Be Gay, Be Religious, Be Happy.

I’m getting on the proverbial soap box for an overly controversial, provoking topic that is, arguably, paralleled to the 1960’s civil rights movement: gays.

Why? Because I recently had a good friend and a family member, both with surprising confidence, come out to me — separately, not as a couple.

How did I handle it? With unequivocal support and love. This “development” wasn’t going to hinder our relationship, and I was going to accept them for who they were — contrary to my religious background and political outlook.

But is love and acceptance the same thing? There’s no denying it, I was different around them after they had come out to me: I stopped talking candidly about my relationship with women, and asking for their opinion; I never asked how their love life was, in fear of not understanding or being able to identify — as if homosexuals didn’t experience the same chemistry and emotions as heterosexual do — and I found it rather difficult to come up with ideas of where to hangout, because I didn’t want to “force” heterosexual norms and behavior onto them. I wanted to be more sensitive and understanding.

I hadn’t loved them any differently after they came out. But there’s denying I was different around them — can I still love someone and not accept them? They, my good friend for many years and my beloved family member, were still the same people I’ve known my entire life, nothing had changed that, but yet, our relationship seemed oddly different now. And I wasn’t sure on why.

In my attempts to be more “understanding,” what I was actually doing, in retrospect, was actually the opposite of understanding; I was subtly discriminating against them based off our differences. I was sabotaging my relationships with them, because I started to treat them different the moment they took pride and ownership in who they were.

I started to realize that it had nothing to do with them, but with me and my preconceived notions of what homosexuality “is.”

You see, before I knew what homosexuality was, I was being told that its “different” and “sinful.” These words resonated with me every time some one spoke on homosexuality or if I met a homosexual. Because of these preconceived notions, I was inflexible, and closed-minded on my beliefs.

An obstinate mind is the enemy of change, and it filters the world to such prejudices. 

Here’s the thing about homosexuals: they have 32 teeth, two eyes, 46 chromosomes, a brain — which understands hate, discrimination, prejudice, alienation — a heart — which feels love, heartache, empathy, sympathy and compassion. What may be a shock to you is that I just described heterosexuals, too.

“People are afraid of things they don’t understand. They don’t know how to relate. It threatens their security, their existence, their career, and image.” (Bill Laswell)

I agree with Bill: people fear the unknown. But no matter how science — conclusive evidence that are facts, not preconceived notions — explains the “triggers of homosexuality” and “what genetically went ‘different,'” as if this is some sort of inherited disease like cystic fibrosis, some people can’t help but adhere to their homophobic tendencies.

What’s ironic is that homophobia and homosexuality may be homogeneous in nature — genetically inherited.

With respect to Homosexuality, and this is true especially for men, lesser extent for women. The vast majority of straight men have a visceral aversion to homosexual sex. The aversion occurs at a primeval visceral level and is intense enough to cause vomiting. This has nothing to do with theology and probably little to do with culture as I have seen it across all cultures and socioeconomic levels. It is in my opinion a by-product of evolution . .” (http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/dojustice/j052.html)

You see, we’re more alike, homosexuals and heterosexuals, than we think. But nobody ever told me that, they were always focused on the negative connotations of being a homosexual.

My advice is to free your mind of preconceived notions and, instead, become adaptable and learn to be understanding. Become free of bias.

Furthermore, can’t homosexuals be content with who they are and church goers being content with their love for the lord?

It’s an easy answer: yes. But, unfortunately, society, in general, is about dominance of a set of standards and ideals. And what does this cause? Perpetuated prejudice, hate, and discrimination against everybody.

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” (Gandhi) 

And I’m not sure how many societal eyes we have left, if any. Is blinding the world worth the effort to spread hate and animosity, and for what purpose? If your answer is yes then I pray for you.

There’s nothing wrong or different about somebody who believes in an invisible lord and goes to church regularly; similarly, there’s nothing wrong or different with somebody who seeks love and intimacy with people from the same sex.

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

 

I’m proud to say that my relationships with my homosexual friend and family member have dramatically improved since I’ve learned to stop choosing ignorance and stopped allowing fear to run my life. And since then, I’ve started to see them as the equal individuals they are.

All of our eyes are open and it’s a beautiful sight.

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One world, one love.

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Find The Beauty In Life

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As I make my way through downtown Lawrence, Kan., I notice a man making noise on two-empty coffee cans. The noise is an orchestrated effort to sound like the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” As I try to recollect the popular lyrics, while enjoying this unusual rendition, I stop and start to walk towards the man. I compliment him on his creativity to make such a beautiful harmony out of coffee cans. He pauses for a moment and looks at me and says, “I was given two-empty coffee cans by a stranger. Now, I’m making music with them. Life is beautiful, but often people are blinded by all the ugliness. I could have been bitter about a stranger giving me these two coffee cans, instead I made music. That’s the beauty of life: beauty comes in many different forms. You just have to recognize it.”

I left inspired and wanted to adopt this idea that life is beautiful, no matter the circumstance. Unfortunately, I feel like people are making life a list full of problems than something beautiful. We don’t have to search long to find negativity. Log onto Facebook or your Twitter account and see the things people are talking about. I would venture to guess that half of what they’re talking about are complaints or problems going on in their life. If I wanted to see the negativity in the world, then I would watch the local news more.

If the biggest complaint you have is stress over your salary job or which should be served with dinner — when 870 million people are suffering from malnourishment and 10.4 million American adults are unemployed — then life isn’t bad.

If a homeless man can find joy from two-empty coffee cans, then who are we to complain about the privileges of having a job and food to eat? I’m not saying that venting is bad, I’m guilty of that, too. I’m suggesting that the positive-to-negative comment ratio be higher than the negative-to-positive comment ratio.

It’s easier to complain about something than to do something about it. I think the problem is that people like to blame others for their problems instead of taking responsibility for their own life. I was infected with this kind of thinking. If I woke up in a bad mood it was the school’s fault for starting at 7:45 a.m. If I did poorly on a test it was because the teacher failed to teach me. If I didn’t perform well in sports it was my parents fault for not buying me the latest-technological gear.

This is a cowardly way of living, by blaming others for your shortcomings; instead, focus on the good things in your life. I wasn’t born to be a spectator of my life, but to be the lead role and it was time for me to start living my life. I will admit, in my opinion, that I think there is more to life than going to school, finding a job, paying bills, starting a family, and growing old — this systematic approach to “living” is outdated and people get sucked into this kind of living and fail to live out their dreams; Now not all people, but most, have things they wish they did before being tied down with all these commitments and responsibilities.

I fell victim to this kind of thinking. I have my degree and now I’m in the transition process from college into corporate America — let me know if any of y’all are hiring, ha ha — and I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. My college career, in retrospect, seems like one big blur (that’s not because of the booze, either), but I regret not doing MORE.

I was so focused on fraternizing, partying, and sporting events that I didn’t soak in everything theUniversity of Kansas had to offer. I’ve been socialized by media on college “culture” on what college is about (going to parties every weekend, drinking all day, going to class only when attendance was necessary, selling your books for booze, one-night stands, etc.) that I didn’t live my entire college career the way I wanted, but the way I thought you were suppose to. I’m not blaming anybody for conditioning me on college expectations, because my actions are in my control, but college isn’t about partying, booze and hook-ups; just like life isn’t just about going to school, getting a corporate job, paying bills, starting a family, and growing old.

Bear in mind, going to school, getting a job, and having a family are important milestones in one’s life, but I feel it’s not what the entirety of life is just about. Life is about taking coffee cans and making melodies – that’s the beauty of life that goes unrecognized. Life is about looking at the ugly and seeing the beauty — not letting anyone tell you what the beauty is.

I often imagine what the world would be like if people had the inability to feel and think negatively. Human emotion is the most powerful thing on earth, in my opinion. All wars, genocides and senseless crimes are provoked by negative emotion. But there is good news, just like we have the power to commit such emotionally-provoked crimes, we have the same power to stop it. Spread positivity in replacement of negativity. We need to keep the world moving forward, not backward. That’s the beauty of life: we have the power to change the world and our lives for the better. I think it’s time we start seeing the beauty in life, instead of the ugliness.

I want to hear from you: what are some life pleasures that you experience daily that many people might not understand or take for granted?

Be A Champion Of Your Life

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“I know of nobody who is purely autistic, or purely neurotypical. Even God has some autistic moments, which is why the planets spin.” — Jerry Newport

 

A champion is someone who defeats all competition. As a society, we limit ourselves to this definition. We often focus only on the champions in sports. Joe Flacco, the Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback, was the 2012 MVP for the Super Bowl. He’s a champion. LeBron James, starting small forward for the Miami Heat, was the 2012 MVP for the NBA Finals. He’s a champion. They are champions, according to the definition. They are champions by hard work and god-given talent. They come to work, put on their jersey and people remember their name and number.

I know a champion, but he doesn’t wear a jersey. He doesn’t wear his last name or a number on the back of his shirt. He doesn’t play a professional sport, nor has he won an MVP award.

His name is Kyle Weafer and he has Autism. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Autism as a “developmental disorder that appears by age three and is characterized by impairment of the ability to form normal social relationships, by impairment of the ability to communicate with others.” Weafer isn’t limited to this definition or disability. He isn’t defined by Autism; he’s a champion of Autism. Unlike sports, Autism doesn’t end after four quarters. There is no halftime, no timeouts and it doesn’t last for a season. It’s a permanent game. Weafer didn’t ask for Autism, he was born with it. But he never quits. He never slows down. He makes every day count. He knows each day is an opportunity for something great and he uses this as motivation. He’s a fighter and fighters never give up.

Six years ago was the first time I met Weafer. Within 30 minutes, he gave me the most valuable piece of advice that I still cherish today, “smile, Bryenn. Life is good.” This might seem minute to some of you, but these five words are what propel me to champion my own life. If Weafer, a man who has faced unfair adversity in human biology, can preach about life being good and face each day with a smile, then I can listen.

I start to understand that my “big problems” aren’t as big in the grand scheme of things. Worrying about getting the latest Apple product or getting upset about people not texting me back quickly aren’t real problems in comparison. I compartmentalize my insecurities and start to focus more on what mattered most to me, my family, friends and my future. Weafer’s five words still resonate with me as much as they did six years ago. He gave me something that I can’t ever repay. I’m eternally in debt to him. He’s my role model. I look up to him and appreciate his love for life and how he conquers each day. To me, that’s a champion. Every day is a championship game for Weafer.

He has taken on the role of a champion, much like LeBron James and Joe Flacco and, like James and Flacco, he is an MVP — at least in my eyes. He wakes up every morning embracing life, not complaining about what day of the week it is. He doesn’t complain about what he doesn’t have or what he was given. He takes what he has and makes the best of it.

Weafer also likes working out, a lot. His unsullied smile every time he approaches the gym is profound. It’s a smile that grabs the attention of bystanders. Why is he smiling? It’s a simple question with a simple answer; he can’t get enough of the gym. To him, this is another challenge. You can’t go to the gym and sit there and expect to get fit. Weafer knows there is much dedication and hard work that is needed to become strong. But he’s a champion. He knows what it takes and he’s ready. Nobody can tell him no. He’s a fighter. He has been his entire life.

Much like Weafer’s satisfaction for the gym, I find satisfaction in blogging. People ask me why I like blogging. It’s a simple answer; I can’t get enough of it. This is where I feel like a champion. I challenge myself everyday to become a better writer. But I do more than just challenge my writing abilities. I challenge myself to become a better person in life. A champion of life by doing what is right and living each day as if it were a championship game. Weafer taught me how to become this champion. I think it’s time we all become a champion in our lives and find out what we can’t get enough of and do it. Don’t let a definition, label, or disability limit you. Be an MVP in your life and make the most of each day. 

 

Learn more about Autism here and help spread awareness and find a cure by donating here

Make Time for Old Friends

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit." -- Albert Schweitzer

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” — Albert Schweitzer

The older I get, the more I reminisce on how things use to be. The memories that I cherish most seem to be connected by one underlying factor: brotherhood.

Back in my day, everything I did was oriented around my community of friends — not unlike the girls who refuse to go to the bathroom alone, but hopefully a little less intrusive. After school it was routine to hang out with friends, because back then, time was on our side.

The burdensome weight of responsibility and adulthood wasn’t upon us; we were young, wild and, most importantly, free. When that first girl was brave enough to kiss me, my friends were there to cheer me on. They were there the first time I went TPing, strategically putting toilet paper around the house and ultimately ending in escaping angry parents, but we stuck together and made sure we didn’t lose anyone. And when I got homesick at my first sleepover, my friends turned panic into an unforgettable night; this is the brotherhood I’m talking about.

But the older I get, the more excuses I have to be selfish with my time. My fond memories with friends are all I’ve got, because I don’t have the time to make new memories. I’m busy building my future and becoming a grown up. Responsibility is a time killer. It’s a lot easier — and severely selfish — to let go of people and just hold onto memories you shared with them instead of finding the time to hang with old friends.

True as it may be, growing up is a poor excuse to evade long-time friends. Everybody is growing up, so why don’t we grow up together like we did as kids? I pledge to work on this, because I’d rather become a man with a mediocre job, surrounded by friends than a man who sacrificed everything to be alone at the top. On the battlefield of life, I’ve been too focused on what lies on the other side — my career, girlfriend, part-time jobs, internships, school, Netflix — and lost focus on everyone who’s supported me through it all. Friends are the key to a happy life, and there’s no age restriction.

I refuse to become another Facebook stranger amongst my friends. I have family members who spend late nights at the office and early mornings taking the kids to school, so they don’t have “time” for friends. But maybe the kids ditch them for their friends, or the wife leaves for a girl’s weekend, or perhaps they’re a single parent, so it would be nice to have someone their age to be with. Instead, they are home alone, struggling to make dinner for themselves and reminiscing about old friends over their Facebook timeline.

I like talking to my parents and grandparents about their “young and wild” days. It sparks life in them. My grandma, who’s a widow, talks all the time about her friends and how much fun they had. When she tells these stories, she always has a smile on her face. I tell her it’s never too late to connect with old friends and make new memories. She tells me that it was a long time ago and she’s too old now.

My grandparents always remind me of two valuable lessons: the memories you’re making now will be with you for the rest of your life, and don’t give up on making new memories because you’re never too old to have friends. This gives me a lot to think about since my friends and I will be graduating college soon and going our separate ways.

Life is one big picture that can’t fit into any frame or canvas, but there’s plenty of room in your mind. When you’re old and telling your grandchildren about your young and wild days, you won’t be talking about the times you spent kissing your boss’s ass for that promotion or filling out invoices.You’ll tell them about the time you and a good friend stole a bar sign while wasted. You’re never too grown up or responsible for the people who made you who you are today: friends.

The “L” Word

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The clock reads 2 a.m. when my cell phone’s ringer violently awakens me. As the sluggishness of my body starts to wear off like a bad hangover, I grab my phone. 10 missed calls from the same number. Horrific thoughts start to fill my head. My phone alerts me there’s a new voicemail. I’m hesitant to listen to it, but curiosity and fear consume my body like an addiction. I hit the voicemail button. After I listen to the message, I can’t get it to stop playing in my head. I’m paralyzed by it. I was told there was an “accident” and now someone I love is dead. My memory is hyperactive, remembering the memories we shared and denying what is. A strong sense of guilt brings me back to the harsh reality. The guilt is waiting until later (in this case, never) to tell this person how much they meant to me and for being too self-absorbed with my life to reach out. I’m sobbing, cold and alone. My life is in a million pieces. And then I wake up.

It’s a nightmare that happens too often, but brings clarity to my life. It reminds me how important each day is; every day is a blessing. Life doesn’t come with a guarantee, neither does tomorrow. Sometimes later never comes. I think it’s important we think about that when we tell ourselves that we’ll do something later – there is nothing you are doing right now that is more valuable than never doing something.

This is ironic, because we live in a digitally advanced society that offers sites, apps and services that interconnect people at the touch of their finger tips or at a click of a button. How is there no time right now when this generation has championed the term “multitasker”? Why are we waiting until later when we can do multiple things at once?

Maybe I’m being too idealistic here. It’s ideal that people get the most out of life. It’s ideal to be reminded that you are loved. It’s ideal to see the beauty in life and to have an optimistic attitude towards life. Maybe people do want these things, but right now they are too busy to focus on what’s really important in their life. Maybe it’s society telling us what’s important and setting cockamamie expectations to fulfill a spurious void that we created. Maybe people need to be more realistic and understand life is happening now, not later.

I’m not concerned with who is to blame for why we procrastinate living our life. I’m more concerned with having you realize this and doing something about it. I don’t write for myself. I write for people who have the power to make a difference and will.

I’m trying to enable people like you to make the world a better pace right now, not later. I do this because there is something we can all offer the world. For me, at least right now, it’s writing motivational columns to tell people to make a difference. It might not sound like much, but at least I’m making an impact. What kind of impact do you want to have? Whatever it is you just thought of, go and do it now, not later. Never let the “L” word affect you, again

The (Divorce) Hangover

"A divorce is like an amputation: you survive it, but there's less of you" -- Margaret Atwood

“A divorce is like an amputation: you survive it, but there’s less of you” — Margaret Atwood

I’ve been in a hangover since I was 9 years old.


Not the kind of hangover that consequently occurs the next morning after finding comfort at the bottom of a glass the night before. No, this hangover is far worse and permanent. It’s the kind of hangover you get when you start to question if your greatest memories were lies, when everything good is a blur, when you can’t remember what went wrong and when the deleterious weight of reality starts to mentally change you. It paralyzes you; mentally and physically. It’s the divorce hangover and the side effects can have negative long-term effects on physical and mental health.

I know I was only 9 years old, but I vividly remember my many awkward social encounters shortly thereafter: my restless nights, the confusion which led to anger, my life had permanently changed. For nine years I was drunk; believing that everything was fine, that my parents were happy and that nothing could come between us. It wasn’t until the summer of 1999, that my drunkenness wore off and I was left to deal with the hangover.

By no means do I blame my parents for my problems that hatched as a result of the divorce. In fact, they’ve helped me with a lot of my problems. Plus, if they weren’t happy, who am I to force them to stay together because of my insecurities? Doesn’t everyone deserve to be happy? I absolutely love my parents, so much so that I wish they were still together. But that’s part of the hangover, wanting to go back to how things were before the pain. If you have experienced a divorce, I understand what you’re going through and it can get better.

My five part remedy that best helps me get through tough days is hanging with friends, keeping up communication with both families, listening to music – preferably cheerful and upbeat songs ­— exercise regularly and find a hobby that keeps you busy. Mine’s writing. I know this remedy sounds cliché, and it is, but it works. According to the Barna Group, a research and resource organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture, 33 percent of marriages end in divorce. This statistic is worrisome to me, because, if this rate stays constant, it means 1 out of 3 people will get a divorce. This means that nearly 9,900 of my fellow Jayhawks will get a divorce. I can’t help but to think which of my friends will fall into this statistic. I just hope it isn’t me.

Of course, I want to be optimistic and hope that the divorce rate decreases. Unfortunately, I feel in certain circumstances, it’s inevitable and there are no precautions that can be taken. There is no divorce shot that prevents divorce. There is no pill that makes the relationship better. It’s up to you.

According to a 2009 study by Linda Luecken at Arizona State University showed that a peaceful divorce resolution helped students stay healthy while a divorce that was never finalized and fully resolved caused a negative long-term effect on health. Furthermore, the students who kept in close contact with their father did better post-divorce than those with little or no contact. Luecken says anger and stress management are the biggest problems that divorcee kids face. The key is to find an effective relaxation method (see my five-part-remedy above and take a look at the five-steps that divorce parents make).

Luecken suggests controlled breathing or exercise. Also, students should change their state of mind by focusing on a pleasant aspect of life for 10 minutes. I agree with Luecken. I often wonder how my life would be if that summer day never came back in ’99. But then I stop, because this is where I’m supposed to be. This molded me into the person I am today. Maybe everything does happen for a reason, the good and the bad. Life is what you make it. It’s time to wake up and shake off the hangover, because today is a new day, a new you, a stronger you. Don’t you ever forget that.