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I believe my story has been a revolving door- with its ups and downs- it reminds me of tide changes and the shifting of movements of waves hitting the beach with every storm and season change. However, no matter how crazy the waves crash along coastlines or how hard the riptides pull- there is always something beautiful in each day and with each encounter life places in front of you, you have an opportunity for greatness.

It all began nearly 30 years ago- being brought into this world by my father and loving mother- who shortly after I was born, developed symptoms of cancer and began her battle to survive. The first five years of my life consisted of this battle- with me being her daily ray of sunshine along with my older sister. Although I do not remember much, I do remember my mothers continuous love for life and her passion for caring for those around her- whether she knew them or not- she put everything she was going to the side to make the world a better place, daily. I frequently get told “you are just like your mother.” However, I feel I still strive to be half the woman she was on the daily basis. She may have lost the battle to cancer, but not in life.

After losing my mother, my family seemed to take a turmoil. My father struggled on the daily (and still does). I struggled in school- academically and socially. I was fortunate to have my dad, older sister, her now husband who came into my life when I was two, and my teachers and coaches. These individuals cared. They provided me additional help and support. It was never about needing to pass whatever test to make it to the next grade, but accepting my challenges and providing the basic care and love I needed to be better.

Looking back, I realize how quickly I took on the traits of my mother. Aside from being highly active in sports and leadership opportunities, I quickly found myself being the pillar and strength for people around me. I took advantage of any opportunity to help others- whether it was through a community service event, being on the phone or AOL Instant Messanger until 3am providing advice to a friend, or helping a random stranger in need- helping others became my fuel and drive in life. I recently got a tattoo of a lighthouse because I have been told that as people face dark times in their lives- they turn to me for “brightness” similar to lost boats in crazy ocean darkness, looking for a lighthouse for help and guidance.

Shortly after high school, after moving away from my home and my “comfort zone,” I began the true process of self-identity- which for me consisted of my realization of my sexual orientation. In high school, I juggled with the possibility of being gay, but always denied it and told myself hurtful things that evolved around the idea that guys didn’t think I was pretty enough for them to date me- or I was the weird, quirky one that didn’t always fit in. I developed severe anxiety and went through waves of depression- never seeking help and battling with these issues on my own.

It took me nearly ten years to fully accept my sexuality and decide I was done living two lives and lying to the ones I loved- and myself. I thought by “hiding” this aspect of my life – I was protecting them, but after seeing and hearing how accepting everyone has been- I realize I was only hurting them- and myself. After coming out, it felt as if the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders, that the walls that were preventing me from living my best life possible- were finally gone. Everyone’s acceptance opened my eyes even more to my ability to make a positive change in this world. Since this life changing decision, I have had the opportunity to be there more for people around me. I have had more students come to me in need and have witnessed more of them developing courage in their own personal lives.

I spent eight years of my life working at a YMCA in youth programs, have been a teacher the past four, and continuously strive for more opportunities to positive impact the people and community around me. I live and work in a smaller town in Washington state- about an hour outside of Seattle. I have recently been asked to participate in a school district movement to build equity and equality in our schools AND our community. In August I plan on beginning the training process to be a local volunteer EMT/Firefighter. I am continuously striving to improve my own health, fitness, and physical/mental strength. (The gym has become one of my best friends).

It takes one person to start a movement. It takes one person to make one person smile then it will hopefully bring a smile to another person’s face. A little love for one another can make the world a better place. At the end of the day, life throws you curveballs. Some people will stand at the plate and watch the ball pass and land directly in the catcher’s mitt. But I believe at taking the swing- taking the chance- the chance to make your life better, the chance to make other’s lives better, the chance to make a positive change in this crazy world.

Currently, I am in the best place I have ever been in my life. I am happy. I am strong. I am healthy. I am living my best life.

Story Submitted by Ashley