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Never give up…you are more capable than you think

Never Give Up, Capable, Mindset, Adversity

Overcoming adversity…

We are all faced with adversity in life. Often times it’s so challenging that we question how capable we are at surviving at all.

Some of my challenges have been easy to overcome and sometimes I feel like I was going to die. I know you can relate…things get really bad and you just feel like giving up. But I truly believe it is what you do and how you THINK when during those times that matters the most. Your mindset has a direct correlation on your ability to overcome adversity.

Meet Arthur…

I came across this video last week and while not usually compelled to share videos like this, I found this exceptionally inspirational. Sometimes we need a story like this to help us change the way we think about a problem.

Please take a moment to check out Arthur and his story.

My story…

Although not nearly as significant as Arthur’s story, I experienced something similar when I had cancer about twenty-four years ago.

When I was twenty-years-old, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. There was a tumor on my kidney that was about the size of a football. About 6 months into my chemotherapy treatments and shortly after having my kidney removed, I noticed something strange going on with one of my feet. I started having a difficult time moving my foot up and down. It wasn’t that I couldn’t feel it, I just couldn’t make it move.  I went to see a neurologist who said I had foot drop and ordered more tests. My reaction…WTF is a“foot drop”?

A foot drop is when the front of your foot drops due to weakness, nerve damage or paralysis of some of the muscles in the lower leg. Foot drop is usually a bi-product of a larger problem.


The same day I saw my neurologist, I started having severe pain in my back. This pain radiated from my lower spine and worsened all day. That night it was so bad I couldn’t stand up straight or walk. The pain was absolutely unbearable. I went to the emergency room in the middle of the night where I received a morphine shot and was admitted. When I woke up in the hospital the next morning something was seriously wrong. The nurse brought me my breakfast, I swung the bedside tray around in front of me, it hit my stomach and I didn’t feel a thing. I couldn’t move my legs and I couldn’t feel them AT ALL.

To make a very complicated story short, I had lost all feeling from about my belly button down. I had several spinal taps and MRIs but no one could figure out exactly what was causing the paralysis. The only thing they could say with confidence was that I might not ever walk again. I was transferred to rehabilitation where they pumped me full of steroids and I begin physical and occupational therapy. They said my nerves might repair but they weren’t hopeful… they told me I would I need to learn to navigate the world from a wheelchair.  I called B.S. on that and put everything I had into getting better. Eventually I was able to get around using a walker and after about a month in the hospital, I regained enough feeling in my legs to go home.

My attitude…

I know that the only thing that got me through the paralysis ordeal was my mindset. From the moment I went to the hospital, I told myself and the doctors that I didn’t have time to be paralyzed and that I needed to go home. I had things to do. No one expected me to WALK into the doctor’s office for my next chemotherapy treatment but when I did, I proved them wrong. And I proved MYSELF myself right.

I’m not going to lie, I don’t always look at the positive and I have a difficult time believing people when they say things like, “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” But when I had cancer, someone gave me a book by Bill Moyer called Healing and the Mind. Moyer writes about alternative medical treatments and the power the mind has in overcoming an illness. I truly believe that me and Arthur are living proof that Moyer is correct.  The human mind CAN be more powerful than medicine.

You are capable…

We often do not know our own potential, especially when faced with extreme adversity. Our minds are more powerful than we think and we must recognize that mindset is key when facing, and overcoming, adversity. You ARE more capable than you think!




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Taken Too Soon-A Portrait of Tay

Tay, Asante Ray, Taken too soon, Korin, Death

Asanté and Korin…Taken Too Soon

I’ve put off writing this post for over a month because I didn’t know how I wanted to start. I still don’t. I was hoping to find the perfect words. But rather than wait any longer, I decided to write, perfect words or not.

I have mentioned in the past that I am a teacher at Smoky Hill High School. Several months before graduation, Smoky lost one of our senior students, Asanté Ray. “Tay” was killed in a car accident April 2, 2016, only 18-years-old. Tay was driving his car and made the decision to pass an SUV, causing a head-on collision.  Although I did not personally know Tay, many students and adults in the build did, including my best friend and Tay’s dean, Sarah Watts. He was a member of the Diversity Leadership Team and gave motivational speeches to students and teachers. Tay had the potential to be someone great. He was very well liked by his peers as well as his teachers and his death was difficult for the Smoky Hill community.

Tay’s passing affected my friend Sarah enormously. She worked very closely with Tay and his family and throughout his high school career. She often spoke to me about what an amazing young man he was and how much he meant to her. A few days after the accident, Sarah mentioned that she would like to have a portrait of Tay. That evening I went home and started drawing.

The Connection

As many of you know, and as I shared in a earlier post, my step-daughter, Korin, was killed several years ago. She was 18-years-old, months away from her 19th birthday, and the mother of a 9-month-old daughter. Korin made a decision on the night of her death that put her in dangerous situation. Had she, as well as Tay, made a different choice, they might be here today.

During the month that it took me to complete Tay’s portrait, I did a lot of reflecting on Korin and Tay and how their deaths changed the lives of their loved ones forever. I know my experience does not compare to that of Tay’s mother’s as I cannot imagine how much more difficult it is to lose a child to whom you gave birth. I do, however, feel that my husband must have experienced something very similar to what she might have experienced. And in a way, that is just as heartbreaking.

The Portrait

I was very nervous to draw Tay. I was working from a photo that was taken from his Facebook page and texted to me. Not knowing Tay and not being able to see the details of his hair in the photo, I had to do some guessing which was difficult.



Knowing that his mom would be seeing the finished product, I was very worried about her reaction. Each minute that I spent drawing Tay, I also spent thinking about the death of Korin. I hoped that seeing his picture would not reopen wounds that had started to heal but I kept thinking…if someone drew a picture of Korin, our reaction would be positive. Hopefully hers would be as well.

The Take Away

What did I take away from this experience? A simple reminder that life is SO precious and can be SO short. As for Korin…I have great memories. I also have regrets.  I would love the opportunity to go back and do some things differently. Parents are not supposed to outlive their children. We cannot afford to put off something that should be said or done today. I have changed my mindset and the way I see life.

“The trouble is, you think you have time.”Buddha

Having studied Tay’s face for countless hours, a part of me feel as if I know him…only I really didn’t. I’m honored to have drawn his portrait. I’m relieved that his mother wasn’t upset by the picture. I wish I could have met him. I think about Tay’s mom often. I have a connection to her that she may never know. I don’t even know how to articulate it, but it exists. Maybe the best way to describe it would be using Tay’s saying, “I felt it.” I imagine she is still in so much pain but I hope that each day brings her a little closer to peace and I know that if things can get better for us, they will for her too. Our children are in a better place and it is only those they leave behind that suffer.


Asanté Iseal Ray                                                                 Korin Lijah Williams
February 26, 1998 – April 2, 2016                                   May 23, 1995-February 1, 2014


I would like to say thank you to Sarah Watts for honoring Tay’s life in such a beautiful way and thank you to his mother, Shondra Ray for allowing me to share this story.




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10 Quotes to Make You Re-Think Life

Quotes, Inspiration, Make you re-think, life

I could browse Pinterest for hours, pinning quote after quote, reposting on social media, sharing with friends and family, words of wisdom and motivational pictures. This post is a short list, in no particular order, of some of my favorite quotes. I’m also including my thoughts and how I interpret or make meaning of each one.

I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.–John Steinbeck

A good friend and fellow educator told me a story about a student that went to the high school where we teach. This student shared with her that he had walked the halls of the school, day in and day out, for several years almost completely unnoticed. No one made an effort to say hi, no one made eye contact, no one smiled…he just plugged along, going from one class to another, totally unconnected. Take a look around, pay attention, can you connect with someone who might be otherwise ignored?

Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don’t bother trying to be someone you aren’t. Focus on you, DO YOU, and do it well!

I know it seems hard sometimes but remember one thing. Through every dark night, there’s a bright day after that. So no matter how hard it get, stick your chest out, keep ya head up…. and handle it.–Tupac Shakur

There’s a lot of bad stuff that happens in life. We all struggle. The mind is a powerful thing and to persevere, we need to look for the bright days. My husband always told our kids to “man up” and “handle” business…it’s hard but necessary. Tupac tells you to do it with style.

Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you will look back, and realize they were the big things.—Kurt Vonnegut

What are the little things? Blowing bubbles on the porch with my grandkids. Lunch with my friends. Reading a good book with a drink in my hand. Driving down the street, music bumpin’, window down. Celebrating birthdays. Playing board games with the family…there are so many little things. Don’t ignore them, in the end they might be the only thing that matters.

Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience—Mark Twain

Unfortunately, I have had MANY opportunities to argue with stupid people and I can promise you that every time I did, I didn’t gain anything. You can’t argue the stupid out of someone and you’re never going to convince them that you are smarter than them, it’s just the way it works. Let it be, move on, focus on the people at your level. 

Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t—Steve Mazaboli

My family and I have faced many challenges, even more in the last three years or so. Some of them have been small but many of them have been enormously difficult to understand and overcome. I have managed to move forward ONLY because I stopped trying to control things I have no power over. I have to continually remind myself to focus on the things that I actually CAN control but it is true, amazing things happen when you stop worrying about things you have absolutely NO power to control.

Love what you do.
Help & inspire others around you.
Kick ass and make today amazing.

I have no idea where this quote originated but I love it! So simple yet it says so much. I think if you’re doing what you love, it is easier to help and inspire others. Kicking ass might be a little more difficult but I like to aim high.

We all die, the goal isn’t to live forever…the goal is to create something that will—Chuck Palahniuk

It’s going to happen to all of us. Our lives will come to an end. But rather than just waiting for it to be over, make it matter. Don’t get so caught up in the day-to-day that you forget about the real meaning of life. What will you leave behind? Me…I’m leaving my art and my story.

Do not take life to seriously, you will never get out of it alive–Elbert Hubbard

Let’s just state the obvious…we all die, period. Have a little fun, go a little crazy, take risks, be silly, laugh at yourself. Dr. Suess said that nnonsense wakes up the brain cells and if you can see things out of whack then you are better equipped to see them IN whack AND you’ll have more fun!

In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life…it goes on–Robert Frost

Simply stated, life goes on. It doesn’t matter what you do, what happens or doesn’t happen…it goes on. Sometimes you’ll think that it is impossible for it to keep going BUT it does. Sometimes with us, sometimes without us, but it definitely goes.

 Do you have a favorite quote? Post, share, inspire others…

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Surviving Cancer: A Poem

Surviving Cancer, Survivor, Life

I recently came across a poem I saved many years ago titled “Surviving Cancer” and thought it worthy of being shared.  The poem was written by Jill Warren and was included in a book my mom gave me, Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul.  I used this poem when I was in college and had to give a presentation in a communications class. I thought it was a perfect way to summarize my experience and send a message about life at the same time.

Surviving Cancer

It seems like only yesterday
my doctor told me I had cancer,
and when I asked, “How long do I have?”
he didn’t have an answer.

And it seemed to me that time stood still
and the room turned upside down.
Life just stopped and I started at him
and I didn’t hear a sound.

And a thousand years flashed by my eyes
as I thought of all I’d miss,
of the laughs and smiles of those I loved
and my oneyear-old daughter’s kiss.

And I realized right then and there
the time that I had wasted,
of all the things I’d never done
and all the life untasted.

And I thought of all the silly things
that occupied our day,
like the stupid fight we had last night
over bills we had to pay.

Twenty-two years have come and gone
and I’m still at the dance.
I guess that God just changed his mind
and gave me another chance.

And on that day I took a vow
to let go of the past,
to love my life and love each day
as if it were my last.

For only God can know these things
the day, the hour, the time,
but on this day I am alive
and all the world is mine.

I changed a few words so that it fit my situation. Those changes are in bold in the poem above.

I think this poem is a perfect combination of how I felt then and how I feel now…when I was diagnosed, I was so young but now I can truly appreciate how trivial it is to go to bed mad or waste time fighting over bills. Even though I almost died, I can’t say that I have always lived each day as if it were my last but that has recently changed, I am back on track and I am taking a vow…

I’m letting go of the past, I’m living my life, loving each day..

On this day I am alive and all the world is mine!

You are still at the dance…live like it!

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Things DO happen for a reason…

Tawnya, adversity, goals

Just not always a GOOD reason…

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic but I cringe every time I hear it, someone just trying to be supportive, trying to make me feel better, trying to help explain away the unexplainable…

“Everything happens for a reason.” 

As if simply saying it puts a positive spin on the situation.

“Why yes”, I want to reply. “Things do happen for a reason but sometimes that reason SUCKS.”

I feel like I’ve lived a 100 years. I’ve experienced so many things in my life…some of them have been amazing and make me want to shout to the heavens how happy I am!  Some of them wear on me, they cause me to worry, to second guess myself, to question my purpose, to ask why me? I feel like I’ve weathered the storm of all storms.

I try to maintain a positive approach to life and I appreciate each day that I wake up, truly (although I actually hate waking up…true story, check out #18 ). But sometimes, especially the last 2 years, I wonder what the hell is going on. When are things going to go my way? 

2014 started off terrible and while there is no need to review all the details, you can learn more about what happened here. The condensed version is that my step-daughter, Korin, was murdered on February 1, 2014 by the father of her child. It was, and still is, very surreal.  I remember constantly wondering how we’d ever move on. While this single event was traumatic enough alone, it was the catalyst to many many more heartaches and problems that we would experience.

As a result of Korin’s death, my husband andI gained custody of our then 9 month-old granddaughter, Kayva. We prepared to raise Kayva, never envisioning we would be parents in our 40’s, but ready to give it our one hundred percent best effort. We spent the next 14 months fighting with every ounce of energy we had to maintain custody of Kayva. In the end, the court system failed and we lost Kayva.Family, Things happen for a reason, create your own sunshine, Williams family

Over the last 2 years, I’ve  experienced significant disappointment, discouragement, disbelief, and disgust. Some of it is related to my career, some is related to my family, some is related to me, some to the world in general.  Much of it I will never share with anyone, but I silently tally it all in my mind, making a list of all the storms I’ve survived. And with each storm, I try to find the good, the REASON, the moral of the story, the purpose of the storm because we all know that everything happens for a reason, right?

Yes, things DO happen for a reason but it doesn’t have to be a GOOD reason. Something good can’t come from every bad situation. Sometimes it just means creating something new.

Create your own sunshine, Things happen for a reason,

The moral of this story? Maybe it’s that I know that I can survive the storm So I know that when I feel like I’ve reached the end, like things can’t get worse, like I’m exhausted from the fight or the stress, I know that I can survive. I just need to adjust my sails and make a new plan.

And that is precisely what I have done. I did not write this post to complain. I wrote it to tell the world that I have a new outlook and that big things are coming. When I started this blog it was because I had finally come to a place in my life where I could finally breathe and focus on me, to take advantage of my life and focus on my artwork. I have never been more committed to doing exactly that. I am CREATING my own SUNSHINE and a new story.

“If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave.”—Mo Willems

Have you ever found yourself in the wrong “story?”  Did you create something new? I’d love to hear!