my options at the playground, Cara would’ve been the one I’d approached first.

// Aura //

Cara is soft-spoken, but has opinions and insights and says hard things anyway.

Cara is a welcoming, gentle halo of light that is not needy or inquiring or obnoxiously exuberant. She frames tired, corrupted situations with angles of positivity. She lets herself feel, but not too long.

Cara stays up late to swing dance, drink wine, listen to jazz music and watch good movies.

Cara rises early to brew coffee and do yoga.

Cara is unashamed to admit she is a fan of One Direction, and loves peeling through the newest editions of Vanity Fair.

She uses the word “wonderful” a lot.

Cara is life-thirsty and restlessly scavenges memories she’ll want to return to. She says she doesn’t like to be sad, and wants to surround herself with beautiful things.

She craves a light that is already inside of her.

Cara doesn’t see all that she is.

// Boots //

“I knew you two would get along,” Patrick said, “because you both like boots.”

We also both like black.

“I don’t know why I only like to wear black,” Cara said. “I get up in the morning and think I’m going to wear a color, and then change my mind. I’m a happy person, I swear!”

Cara’s European style, with her pea coats, boots, scarves and neutrals say little about the small, farming town she came from and a lot about her.

The first night we spent time together as new friends, we sat at her dinner table and she told me a story about Paris. She was sitting outside the Notre Dame when a young man began babbling at her in French. She told him she only spoke English. Immediately, he switched languages.

In that busy courtyard, they sat and talked about anything and everything. Cara said it was natural and smooth. Interesting. A perfect picture of serendipity.

When it was time to leave, the man said that he had to talk to the prettiest girl in front of the Notre Dame. She smiled. They parted ways, and never saw one another again.

Good things come quick.

Good things leave fast.

Good things should leave a note explaining why they left.

The absence of something good leaves room for more good.

The best things in life are unexpected.

Timing is everything.

// Serendipity //

Though Cara and I carve out time to spend with one another, most of our meetings are happenstance.

At the gym. On our way to class. At writing meetings and in coffee shops and, once, when she was waiting for her roommate to pick her up on the side of the road.

I picked her up instead. We curved through town. We made a mediocre day better.

// 22 //

Yesterday was Cara’s 22nd birthday.

She loves Taylor Swift. I hope she listened to Taylor’s song “22” on repeat. I hope she ate delicious cake and buys herself a pretty black dress for our joint birthday trip to Seattle.

Cara and I have tread the same ground and spent time with the same friends and for a few years now. It’s a mystery as to why this past fall was the first time we’d crossed paths, but there’s no denying that it happened when it was supposed to.

This gives me hope for future things.

If there’s one thing I’ve never been without, it’s an abundance of good friends.

Night Changes

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Going out tonight

Changes into something red

Her mother doesn’t like that kind of dress

Everything she never had she’s showing off

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Driving too fast

Moon is breaking through her hair

She said it was something that she won’t forget

Having no regrets is all that she really wants

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We’re only getting older baby

And I’ve been thinking about it lately

Does it ever drive you crazy

Just how fast the night changes?

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Everything that you’ve ever dreamed of

Disappearing when you wake up

But there’s nothing to be afraid of

Even when the night changes

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It will never change me and you.

Chasing it tonight

Doubts are running ’round her head

He’s waiting, hides behind a cigarette

Heart is beating loud, she doesn’t want it to stop

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Moving too fast

Moon is lighting up her skin

She’s falling, doesn’t even know it yet

Having no regrets is all that she really wants

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We’re only getting older baby

And I’ve been thinking about it lately

Does it ever drive you crazy

Just how fast the night changes?

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Everything that you’ve ever dreamed of

Disappearing when you wake up

But there’s nothing to be afraid of

Even when the night changes

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It will never change me and you.

Going out tonight

Changes into something red

Her mother doesn’t like that kind of dress

Reminds her of a missing piece of innocence she lost

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We’re only getting older baby

And I’ve been thinking about it lately

Does it ever drive you crazy

Just how fast the night changes?

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Everything that you’ve ever dreamed of

Disappearing when you wake up

But there’s nothing to be afraid of

Even when the night changes

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It will never change me and you.

________

“Night Changes” by Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Jamie Scott, Julian Bunetta, and John Ryan

Cheap Talk I’ve Got My Own Angel

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Eventually we must combine nightmares
an angel smoking a cigarette on the steps
of the last national bank, said to me.
I put her out with my thumb. I don’t need that
cheap talk I’ve got my own problems.
It was sad, exciting, and horrible.
It was exciting, horrible, and sad.
It was horrible, sad, and exciting.
It was inviting, mad, and deplorable.
It was adorable, glad, and enticing.
Eventually we must smoke a thumb
cheap talk I’ve got my own angel
on the steps of the problems the bank
said to me I don’t need that.
I will take this one window
with its sooty maps and scratches
so that my dreams will remember
one another and so that my eyes will not
become blinded by the new world.
Poem by James Tate, Photograph by Holly Carter

Finding Payton and Keeping Faith

In lieu of the New Year, two people have come to mind, two girls who couldn’t be any more different from one another.

Payton Asbjornsen-Taylor is a black-clad girl who listens to hair-flipping punk-rock bands like Pierce the Veil and Of Mice and Men. If you ever found a photograph of Payton as a child, you would not recognize her; when once she had curly, mousy-brown hair, she now wears it black and straight. When once she wore Genesee sports t-shirts, she now prefers graphic tees, skinny jeans, and beanies.

The thing that hasn’t changed about Payton is her big heart and contagious, body-shaking laugh.

All throughout high school, Payton asked me to photograph her. She has always been one of my favorite subjects because of her grunge style, ease in front of the lens, and, of course, that laugh.

Because of this, I have a large file on my computer that serves as a record of Payton’s evolution throughout high school.

I think she has popped into my head recently because I have always admired the way in which Payton has always sought after herself. Unafraid and unashamed, Payton asked herself the hard questions at a young age (Who am I? What makes me happy? What do I believe?) and created her own culture in response. Though her progression featured hardships and moments of darkness, Payton braved the next day and the next day and the next, knowing from experience that living is an imperfect act and courageous venture.

The best of things cannot be experienced without making the conscious decision to wade through the rough stuff to find them.

Faith Shier, on the other hand, makes sparks fly. A spiral-haired blonde that lives in Victoria’s Secret Pink yoga pants, loves love, and has an obscene amount of bathing suits stashed in her drawer, Faith is a vibrant extrovert I was pleased to be share a dorm suite with my freshman year of college. Faith is a girl with several angles, none of them hard-edged or exclusive. I’ve seen her with thick fake lashes and glitter as she performed in front of large football crowds with the rest of the Vandal Cheer Team, in sweatpants binge-watching Weeds on Netflix, bare-faced and sun-kissed on the beach, and in her sexiest jeans, giddy for a date with yet another cute boy interested in her.

Faith’s complexity lies in the wounds gathered from past relationships and misfortunes (such as her apartment burning to cinders last summer), and her shrug toward simple human blunders is balanced by her peppy optimism and tip-top belief in herself.

What a wonderful thing to possess–a solid, unflagging confidence, and an acceptance for every complicated side of oneself.

Both women are worth admiration and magnetizing in their own right. Both speak and carve out time to listen, own their mistakes, listen to their gut, and exist as examples of people concentrated on discovering who they are as a whole so that they may integrate themselves in this world with talents and hospitable spaces in their lives to offer.

Maybe they’re not so different after all.

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All photographs Copyright Miranda Rae Carter

2015

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Hello readers, and happy 2015!

Exactly a year and six days ago, I made a resolution to keep a blog. I didn’t know what I was going to write about, who would read it, or if I would even enjoy blogging, but as 2014 rolled out before me, all of those concerns sorted themselves out.

With yet another year under my belt, I would say that that’s how life tends to work.

In reviewing my 24 goals I listed last year, I found that I accomplished more than I let slide, some of which were huge feats I am told I should be proud of. Others, I made steps toward; and, there are some I forgot (or quit.) But, I’ve been blessed with another year to pick up where I left off, and if you’re reading this, you have been too!

As a huge appreciator of Free People, I found a series of what they call “Monday Quotes” posted to their blog, just as I was sorting out my goals and gaining focus for this upcoming year. Not only were they gorgeously presented, they were also very reflective of my own thoughts on 2015, and gave me a boost of motivation to stay committed, lively, and wholesome. I hope they do the same for you.

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In 2015, I want to make memories that I will miss. I want to pursue my daydream and make it my day job. I want to start my mornings with gratefulness and thoughts of positivity before I get up and get moving.

I plan to nix the technology, get in my car, drive somewhere beautiful I’ve never been before, and spend a few days on my own mapping out territory inside myself I didn’t know existed.

I want to throw myself into the insanity of my days with fervor and the strength to laugh.

I am going to write about everything. I am going to write the stories in my head, the details of my day, my prayers and my grocery lists and letters to my grandfather.

I will honor facts. I will concentrate on them when my heart is sick and feelings forsake me.I want to fail fast, get up always, and let things go without refusing to love them. I want to keep my room cleaner and not lose weight this time when it gets cold.

I am learning to fall into the arms of the Universe and pray for all I desire rather than wither at that the feet of a loss. I will forget time in the breezy throes of nature, where the ground is uneven and the trees sing songs. I want to trap the sky inside my coat and watch the water ’til my mind is still.

It’s not enough to be myself–I want to love myself. I want to find out who, exactly, I am loving.

There will be days in 2015 I wake up hungover with heartache, but I will never lose confidence in the possibility that tomorrow, a spark will light inside me. I will be given something good. I welcome change. I will always have something to look forward to.

When I want to quit, I will remind myself why I started. I will write myself letters to be opened when I know my past self to be wiser than my present self. I will strive to be a better student, employee, daughter, sister, friend, athlete. I will take blows and allow them to hurt, but always stand again. I aim to push my limits, savor the strain of change, and be inspired by my struggles. I will turn pain into something beautiful.

I want to seek myself and never settle for less than I deserve. I will free myself from small thoughts and limitations, and acknowledge that life primarily consists of choices. I will act on those choices. I will be where I am when I’m there, because I don’t want to miss anything. I will go to the city, scale the countryside, sleep in my car when I have to, and nurture friendships.

I will love relentlessly. I don’t want to shy away from enthusiasm. I hope I learn to be patient, to wait for the best, and believe that it is coming. I want to try new things, laugh really hard, break some rules and let answers to the hard questions come to me.

I will start now instead of next week. I will trust the wind instead of using force to get what I will inevitably lose. I need to spend more time whispering to God than trusting the words of strangers.

I want to surround myself with beautiful things, so that I may come home to a place that feels like one. I will learn to let go without withholding love, clarify my purpose, and always stay curious.

I will never get used to how unbelievable it is, being anything at all.

And when I’m struggling to walk on water, I’ll go to the moon.

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Happy 2015, everyone! How exciting it is to know that we have 359 days left of unmapped territory to discover.

My Dream is Dead

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All over the world, school children and staff members live under threat. Photographer unknown.

Today’s topic is horrific.

My opinion on it, however, is extremely generic.

I want to talk about it anyway.

Most of us have heard of the Taliban’s recent attack on the military school in Pakistan that left a reported 145 killed and over 100 injured. That 145 breaks down to approximately 10 staff members, 3 soldiers, and the remaining, children.

We have witnessed the Taliban commit shock-inducing crimes before, but that doesn’t lessen the sting of any new tragedy.

Here’s what I have to say.

Anyone who did not know God before staring into the barrel of a gun would never have recognized Him, given that example. Anyone who knows God is aware of the delicacy of which we should make assumptions and declarations pertaining to God’s Will.

Both groups of people are in agreement that God, whatever He make look like to each individual, does not condone murder. His love does not victimize.

There are families living with weary terror underneath bloody palms. They are experiencing nightmarish interruptions that are corrupt and undeserved. Their children’s monsters exist, and the imminence of this reality cannot be diminished by hopeful placations. A promise is not valid if uncertain.

As clenched and vengeful as I feel with these images laying playground in my mind, I force myself to extend reluctant forgiveness. I have to remember that people, as sick or evil or misinformed as they may be, were children once, too. They were raised with various ideals. They were threatened, they were happy, they are people who get hungry and cold, just like me. Whether due to mental disarray, dark possession, self-preservation or unprincipled influence, I have to remember that their crusades are, in their minds, just. They truly believe that what they are doing is right. And though my fingers feel trigger-happy, my heart hateful, I have no choice but to try my best to give them the mercy they never gave those children.

I have my own Jihad. It just looks very, very different than lanky children bleeding out on the floor.

“My dream was my son,” one of the deceased children’s father is reported to have grieved. “My son was my dream. Now my dream is dead.”

His words give me shivers. I may be physically distant from the situation, but my heart and mind reside next to those who have lost. 145 people dead. Over one hundred others sitting in hospitals, replaying the visuals of their friends dying.

Safety has been eradicated from yet another corner of the world, faith has been put to unnecessary tests, and knees find cemetery mounds.

One way or another, this needs to end.

I thank sound militaries, governments, activists,and supporters that dedicate their lives to causes like these so that others may thrive. So that children can learn freely, and live. So that parents don’t have to bury their dreams.