#SheWhoDaresProject – Ashley May

Chances are if you live in Claremore, or the surrounding areas, you will recognize Ashley May as the face of moreClaremore, ensuring that you don’t miss any happenings in the community.

“The original point of moreClaremore was to be a cohesive platform where one could go and find out all the latest happenings in town. We also wanted to give the “little guy” advertising opportunities that wouldn’t break the bank. We consider ourselves “connectors” in the community. We have had a lot of success connecting people to make their ideas come to fruition.”

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Being that connector, you’ll most generally find Ashley with a smile on her face, however, it hasn’t been all sunshine over the last year.

 “I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of this year, after my first mammogram. I was 38. I was fortunate that it was caught early, just a random fluke. I was shocked when I found out that the age for mammograms isn’t 40 anymore; it’s actually 35 now.  We have a following of 29k on moreClaremore, so with my boss’ blessing, I took to the site to tell my story and spread the word about early detection.”

Shocked to learn of her diagnosis, she knew it was her duty to educate others.

 “I figure God gave me a platform, so I might as well use it.”

These words are the mantra May uses to remind herself the power of sharing her story to emphasize the importance of early detection. When asked to give one piece of sound advice to ambitious women around the world, she simply states, “Get a mammogram!”

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Ashley is proud to surround herself with supportive women.  A couple of her leading ladies, and those she counts most influential are her mom, Dori, and her boss, Amy.

“My mom is one of my best friends, she’s always been there for me. She was a single mom for a while, and she has always supported my decisions.  Amy just exudes confidence and class, she’s not afraid to speak up for what she believes in, and she has taught me a lot about rolling with the punches and not letting life get you down.”

That “roll with the punches” attitude has led Ashley to step outside of her comfort zone, and embrace herself and her body by keeping up with a fitness routine.

“I’m almost 40 and I’m learning to be comfortable in my own skin. Women are under a lot of pressure to look a certain way, so that’s some of it. I feel like I’m finally coming into my own after the mess this last year has been; cancer and divorce together aren’t fun. Working to be fit, even though I have a long way to go, is something that I have control over. And I enjoy the camaraderie that comes with being with my girls at the gym. I also think it’s important to teach my kiddo that it’s important to be fit and healthy.

 

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Though it hasn’t always been easy, Ashley May has made the decision to stand strong and persevere. A mother, survivor, community leader, friend, and educator.  The qualities of a “She Who Dares” woman are truly exemplified.

Her favorite scripture?  Psalm 56:4, “In God I trust, I will not be afraid.”

Keep living fearless, sister. Shine on!

 

 

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Life Map

In my mind, there is a well-traveled road that leads from the highs and lows of my past, to the unknown that is my future.  Somewhere in the middle, in the present, is the only true resting place.  However, far too often it is the hardest place for me to stop.  The road sign pointing to the past seems to appeal in times of question and regret.  Times when I wonder if where I am is where I’m supposed to be, or if the wrong turn, years ago taken, forever paved the wrong road.  Yet, the one pointing in the direction of my future appeals to the excitement, the wondering of what is to come.  It grabs my anxiety by the hand, and becomes the truest of running buddies, sprinting me so fast towards the next chapter that I completely disregard the present.  I forget to stop and smell the roses, or, whatever it is they say.

We often times find ourselves talking about past experiences, past relationships, past decisions.  Sure, these things define us.  If we have a relationship that was bad, or difficult, or even good, but, just not the right timing, those people and those relationships still helped in creating the person we are now.  Alas, we probably shouldn’t just forget them all together, but, how much do we truly share, and continue to share in our future personal relationships?  We are supposed to be open books, right?  But, once the book has been read, how many more times are we supposed to read it?  Do we read, and highlight, and study, and go all book club with our girlfriends to determine every missing piece?  Or, does that in turn define that person as the person they were then, in that relationship, rather than the person they are now?  If we overcome those pieces of us, isn’t it almost like we really should be introducing ourselves as the people we are rather than the people we were?  I believe in sharing situations when habits are introduced that require explanation.  But, how much should the old us be present in the new?  Or, do we truly ever change?  I think so. Take the divorcee, the previously abused, the unfaithful, the cancer survivor, the one that grew up in poverty.  All these people changed into different versions of themselves, whether by choice, or by circumstance.  Some of them so broken that they fell into what felt like pieces on the floor, but, eventually put themselves back together; the same person, but different.  Stronger.  More determined. So, do these people continue to carry themselves as the newer version, placed back together, even sometimes noticeably…or do they continue to introduce themselves as the person before the heartbreak, the disease, or the wealth?  It gets sticky.

Flipping that around, what about those of us who live so far in the future that we forget to experience the now?  I’m guilty of being that person.  A lot.  More than I care to admit sometimes. I’m thirty one years old, never married, no kids, starting a completely new career.  Shouldn’t I at least have one of these things together?  Shouldn’t I have something so good at this point that someone wants to look at me with envy?  I’ve done everything right, so why am I still here?  Still stuck?  In looking back, I’ve been a different person in the past.  I’ve been split into many pieces on the floor, and, just as the others, I’ve overcome it.  Stronger. More determined.  More aware.  The word success is defined so differently by so many different people.  I know I’ve shard my thoughts on it before, but, I truly define success as the achievement of both time and value.  Time management.  Time for healthy relationships, healthy lifestyle, new experiences.  And I live that.  Right here in the now.

Whenever I stand back and look at my life, leaving aside the stress or confusion of the past, and the anxiety of the future, I realize that my present is pretty darn amazing.  One, in fact, that a lot of people would kill to have.  I hold a great relationship with all of my close family.  My “kids” might not yet be my own, but I get to be the world’s greatest aunt (what? I can say that!) to my nieces.  I get to be a good example, and a role model to my littles at school.  I have healthy personal relationships.  I’m confident in knowing that I care deeply for those that I love, and that I would never be a hesitation to call if they needed anything.  I take care of myself, I experience.

Life paints a weird map.  For me, there is a constant back and forth.  Even in knowing that the present is good, the past and the future often times empty my tank.  Maybe finding the amount of “vacation” time we are allowed in each of the two is the true answer.  Or, maybe there’s not one.  Despite it all, I choose to be happy in traveling my road.

Value Savings Account

“What you value, you invest in…”

Have you ever really thought about that statement?  Though unknowingly I seem to hold it in high regards, I’ve never really had it placed right in front of me, or thoroughly thought about the things I value.  Somehow I stumbled upon a guy on Facebook, giving a bit of a rant about buying flowers at the grocery store.  I was just about to shut the video off when he shared that statement.  It caught my attention.  I thought, wow, powerful.  And so true.

If you look up value, in a nutshell it means that someone or something is held in high regards to you, they are deserving, important, or worthy of your time.  So, I started thinking about the things that I value, and truly have had to question just how much of an investment I make in them.

For instance, I value God, and my relationship with Him dearly.  But, do I invest it that value as much as I should?  Not entirely.

I value my body.  But, do I invest in my taking care of it, feeding it the proper nutrients, sticking to exercise and fitness?  Not entirely.

I value my mental stability, but, do I invest in paying attention to the things that are causing me pain, or the outlets that I am letting interfere.  Not entirely.

I value my friends and my family, but do I invest enough time in checking in, following up, checking on their health and their mental stability?  Not entirely.

So, why?  Why is it so hard to truly invest in the people and things we value.  In looking at my greatest values, the common pattern is that everything in some form is a relationship.  Whether it be with myself, or others, there is that common connection.  And what is even more terrifying is that I tend to get very upset or frustrated with those included in said relationships, whenever they do not appear to  invest in my value enough.  When I feel unloved, unnoticed, or not valued, I become the ugly crying girl in those generic TV movies.  Yet, not only am i playing the ugly crying girl, but, in realizing my lack of investment, I’m also playing the part of the villain.

Sometimes, it seems, that more investment is applied in noticing the things that are not happening in our lives or relationships, rather than focusing on the investment of the things that can, and are in fact, meant to grow and gain interest.  It’s not pretty, but, my “Value Savings Account” tends to be a give and take process more than the give and grow.   For instance, let’s say I have the perfect day.   Everything goes in the way that I have envisioned, I wear a smile, and my valued crown, and drop some pretty pennies in my account.  Though in theory, there should be gain from this, it so often seems that one bad day brings me to the bank to empty the account.  This is not how life is supposed to work, my friends.   Why do we decrease our own value based on the reactions…or “not reactions” of those around us?

My “Value Savings Account,” belongs to me.  Yours, belongs to you.  Do not let the ugliness of this world steal from your account.   If we can’t value ourselves, the discipline that we need to value others is going to be nonexistent.

Invest in yourself enough that there is no way you can fail in valuing those someones or somethings around you.

 

 

She Who Dares, Succeeds.

“In your chest there is a compass, in your blood there is a calling, and in your head there is a vision, you called that ‘the dream’ and leavins’ part of it, if you didn’t you might never know..”

Wednesday, August 8th.  10am.

I’m sitting here at my dining room table, still in my pajamas, a cup of coffee to my left,  and my partner in crime cat, Ezra, to my right, staring curiously as I type.  Lori McKenna’s newest record, The Tree, playing in the background. (Above lyric provided from a record favorite, “The Way Back Home”)

It’s so weird, I should be at work.  I should be at my desk in a newly promoted position, with a pretty title, and a pretty workplace, and comfortable setting. But, I’m not.  I’m here, in my dining room.  I guess you could say I’m enjoying the last of my “kind of first summer” as a school teacher.  Constantly questioning if I have made the right choice.

How did I get here?

Several months ago I started praying for a change.  I was never specific, because in being quite honest, I didn’t know what kind of change I was needing.  I was in a new position that I had worked extremely hard for, nearly six years with the company, always trying something new to showcase that I could do more.  Things were pretty great with my family and friends, a new niece brought into the family, full of life, and lots of love.  I unexpectedly starting dating someone new, and things seemed to actually be flowing as they should.  But, something was just off.  In the midst of all the greatness around me, I felt myself often times feeling so…empty, for lack of better wording.  The past was often creeping up on me, terrible things that have happened to myself, or my family.  Missing people.  Missing being young and free.  I was becoming mean.  Hateful.  Hard to deal with. I couldn’t even stand myself a lot of the time.  It sounds dramatic, and it’s hard to share, because people often times think just that, that I’m sharing some dramatized version of myself for the attention, or the feedback, or whatever else it is that people assume. Should I see a shrink?  Take some happy pills?  I don’t know.   But, at the end of the day, all I knew to do was pray.  And guys, I’m kind of bad at praying.  That’s an admission too.  I sometimes get so caught up in the “routines” of it that I forget that the best prayers are not necessarily before bed and when waking up, but, in the car on your way to work, in the gym, at your desk, in the shower, and so on.

“Lord, whatever I need, whatever I’m missing, whatever I’m not hearing, or seeing, please show it to me. Whatever I need to fill this void, whatever change I need to feel like happy Holly again, show it to me.”

That was it, that was all I had.

Of course, going from a medical records supervisor to an elementary school teacher wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.  So, when I got an unexpected call, it took me a minute to figure out that maybe this was the change.   The why took a moment to figure out.  But, a couple things came to mind; I’ve always wanted to help people, this is helping the utter most important people, kids, the future.  I’ve also never been able to rid myself of a traveling soul, a gypsy spirit.  Having an office job makes it hard to be spontaneous and follow the trails when twelve months out of the year you are confined to an office chair. I want to write more, write a book, expand this blog, but, at the end of the every day, my mind was so tired that the last thing I wanted to do was log on to a computer again. My biggest life goal has always been to be a great wife, one who puts dinner on the table every night, and keeps a clean house.  A stay at home mom, one who doesn’t have to miss out on her kids milestones.   I’m neither yet a wife nor a mother, but, with some thinking, I realized that when that time comes, this profession allows me to at least have that kept house, and be home with future children during those summer months.  To not have to feel the guilt of going on vacations because you are leaving more work for someone else at your job.  And, my travel and exploring and writing about those experiences until those days come will certainly be more often.

This change was like God putting the compass in my hand, telling me that I must first follow this direction if I want to continue to the future that I have kept in my heart, even at the times that it didn’t seem possible.

I’ve had a few fights with the devil this last week.  Overwhelmed with worry, anxiety, questioning myself.   But, no way mister, not today.

Am I terrified?  You better believe it!

But, as I always promote with all you other ladies….

She who dares succeeds….right?

 

 

 

#ShewhoDaresProject: Jenee Fleenor

Chances are if you’re a fan of country music at all, Jenee Fleenor is a gal you’ve seen or heard, whether you realize it or not.  You may have seen her on stage over the last decade, playing with the likes of Terri Clark, Martina McBride, and Blake Shelton. Or perhaps you have heard her fiddlin’ on the radio on hits by Jon Pardi, Rascal Flatts, Reba, and a lengthy list that continues on. jeneefiddle

Though Jenee grew up playing classical music in the cozy town of Springdale, Arkansas, her sights were always set on Nashville, TN.  “I got bit by the country music bug when I was around 5 years old. I would hear my dad playing Bob Wills records and fiddle music around the house and I started to develop an ear for it.”  While hearing her fiddle come through the microphone during her first studio visit at eleven years old, Jenee grabbed hold and knew that music is what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

This road to success was paved greatly by influential women surrounding her along the way. Each placing a stepping stone down to the next.

   “I have a good, good Momma and I owe so much to her.  She’s the one that was running me to lessons, sitting in every one of my lessons until I was about twelve years old, making sure I practiced an hour a day, making sure I went to church, and getting me involved in church choirs and orchestras.”

That foundation helped grow a desire in Jenee to affirm her Christian beliefs.  She still credits Anita Stewart to leading her to the Lord.  “I knew there was something missing in my life and it was sweet Anita who prayed with me when I was eleven years old to accept Christ into my life.  It has been the best decision I have ever made.”   This relationship has given her the direction to reach out to other ambitious women, looking for a way to pave their own paths.  When asked to give one piece of sound advice to these fellow dreamers, she quotes Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”  And let me be the first to tell you, it’s working for her!

Following this advice in the process of following her dreams has led  Jenee to some pretty phenomenal women in the music industry. Women who have not only become career idols, but also forever friends.

“Terri Clark gave me my first big country gig when I was 19 years old and really new to Nashville.  I learned so much about performing and how to entertain a crowd by watching Terri. We all know she’s an amazing singer, but she really knows how to entertain a crowd and hold their attention by her humor and amazing stage presence. I’m so happy to call her my friend…we spent a lot of fun years on the road together.”

Finding her comfort on stage with Terri led to more opportunities to follow.

“I played with Martina McBride for around 6 years and it was such an amazing experience.  I had never played arenas with a headliner act like Martina…and to watch her perform those epic songs every night was so fun.  I learned a lot about singing those high, high harmonies (whew!) which stretched me vocally…and I didn’t play much guitar until I joined her band so it stretched me musically as well.  It was fun to hang with her on a personal level too.  She is such a sweetheart!”

Though she has never met her outside of the world of Facebook, she also credits Wanda Vick as an influential woman in her life.  “Wanda plays fiddle (and dobro, and guitar, and mandolin, and and and) and back in the day she was on TNN a lot. She’s such a fabulous musician, and she would always smile when the camera panned over to her…and that’s always stuck with me.”

And it’s a good thing, since Jenee is not only seeing that airtime with the various artists she performs with, but, also on TV with  her current boss, Blake Shelton, on NBC’s The Voice.  “I’ve been playing in the staff band of The Voice part time for 4-5 years now, thanks to Blake for getting that ball rolling.”jenee3

Would you believe me if I said there was more?  The list of this woman’s big breaks and milestones just goes on and on.  Including playing the Grand ole Opry too many times to count.   Recording and touring with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, and playing with her heroes,  such as Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, and Ricky Skaggs.  Even when she’s not seen, she’s heard continuously behind the scenes.

“Now my big dream of being a studio musician is really coming into fruition. I’ve done a good bit of studio work in the past, but never heard my fiddle on country radio until the past couple of years. It still freaks me out a little because it takes me back to that moment when I was eleven years old dreaming of hearing my fiddle on those country radio stations.”

   Jenee Fleenor is just a breath of fresh air, reminding us that little girls dreams do come true.  That we can be friends with our heroes with a little faith, hard work and determination. And above all that if we can dare it, we can do it!

Currently you can find Jenee on the road with Blake Shelton on his “Country Music Freaks” tour.

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Window Shopping

Sometimes writing is hard.  Not necessarily the act itself, but more so the idea that maybe no one really cares all that much about what you have to say.  I’ve been at a bit of standstill lately when it comes to feeling inspired to really share with you guys. I’ve been working on some projects quietly, for myself, for the time being.  I’ve been writing as an act of therapy to get through some things, and as discipline, to learn some things, and to grow.  But, truth be told, I miss it, the sharing part…and I miss you, the few of my loyal readers out there.

Do you ever get to those spots in life in which you just don’t feel like you are inspiring, or all that influential to anyone?  Or maybe that you are seen, but, only from afar, through a window.  People stop, they stare in briefly, but, then they just continue their shopping, with no real desire to look at you any closer.  I pass no judgement here, I’m quite the window shopper myself, often staring from afar.  Upon analyzing myself further, I questioned why am I a window shopper? Pretending we’re talking about material things rather than people for a moment, most times when I window shop, there’s a few possibilities as to why I don’t look closer, or try it on, or ‘get to know it’ if you will.  The first reason being the obvious, I probably can’t afford it.  Followed by, it probably wouldn’t look good on me, or what would other people think if I wore it?  With those thoughts in mind, let’s go back to people.  I think I can relate, right?  Let’s look.

“I can’t afford it.”

Obviously we aren’t talking about the Benjamins here, but i think we can all relate to having those moments of meeting people and thinking, “they are out of my league.”  We don’t approach people because we don’t think that our company would be of any interest to them.  Flip it around, people looking through the glass may think the same about us.  I’m an example kind of person, so to put things into perspective, here’s a little story; In college, my major goal was just to get in, get out, and move to Nashville.  I had big dreams, and big plans.  I didn’t realize the way that this mindset was affecting the perception of those around me.  Of people that I wanted to be my friends.  It wasn’t until years later, when one of the friends I had made through college, but, had only gotten to know better afterwards, told me something, that i really understood.  She said, “Everyone always just thought you were snobby, or wanted to keep to yourself, we thought you just wanted to do your own thing.”  The past is the past, but, it does haunt me a bit now to realize all the missed opportunities that we’re probably there.  But, on both ends, we were all just window shopping.  Neither party wanting to fully approach because we thought the other wasn’t approachable.  I’m glad to be getting to reconnect with some of these people years later, with a more confident mindset, and getting to know them better.  Sometimes it’s fun just to try on the fur, even when you think you can’t afford it.

“It probably wouldn’t look good on me, what would other people think?”

We’ll stick with the fur here, because it’s a pretty good analogy.  I’ve always been terrified to wear fur, for the two things mentioned above. What if people think you’re trying too hard?  What if they don’t think it seems like your style?  It’s kind of the same thing with people.  There’s no better example here than the dating pool when you’re 30 years old. When you hit this age, and your ultimate goal is marriage, there comes a time when you have to stop window shopping.  You try on the fur, and the leather, and the wool, and so on. And people start saying, “that doesn’t seem like your type,” or “since when is red your color, i thought you liked black?”  And you don’t know if you should be shopping at the Goodwill or Bloomingdales, and all of a sudden you just don’t want to shop at all. But, you know you have to, because, well…you really need a “coat.”   It’s at this point that you step back and you have to block everyone else out, because, it’s not your friends, or your sisters, or your parents that are going to be wearing the coat.  You don’t stop at the window, because you have to go inside and get to know things a little better, to realize if you think they’ll keep you warm through the winter. That’s hard sometimes because we treasure the opinions of our loved ones, but, we also have to remember what makes us happy, because, at the end of the day, they’ll love us either way.

So you see, if we stand outside the window, we just never really know.  And what we have to remember, is that if we try the coat on, and we don’t like it, no one says we have to keep it or wear it everyday.  But, if we never try it on, or make ourselves available, we might miss out on the comfort and the warmth.  And that gives me chills.

Until next time…

 

 

ROOTS

When your Pastor and Madea are preaching the same word, girl, you know you gotta listen.

 

Saturday morning one of my dear friends tagged me in this video of Madea’s relationship advice.  I’ve definitely been going through lots of “leaves” lately, lots of people that I’ve come to realize real quickly were only meant for a short season.  This message hit home with me.  Even more incredible, on Sunday morning, my Pastor quoted this exact same thing.  I know this was a true word that I really needed to hear.  Not only to hear, but to receive.

“Easier said than done.”

Those are the words that  come to mind when I first hear things like this. But, really, it should be that easy.  When we hear it and we receive it, that’s where it should both start and stop.

START moving on.  Receiving the word.  Calling up your “roots” people.

STOP looking back.  Sending those messages. Making those calls.  Leaves and branches can serve a great purpose.  They can be pretty and strong for awhile, but, when the time comes for them to blow away, you have to let them.

Let them go.

 

“Listen, I put everybody that comes into my life in the category of a tree. Some people, are like leaves on a tree: the wind blow, they’re over here. They’re unstable. The wind blow, they over there. The weather changes, they wither up and die they’re gone. And that’s alright. That’s some people; most people in the world are like that, they’re just there to take from the tree. That’s all they do, take from the tree and give shade now and again. That’s all they can do. But don’t get mad at people like that, that’s who they are, they’ll never be anything but a leaf. That’s what they were put on this earth to be a leaf. Some people, are like a branch on that tree. You gotta be careful with them branches too, because they’ll fool you. They’ll get there and make you think they’re a good friend and that they’re strong, but the minute you step out there on them? They’ll break and leave you high and dry. But if you find you two or three people in your life that are like the roots at the bottom of that tree? You are truly blessed cause them the kind of people that ain’t going NO WHERE. They ain’t worried about being seen, don’t nobody have to know that they know you, they ain’t got to know what they’re doing for you, but if those roots weren’t there that tree couldn’t live. You understand? A tree can have a hundred million branches, but only a few roots down at the bottom to make sure it gets everything it needs. I’m telling you honey, when you get you some roots, hold on to them. The rest of em? Just let them go. Let folks go.” -Madea/Tyler Perry

 

So often in this world, we get so lost in trying to fill our tree with branches and leaves that we only end up stepping on the roots.  Paying no mind to the thing that holds us together. We envy the branch with ten thousand leaves.  We start looking at that one branch with all the leaves that we forget to really stand back and stare at our own tree, to see that our few thick branches are far more important than those ten thousand leaves.   It’s just the society we live in.  But, we must start opening our eyes, stop taking count, and start paying attention.  To the important things.  To the unseen.  To the blessings.

Life is hard sometimes.  But, lucky for us, we have the strongest root of all.  I think you might know Him.

Until next time..