Music for the Soul

I live, eat, breathe and speak music. I am always looking for new artists or delving into the old songs of my favorite artists.  My music library is so extensive that it amazes people. I listen to everything from old school Motown (thanks to my dad), to country, to R&B, to hip hop, to pop, to indie to rock. The list doesn’t end. Pandora became my favorite work companion a few years back after I first discovered it recommends artists to you based on your selected songs, genres and musicians.

Me in summer 2011 as the Pop Culture intern at Essence magazine

Jamie Tworkowski, founder of Two Write Love on Her Arms said, “Songs don’t wait to resolve……..Stories wait for endings, but songs are brave things bold enough to sing when all they know is darkness.” This is one of my all time favorite quotes. It describes music so accurately. When people ask how I could possibly listen to certain genres, like country for example, I always say the genre is probably the least important thing about a song. Music is about telling a story. It’s about honesty, which is why I love it.

For me, music allows me to connect with people, some whom I will never meet, and at times it also helps me to disconnect from the chaotic world around me. There is a peace and calm in music that is heavenly. I love that there is literally a song for every occasion, for love, for loss, for death, for parenthood, for childhood, for growing up, for heartbreak, for moving on. The list goes on and on.

There is a line in a Hootie and The Blowfish song that says, “Let her sing if it eases all her pain.” I love that song! I love that lyric! As a 22 year old woman, trust that I have cried to a song or two in my life, but that song captures the power of a song in confusion and hurt so well. It is basically telling the man in the song that you may not understand the woman in your life all the time but when she needs to cry just let her cry and when she wants to sing, let her because it eases her pain.

With time and much exploration I have found that some of my favorite musicians are men, southern men to be more specific.  There is something about southern musicians, their soul and depth that warms my heart and my ears. Coincidentally, southern male singers have outdone the ladies in my book. It is something about their candidness and raw emotion that I don’t find every day. I may be overgeneralizing and I am open to make mistakes, but nonetheless I wanted to talk about some of my favorite southern male artists. Feel free to give them a listen and to comment! I am smiling while writing this. Music makes me happiest.

1. Darius Rucker

Born May 13, 1966 in Charleston, South Carolina

Interesting Fact: Originally a member of the rock band, Hootie and The Blowfish

Favorite Quality: Deep, raspy voice

Good listens: It Won’t Be Like This for Long, Let Her Cry, Alright

2. Ben Rector

Born November 6,1986 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Interesting Fact: Based out of Nashville, Tennessee

Favorite Quality: Story telling ability

Good Listens: When a Heart Breaks, Twenty Tomorrow, When She Comes Around, She Is, Hank

3. Anthony Hamilton

Born January 28, 1971 in Charlotte, North Carolina

Interesting Fact: The father of twin boys

Favorite Quality: Soulful, rhythmic beats

Good Listens: The Point of It All, Dear Life, Her Heart

4. Marc Broussard

Born January 14, 1982 in Carencro, Louisiana

Interesting Fact: Music career started off in a Christian band, called Y

Favorite Quality: Controlled vibrato and soulful

Good Listens: Gavin’s Song, Home, Come in From the Cold

5. Amos Lee

Born June 22, 1977 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but went to school in South Carolina (so we will call him southern)

Interesting Fact: His original name is Ryan Anthony Massaro

Favorite Quality: Sweet, quite soul

Good Listens: Colors, Careless, Learned A Lot, Sweet Pea, Arms of a Woman, Southern Girl

6. NeedtoBreathe

Based out of Seneca, South Carolina

Interesting Fact: Band members and brothers Bear and Nathaniel Bryant “Bo” Rinehart were named after University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant

Favorite Quality: Rich Harmony

Good Listens: Something Beautiful, Washed by the Water, Lay ‘Em Down, The Garden

7. Philip Phillips

Born September 20, 1990 in Leesburg, Georgia

Interesting Fact: Winner of Season 11 of American Idol

Favorite Quality: Voice depicts emotion of songs, Clarity

Good Listens: Home

Here are a few other great male singers that are not so southern but worth your time: Ray Lamontagne, Eric Hutchinson, Andrew Belle, Andy Grammer, Jon McLaughlin, Maxwell and Lyfe Jennings.

Hope you get a good listen!

Stephkt

No Comparison

Rainy, cloudy, overcast days like today…… I love them. I absolutely love them. They are absolutely the best days for thinking, introspection and self reflection. If you are a writer like me, then of course days like today are great for writing as well, my favorite past time.

I’ve been thinking a lot about myself lately. That may sound like an arrogant or extremely haughty statement to make, but stay with me.  There is a point. I have been thinking about myself in the sense of self reflection and why I am the way I am. Have you ever done that? Just sat down and really thought about what makes you who you are. Have you ever asked yourself why are you wired the way you are?

I hope you still like me after the statement I made in that last paragraph. I hope that you have continued reading to this paragraph and are happily surprised to realize that my “me” moments recently have been times for self reflection and thinking.  This thinking has brought me to a greater understanding of the person I am and my purpose. It has also brought me face to face with some of my biggest struggles.

I recently took some me time to think about a breakup of mine, my first breakup, my first love. Although it wasn’t very fun, I can definitely say that I really learned a lot. I learned a lot about myself, my needs, the things a guy needs in a relationship, how I deserve to be treated and the list goes on. Then I started getting down to the nitty gritty, the not so easy stuff.  I started thinking about why it hurt me so badly and why it took so long to really recover after the blow. So I started to look at myself…..and boy that wasn’t easy but it was well worth the effort and time.

What I realized is that the relationship hurt so much because it left me feeling not good enough. It left me feeling less than the self I had always known. It left me with those nagging questions…… Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Am I smart enough? Am I funny enough? Am I enough? The resounding answer was no. Then I started to think how could one guy or one relationship do all this? How could it strip me of my identity so completely? Tick tock tick tock tick tock………..I had to do some real digging.

After some prayer, some tears and a lot of thinking, I found that this relationship that I valued so much didn’t cause me to feel this way.  It added to a whirlwind of feelings and questions that I had struggled with my entire life. I have always dealt with feelings of being alone, not being good enough and just not belonging. Why? Why? Why Steph? I asked myself the same thing. I have come to realize, through my own relationships with friends, family and myself that this search for identity and worth is something all women deal with. I am sure men deal with it as well, but because I am not a man I cannot say for certain how their search for identity works exactly.

For women, however, it is one big similar quest for us all. From a young age, we are put in a our ribbons, bows and curls. We are surrounded by pink pastels and everything that sparkles and shines. We are surrounded by beauty and we strive to become beautiful. More than anything we just want to be wanted. This desire to be beautiful and to be wanted doesn’t end with childhood.  It carries over into our hearts as women, which is probably why every time I have been hurt or left I always feel like a little girl again.

Two of my cabin girls at camp this summer!

In women’s quest to feel beauty and a sense of belonging, it seems like our society has begun an assault on this journey throughout history. Just think about it.  Think about the number of girls who have been physically or mentally abused. Think about the number of divorces that occur each year and what it does to children. How do you think that little girl felt when her daddy packed his bags and left to start another family of his own? I can guarantee you not very wanted or beautiful.

Those are some of the more obvious ways, but it happens subtly as well. For me, my battle with belonging and feeling wanted was a slow progressive process. As a little girl, I never quite felt like I fit in. I grew up in a conservative, Christian home that I am extremely proud of, but it definitely made me different.  The list of things I was allowed to do and could not do was long enough to put a big gap between myself and my peers. I was friendly and outgoing, but still I just never like I fit. I thought there must be something wrong with me. Assault #1. I grew up a little and went off to high school and the same problems from middle school persisted except the girls were meaner. Assault #2. Then my sophomore year, just as I was starting to feel a little less awkward, my  grandmother, the woman I looked up to the most and felt most loved by, suddenly passed away. Then my family moved across the country to Tulsa, Oklahoma and I was the new kid. I was alone. Assault # 3. As I was getting adjusted to life in Tulsa and moving in to my senior year of high school, my best friend, Felicia passed away from cancer. Assault # 4. The list goes on and on. There was the football player who tried to use me for sex, the time my mom was diagnosed with having a mental illness, the loss of my first love….on and on.

I am not telling you any of this for you to feel sorry for me. What I am learning is that life is a complicated, messy place. We all have struggles, pain and loss. I think with children, especially with little girls, it is important for them to know that they are loved. All the circumstances I listed above left me feeling alone. They left me feeling broken. Each one added on to the unresolved hurt of the other. They made me think something was wrong with me. Not fitting in made me feel like something was wrong with me. People I cared about who passed away left me feeling alone. The guys who broke my heart made me feel not good enough and again like something was wrong with me. Broken is the word.

Every girl goes through it. Your battle may not have looked exactly like mine. Maybe it was a parent passing away or the absence of a father. Maybe it was sexual abuse. Maybe it was a dysfunctional relationship with your mom. Maybe it was bullying at school. Maybe it was a boyfriend who cheated on you. I don’t know your story or struggle, but I know we are similar. I know us girls just want to be loved and feel beautiful. We want a sense of belonging and knowing that we bring to the table is good enough.

One thing that I have come to realize is that who I am, my identity, is not rooted in the things of this world. It is something so heavenly and beyond the sphere of this world. It doesn’t change. The identity I have is in God and it never changes. It tells me I am loved. I don’t have to strive to be beautiful. I am beauty.

If you are a women or girl reading this, I hope you are encouraged to know that you are beauty. You don’t have to strive to be beautiful. You are also loved. So if you ever feel alone or not good enough, please know that voice in your head that says those things is lying. Every time you feel something in you say you are not good enough that is a lie.

My last relationship added to this lie. After it ended, I found myself comparing myself to other girls. I had done this before but now it had become so routine that it was unhealthy. We are not to compare ourselves to others. It is really crazy if you think about it. Does the beautiful boutique of roses in the vase take away from the beauty of the lilies growing in the pond? No. Think of two of your favorite female celebrities who you think are gorgeous. Now tell me this, does one being beautiful take away from the beauty of the other? I didn’t think so. Now change your perspective about yourself and understand that you are YOU. No one else can be you.  If you are spending all your time trying to be like everybody else, who will be you in the meantime? You are you and no one else can compare in that area. I firmly believe that every woman is beautiful and that there is an amazingly sovereign God up above who made each of us. I hope you find this to be true for yourself.

In closing, I’d like to tell you about a little girl I met this summer. Her name is Scarlett. I was her camp counselor this summer and to me, she was such a pretty girl but she didn’t see it. One night as me and my cabin were getting ready for bed, she blurted out randomly that she was ugly. I stopped in my tracks when I heard these words. She said it laughingly but I knew she wasn’t kidding. She said it more than once. After that I started to take note of her more. I would watch as she admired the other girls or compared herself to them or followed their every move. I just wanted Scarlett to see how pretty she was. Yes, she was different from the other girls but that is a good thing.

Girls like Scarlett make me passionate about my purpose. I want to make a difference in the lives of girls and young women and help them see their beauty through the lies. I just want other girls to come to a sense of self acceptance. I know that the things I have been through have been a training field for me to help other girls. I hope you are encouraged from reading this and please, please if you take one thing from this, I hope it is that you have no need to compare yourself to others. You are beauty and that’s enough.

My cabin girls and I this summer. (From top left to right) Scarlett, Chandler, Kate, Emma, Lexie and me.

Stephkt

One Word, One Lesson, One Day

Today is September 11, 2012, the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks that shook our nation. My heart is heavy just thinking about it and all the people who lost someone, mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers, grandparents, grandchildren, cousins, uncles, aunts, daughters, sons, nieces, nephews and best friends.

AFP/Getty Images

Carrie Bergonia mourns the loss of her fiance, firefighter Joseph J. Ogren (inset), as she touches his name that is etched into the memorial pools at the World Trade Center site.

Thinking about September 11 made me think about forgiveness and wonder if it is impossible to forgive such a seemingly unforgivable act. I don’t think anyone would argue that those who lost someone in the 9/11 attacks have just cause to be angry and hold onto the pain that they were caused. All I can think of is forgiveness. What is it? What does it mean? How does one really “forgive”?

I can look back at this past year and remember all the people who have hurt me. I can look back knowing that my anger and hurt is justified, recounting every detail and every wrong done to me and then I think about the families and the friends of the victims of 9/11.  It makes me think that if just one of those friends or family members of the deceased can forgive the people who caused those terrible events 11 years ago, then I can forgive too.

Skylights lit September 10, 2012 to recognize the lives lost at the World Trade Center Towers

There is a song by Matthew West called Forgiveness. It is almost a heartfelt prayer asking for help to forgive. It says:

“Show me how to love the unlovable. Show me how to reach the unreachable.”

Forgiveness is a choice and although I’ve heard this so many times, I think it just really hit me today. If the person who hurt you apologized or something bad were to happen too him or her would that 100 percent take away the pain?  No, it wouldn’t. Again, forgiveness is a choice, and though opposite of how you may feel, it is the most powerful and freeing decision a person can make. We must all live with the decisions we make. Choose to forgive.

Stephkt

The 21st Summer

So tomorrow, September 10, is my 22nd birthday. I have no big party or dinner planned.  No night out on the town with the girls.  Yet and still I am very excited for tomorrow. I get to celebrate my life!! I have grown to realize the beauty of each day and it’s simplest gifts.

Life is like a novel. It is full of chapters and scenes.  Different characters grace the pages. Some come in and are quickly gone, while others leave a more permanent impression. We are the authors of our happiness and thus determine whether or not our days, or chapters, will be filled with love, light and hope.

This past year has been one of many ups and downs for me. My senior year of college brought a lot of changes, some harder than others but all worth the lessons learned. I have come to the reality that while everyone gets older, not everyone actually grows up.  Maturing and learning is a choice.  To really take time to have self reflection and have that “man in the mirror” moment that Michael Jackson so famously coined in his song, takes initiative and self discipline.  It means acknowledging and coming to terms with truths about ourselves, that although not always pretty are nonetheless worth the facing, accepting and changing when applicable. Learning and maturing isn’t easy, which is why everyone does not do it. To say the least, this year has been a humbling experience for me. I have had to face my own ugly truths, lost friends, gained friends, gotten closer to my family and God and been pushed more than I thought possible.  In the end, I know that it is all worth it.

As the quote by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross says,

“The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss and have found their way out of the depths. These people have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

Here are some of the lessons I have learned this year.  This past summer has given me a lot of time for self reflection and to just be still.  Aaaaah…… be still.  Those words are so powerful.  If you have never really done that, just sat and stared at the clouds or the stars or listened to the rain or said a prayer and waited to hear from God or to feel peace, I suggest some major “be still” time for you my friend.

Along with the things I have learned, I added some of my favorite pictures from this past year below! I hope these things are of some help! They are simple but have meant a world of difference in my life this year and have helped me gain perspective.

Lessons Learned

1: The power of my thoughts (the power of positive thinking). Your emotions are dependent upon your thoughts.

Dog walking at the Humane Society

2: The importance of having self respect (confidence and love for yourself) as a woman. “We must learn to fight for ourselves the way we fight for our own children.” Ann Curry

My 21st birthday with my very two first friends in the state of Oklahoma

3: To put your hope in God alone. Titles, relationships amd material things fade. God is the only constant.

The Helmers, my adopted grandparents and OSU alumni

4: No one has power over you unless you give it to them. You choose your response. Women are powerful.

My sorority little sister and I at OSU Homecoming 2011

5: In relationships and friendships, learn to listen. Really listen to the other person. Communication (open, honest, and real) is a must. Don’t fight to be right. Fight for resolution. To have a friend, you must learn to be a friend.

Myself and the Office of Multicultural Affairs Misses for 2011-2012

6: Stay close to the source of your identity and worth, which is God. Time with God and in his word is a must.

Me and one of my oldest friends, Dajai, in Michigan to bring in the new year

7: Don’t be so hard on yourself. Allow yourself to feel and to hurt, to be sad, to smile, to fall down and to laugh at falling down. Give yourself time and space to grow.

Oklahoma State’s Founding Dance Marathon Executive Team

8. Love your family.  They are your built in team sent from God from birth. Hard times and fights may come, but don’t let momentary feelings ever stop you from appreciating the people in your life.

Meeting my godsister for the first time!

Here are some more photos from the year:

The Sarah Smith of the University of Central OklahomaErica DeLoera, a great friend and future L.A. fashionistaStudent Alumni Board 2011-2012Gameday working in the suites!The final two contestants for the Miss Black OSU 2012 pageantHalloween 2011 The Student Alumni Board 2012 Graduating Seniors

Stephkt

Inspiration from an Old Friend

Hi Blogesphere!

I am trying to make it a habit to get on here a lot more. I love writing so you think that this wouldn’t be a problem. The truth that I have found is that the more positive, beautiful things and people I surround myself with, the more beauty I have within myself and the more complete I feel.  The more complete, happy and whole I feel, the more I have to write about. Like attracts like, as the saying goes. I try to surround myself with positive, honest good spirited things and people so that I can reflect this back to the world.

One person who I have found to have so much depth and honesty of heart is an old friend from Oklahoma State University, Adley Stump. Adley is best known to the world as a season 2 contestant on The Voice earlier in 2012.  To me, she is the curly haired, bubbly blonde from Tulsa, Oklahoma with the biggest heart for other people.  I met Adley my first year at OSU as a sophomore.  She was a junior and was the president of a club called To Write Love on Her  Arms.  TWLOHA is national not for profit organization that works to raise awareness about issues such as depression, cutting, bullimia and aneroxia.  Truthfully, it serves as means to connect any person who has struggles in life. When I first came to OSU I was dealing with a depression of my own and a recently diagnosed bipolar parent.  I was struggling with feelings of being alone, depression, unforgiveness and guilt.

All these feelings brought me to a TWLOHA meeting one night and there I met Adley. Adley and TWLOHA were amazing.  The people and the community I met there were so inspiring.  I found a place to share my grievances and also to learn compassion through hearing other people’s pain. Adley, like everyone in TWLOHA, had her story of pain, struggles and triumph.  I had so much respect for her after she shared her life story of struggles and lessons learned. Adley has always been a friend who I look up to for her ability to be raw and real while still loving others so well.

I recently saw a blog post she wrote on her website (adleystump.com) and to no surprise of my own, she has inspired me once again. Adley is what I like to call a beautiful soul.  Feel free to check out her website at adleystump.com and listen to her music.  See for yourself what I am talking about and read her a little bit of her post below!

“DO you love growing, learning, making mistakes and figuring out what it takes in your soul to pick yourself back up and keep going? Do you know how forgiveness feels, how to admit when you’re wrong, and how to create new ideas? If you’re living your life all for some dangling carrot in the future that you may or may not ever get or find, and you hate the grind and the process, but expect to love it “someday,” well, what if you don’t get “someday?” What if you just have today and these years with your family and friends and you didn’t take time to go out and enjoy your life, have nice dinners, go skiing, and create the “middle moments” that turn into memories you treasure later in your life.

My point is simply this, work HARD for what you want, but love the grind. Love the work it takes to get there, love people, and love the journey. Or you may be wasting your life, and precious, precious time.”

Stephkt