My greatest bliss is when I’m thousands of miles away in a faraway land experiencing the culture, people, connection and exposure that only travel brings. I am in complete bliss hearing and dissecting the stories of people in diverse environments. The greatest of all I receive while traveling is gratitude. Travel broadens you and instills a sense of gratefulness. Gratefulness for who you are and what you’re blessed with. It recharges my batteries and empowers me to continue to change the fabric of the future of women all over the globe. Learn more about Alechia at @alechiareese and my website is www.alechiareese.com.
By: Heather Phillips
“My friend, please pray for me. I had a biopsy this morning, there’s a highly suspicious mass. I’m okay but feeling a little overwhelmed right now.”
That’s the message I sent to my friend, Rev. Romal Tune almost a year ago and here was his reply:
“I will definitely be praying for you. I already know that all will be well. I sense that. Be encouraged, Heather. Positive thoughts and confidence. Do not worry. Rejoice in The Lord always. Give God thanks now for the victory you want and anticipate. Bold faith.”
Bold Faith. The second I heard that phrase, it took root in my soul and has been my mantra ever since.
While awaiting the biopsy results there was nothing, medically, I could do. I talked to my close friends and family, I prayed, I walked in the woods, and I visualized healing. I pictured myself as light, with a dark spot where the tumor was growing. I imagined my light overwhelming the mass; I pictured healthy cells blanketing the mutated cells and snuffing them out. During one of these visualizations it occurred to me that these are just cells. This is just a body. Even if the cancer killed all of my healthy cells, it could never get to the essence of *me*. My light is my light regardless of what happens to my cells.
When I realized that, I had an a-ha moment and made a spiritual link between what was happening to me now and everything I’ve learned about God in 41 years. God reaches out to us constantly, even in our brokenness. Cancer can’t get to the essence of who I am, but God’s love and grace can. I started to picture God reaching out to me and peeling back this shell of a body to reveal my true self. That night, I had a brainstorm… I wanted to have my body painted with this idea of God reaching out to me, revealing my Spirit, and me responding with love, gratitude, and Bold Faith.
I immediately thought of artist Maggie Spaloss and photographer Jenn Alcantara as the visionaries that could capture what I was feeling. Remarkably, not only did both of these busy moms immediately respond with full support, we were in the studio just four days after the initial idea. I sent them a description of my thoughts with the primary theme being Bold Faith. I met with Maggie once prior to the shoot to talk about how to actually execute this image in my head. Somehow, she was able to take those ideas and turn it into something more beautiful than I was ever able to imagine.
God’s funny, we think we’re going one way, then bloop, we’re headed somewhere entirely different. I don’t know what lies ahead for me. But, I do know that God has shown me time and time again, that if I just stop trying to steer from the passenger’s seat, life is a beautiful, exciting and unexpected ride. Now, I’m going to take a deep breath, let go of the wheel, and live.
Marta Bota is a freelance makeup artist whose career has spanned over two decades. Her work has included television, fashion, bridal makeup, special events, and makeup lessons. She has been kind enough to sit down with us and share her journey.
Bliss: What is your passion?
Bota: My passion is creative expression, whether it is through the art of makeup, writing, or dance. I feel alive when I express myself creatively. I am also really passionate about inspiring others, especially women, by sharing my own struggles and experiences.
Bliss: And how did you find that passion?
Bota: I was shy as a child and young person. I wasn’t comfortable expressing myself verbally. I started drawing, painting, and writing and found that these forms of expression gave me an outlet to express who I am as a person. These forms of expression started opening the floodgates for me to come out of my shyness. For me, artistic expression has always been therapeutic. I come from an artistic family. My mother was gifted with her hands in many different ways. My siblings are also artistic. I guess it’s in the blood that being creative would be my passion.
Bliss: Tell me about the “road to getting there.” Was it hard or easy?
Bota: I am happy where I am in my life and within myself. I know who I am and what makes me tick, what drives and motivates me. Life in general is not easy. Like most, I have had my struggles and obstacles along the way. Those struggles and obstacles, learning to overcome them and to cope with the hardships, that’s what really teaches you about yourself. When it came to my career, I have followed my passion. Once I decided that I would be an artist, I took the necessary steps to get the formal training, knocked on doors, and paid my dues like we all have to. It wasn’t easy, but my career has been an interesting and exciting one. It has allowed me to travel, to meet world leaders, and to work with some of the most fascinating people in the entertainment, political, and fashion fields. My office is in a different place every day, and my work feels like play, so it has been a fun and worthwhile journey!
Bliss: What are some of the challenges you’ve had?
Bota: As far as my career, as in any career, there are many challenges and dues to be paid. I had to work long hours for little to no pay. I had to get hands-on experience and would get a lot of doors shut in my face, but I was determined. I had no television makeup experience whatsoever prior to working for CNN. That didn’t stop me from contacting CNN in New York on a weekly basis to ask if there was any work available. It took two years of me harassing the HR department before they decided to give me a shot. I knew no one in the industry, so I had to make all my connections myself and prove that I could handle the talent and pressure of live television. I was determined to have a career in makeup artistry as well as in many other mediums. This took a lot of time building a resume and body of work that would make me marketable in the different areas that I was interested in. I still hustle like crazy today, and that actually keeps me excited and motivated.
I’ve also had many challenges in my personal life. As a young woman in my teens, I was date raped. This happened before date rape was really talked about openly. He attacked me violently. I never reported the attack because, in my immature mind, I blamed myself for having let it happen. I did try to fight him off, but I eventually gave in because I was afraid of the outcome. He could have killed me, and I never talked to anyone about it. I felt shame and suffered in silence for many years and, for long afterward, I suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was unaware of why I had such anxiety. I developed an eating disorder during my youth. It was after my rape; the two could have been connected, but I will never be sure. Thankfully, with treatment, I overcame these mental health issues.
Another challenge of mine was raising a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD brings on lots of obstacles for a child and, in turn, it can be difficult on the entire family. It affects a child academically, socially, and in just about every aspect of their life. I sought help and worked very hard with him throughout his childhood, trying many different treatment options. I wanted him to reach his full potential and have opportunities to be successful in his life, especially as he approached adulthood. ADHD is a complex disorder, and there are many ways it affects people. I learned all that I could about it and worked to give him the help, support, and love that he deserved. It wasn’t easy, but all the hard work was worth it.
Some of the other challenges that I faced were my parents’ illnesses and deaths. My father passed away from myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare type of disease that prohibits bone marrow from producing blood cells. In my father’s case, he was unable to produce platelets. From diagnosis to death, the illness lasted two years. It was difficult losing my father. A few years later, my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. She was young, only in her sixties, and had always been healthy. Her symptoms appeared suddenly and progress rapidly. I served as her caretaker, which was a difficult role because of our close relationship. My son was just becoming a teenager and facing challenges of his own. Juggling between being a mother to a teenage son and also being a fulltime caretaker to someone you love, who is dying of a fatal disease, is not easy. My mother lost her battle within six months and passed away at my home on Christmas morning 2006.
Bliss: Was there a point in your life where you felt broken?
Bota: Yes, I think we can all feel overwhelmed at times, and that can wear you down and make you feel broken. I would say that I lost some faith in myself after I was raped, as I felt that I allowed it to happen to me. Many survivors of sexual assault can feel this way. It also caused me to lose faith in the opposite gender, and I feared dating for quite some time. I felt a sense of fear and hopelessness. I tried my best to move forward without realizing that it was affecting every area of my life, every cell in my body. I was on a self-destructive path and didn’t even realize it. I developed anorexia nervosa and then bulimia. That’s when I felt just about as broken as you can feel.
When I was raped, and kept it to myself and chose to cope with my own pain in order to spare my family. It forced me to face my trauma alone, which was difficult.
Bliss: What happened? How did you shift from that place to an emotional state where you were able to pursue your dreams?
Bota: Writing poetry has always helped me express myself; it’s been like journaling for me. Writing about my life’s experiences is very therapeutic. Poetry is a beautiful form of writing and really soothes the soul, whether I’m reading poetry or writing it. Being creative has always been a way for me to express myself and art, in any form, has been a saving grace through all of my life’s challenges. As a result, I was led into a profession that allowed me to express my creativity. Even during my difficulties, my work has helped me through as a creative outlet. I believe it always kept me centered and in touch with myself so, even though I experienced a period of feeling broken, I was able to come out of it because I never fully lost touch with my inner being. I think a lot of creative people feel this way, that their creative spirit helps get them through. I also sought professional treatment for my PTSD and eating disorder, and that saved my life.
Also, after I was raped, I became more aware of my surroundings, to always trust my gut. It made me smarter. When you go through painful experiences and get to the other side, and you allow healing to take place, this makes you realize just how strong you are. Whether it is a violation, the loss of a loved one, or any other challenges, when you survive and make the decision to be positive and thrive, that is what truly makes you stronger. I approach all my challenges with this conscious thought process of learning and growing from the experience.
Bliss: How do you define being fearless?
Bota: Being fearless does not mean being unafraid. We all have fears; that is part of being human. Being fearless is about facing your fears head on, taking on the challenges, and conquering them. Knowing that you can walk through the storm and come out on the other side stronger. That’s how I define fearless.
Bliss: How has your life experience changed you?
Bota: All of our life experiences change us; that’s the beauty of life. As you move through life, your experiences give you a better understanding of yourself and others. Each experience I have been through has helped shape me into the woman I am. We are all works in progress, as long as we are open to change. Becoming a mother twenty years ago was the most life altering experience for me. Once you become a parent, it is no longer about you. You learn to sacrifice in ways you never did before, and you are more conscious of the world around you and how it will affect your child. I tapped into my nurturing side, and that helped me have the experience of selfless giving that prepared me for the role of caretaker to my dying parents. Being a sexual assault victim and survivor has given me the insight and compassion to help other sexual assault victims. All these experiences have given me more depth, understanding, compassion, and insight. I’m grateful for that.
Bliss: What was important to you that is no longer important?
Bota: In my younger years, without fully realizing it, getting approval and acceptance from others was more important to me than it was for me to accept myself. Approval is no longer the most important thing to me. I am happy within myself. I am not perfect; I am perfectly flawed, but I no longer need the validation of others to feel my own worth. I know what I am capable of, and I know my own inner strength, beauty, wisdom, and value. It’s not that I don’t care what others think about me, we all want to feel some level of acceptance from others, but I have realized that it is more important to love and accept yourself.
Bliss: What have you made space for that you didn’t before?
Bota: With my son now grown and thriving, I have more time. When you have more time, there is space in your life for things that fulfill you. I find that I feel fulfilled by giving back to the community. My son struggled with ADHD, which can be very challenging and carries real consequences when not addressed or properly treated. I learned so much about the disorder through the experience of raising him and, as a result, I was also diagnosed. Now, I am making the time to help families that struggle with ADHD and other related issues. I recently competed for the Mrs. DC America 2014 Pageant, and my platform was ADHD Awareness, Diagnosis, and Treatment. I am an ambassador for a national nonprofit organization called CHADD (Children and Adults with ADHD). They educate, advocate, and support individuals with ADHD. I am an ADHD champion on their website, and I have started an online network on Facebook to help support individuals struggling with ADHD. My network is called The ADHD Help and Hope Network. I offer research-based information and resources for hope, inspiration, and the many different treatment options available to individuals and families. I am planning on continuing my work on my platform, even though I did not win the crown and title of Mrs. DC America 2014. It is very fulfilling for me to help others
Bliss: What are your long term plans to inspire girls and women?
Bota: I try to be a positive role model in my life, in my work, and in my community. I work with girls and women of all ages in my business. I teach makeup lessons and, during my lessons, I always talk to women about having positive self-esteem. I teach them about skin care, beauty, and feeling great about their physical appearance, but that is only part of what I do. We discuss ways that they can really embrace themselves and feel positive and beautiful from the inside out. Also, I talk about issues that women deal with and how women can overcome their struggles. My own struggles serve as a model, and I speak about how I have overcome such challenges as dealing with my rape and eating disorder. We live in a society that puts a lot of pressure on women and how they look. If they feel they don’t fit society’s ideal of beauty, that lofty standard can really wear on women’s self-esteem. I try to inspire women to embrace their own natural and unique beauty while understanding that each of us is beautiful in our own special way. Women tend to be their own worst critics. I see this every day when I work with clients. Even the most beautiful models can have insecurities. When clients sit in my chair, bare-faced, it can make them feel vulnerable. I start to hear the complaints the moment we get started: “My nose is too large.” “How can I make my eyes look less wrinkled?” and so on. I want my clients to learn to relax and feel comfortable within their own skin. Before I begin the makeup transformation process, I ask them to think about what it is that they love about their face, their favorite feature or features, and I take the positive approach to beauty. This helps my clients develop a different mindset when it comes to their own natural beauty. The Mrs. DC America Pageant I recently participated in is a celebration of women in the Washington, DC metro area who are beautiful, accomplished, and successful in family, business, and community. I am 52 years old. To have been selected to participate in a pageant where the ages range from 18 to 55 and a pageant that celebrates a woman’s well roundedness is very inspiring. Having never competed in pageants before and with a tendency to shy away from the spotlight, I put myself out there. I felt it was a great opportunity to inspire women and girls of all ages. I was given the opportunity to have an advocacy platform for ADHD Awareness, Diagnosis, and Treatment and to make a difference in the community. And I wanted to show women that you should not fear aging, that you can be beautiful at any age! This definitely inspires. I also continue to inspire girls and women by actively being involved in community projects and supporting others in their own projects. I plan on continuing to do so for the rest of my life.
Bota: People who are wise, people who are strong, people who are creative, people who are genuine and truly care to make a difference. I like to surround myself with positive people who like to inspire others as well. It sort of feeds each other’s passions, so to speak.
Bliss: What makes you afraid?
Bota: I am most fearful of losing my good health. I have always been a healthy person with an active lifestyle. As I get older and continuing losing family members, I just don’t take my health for granted. I do everything within my control to have a healthy mind, body, and spirit, but I know that sometimes these things are out of one’s control. It is my biggest fear.
Bliss: What makes you happy?
Bota: What makes me happiest is spending time with people that I love and care about. I love being with loved ones. Friends and family. Connecting, engaging, and enjoying one another.
Bliss: What makes you feel vulnerable?
Bota: Losing people that I love.
Bliss: What makes you laugh out loud?
Bota: Funny stories and pranks! I was quite the prankster in my youth and can still be! When I get together with a few of my New York friends, we can still manage to make each other laugh with a good prank here or there! You know who you are! Hahaha!
By: Natalie Lewis
Motherhood, hands down has to be one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs I have ever done. There are no annual appraisals, raises or vacation time earned nor is there anything called sick time in the role of mommy hood. Motherhood is not for the weary or the person who gives up at the first sight of spit up, mustard colored poop and using a bulb syringe to decongest a runny nose.
When a woman says she is a mother, what she is really saying is I am Xena the Warrior princess. This warrior’s day may start at the crack dawn and is filled with the hustle and bustle of laundry, errands, cooking and even an additional full time job. Whew, all in a day’s work. In all of these hurried ventures do you take the time to ask yourself who am I?
As a busy mother it is easy to forget who you are. Yet, it is a question that needs to be answered because it is the anchor and motivation for why we as mothers do what we do day in and day out. Knowing the answer to this question makes life more seamless, peaceful and intentional. It took me all of 33 years to finally have the ability to answer this question and for me, it solidified my very existence and being. I realized that I am a divine expression of God, chosen to fulfill a purpose that only I could do. My purpose is to leave this world better than I found it and raise strong, independent, character filled little woman. Once I realized that being a mother was so much more than the daily hum drum and I was meant for greatness in every area of my life; it was as if I assumed the role of a Goddess and Xena the Warrior Princess.
So when you are in the trenches of laundry, loaded down in the carpool lane with whiny kids, realize you have been chosen to rear our future generation. Easier said than done. Right? Remember to always come back to your breathing. One of my yoga instructors constantly reminds me to always go back to your breath, when your breathing is calm so is your mind. Return to your breath in the midst of chaos and remember you are a divine expression of God called to do one of the most important jobs known to man. Give yourself love and encourage yourself when you need it. Be your own best cheerleader when you need it the most.