Category: Daily Life

Strength in Differences

Friendship can look very different than you would expect it to. Though similarities draw many people together, differences between us can do the same. People who are different from one another can be just as close as those who are incredibly similar. Today, divisiveness is prevalent since we must physically be apart to protect those we love and ourselves. It is important to remind ourselves of the love and connections we have in these trying times. Strength in Differences is a ten-part project featuring portraits and interviews with friends who are close despite their differences. In it, we at Rising Rock Media, aim to look at togetherness while staying six feet apart.

(Written piece by Charles Bledsoe.)

Sandi Bledsoe and Julie Dennis have an unbreakable friendship that will last the rest of their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has separated many loved ones, but not Julie and Sandi.

The unbreakable friendship between Julie and Sandi has lasted for over 15 years. Through the years Julie has faced adversity in her fight with MS (Multiple Sclerosis), but through it she has maintained a mindset that makes her invincible. Julie’s strength comes from her faith in God and striving for better health through her diet intake.

A little over a year ago Sandi gave up her quick and easy commute to work to move in with Julie. Julie’s husband, a truck driver, is often gone for weeks at a time. Sandi holds Julie accountable in her positivity and drive to increase the movement in her legs. They spend their weekends in their pool doing intense leg and core strength training in hopes that Julie will walk with a walker soon. Their love for each other and their ability to keep each other uplifted is truly inspiring and heartwarming.

It just goes to show, when you give someone kindness and constant positive support, they feel like they are special and strong. Julie never lets her disability change the way she loves and shows kindness to everyone she comes in contact with. Sandi is the ultimate giver of love and time. Together their friendship can bring tears to anyone’s eyes.

Next time you think about helping someone you see struggling, don’t think about it. Be more like Julie and Sandi, and do everything out of love—especially caring for others.

(Written piece by Tierra Web.)

There are approximately 7.5 billion people that exist in the world. Of those 7.5 billion people there are no two people on this planet that are exactly the same. 

There is something distinctively unique about every individual that walks this earth that sets them apart from their peers. For Alexis Hodge and Moriyah Wimbley this distinct characteristic happens to be the shade of their skin.

Walking through life together for almost  a whole decade, Alexis and Moriyah have lived through some of the same life experiences. Although the experience was the same, the impact it had on each of their lives was completely different.

For Alexis growing up as a biracial female in the heart of the south, discrimination based on her gender and the color of her skin has had a huge impact on the person she is today.

At the age of five Alexis had her first encounter with the cruel act of racism. She was told by an uneducated little girl that because her skin was dark there was no way her mother could be white. As a five-year-old little girl this encounter left Alexis feeling confused and she was constantly second-guessing why the color of her skin set her apart.

Hodge said, “If I could go back and give my younger self any piece of advice, I would encourage her to love the skin that she is in and that the discrimination would only get worse as she got older.” 

Moriyah Wimbley had a similar experience in the first grade, but she was discriminated against by her elementary school teacher. At six years old Moriyah, along with several of her African-American peers, was told that she would never make it anywhere in life. The same teacher would constantly make fun of Moriyah because of how big her lips were.

Wimbley said, “Hearing such derogatory things about yourself at six years old really has an impact on the way you view yourself in life.”

Unfortunately for both Moriyah and Alexis this would not be their first encounter with racism and discrimination. 

Wembley sail,“Being discriminated against made me feel like I had something to prove. I wanted to prove to my first grade teacher that regardless of the color of my skin I will be something great in life.” 

Although discrimination is something that these friends have experience most of their lives, The impact discrimination has had in both of their lives has resonated in a different way. 

(Written piece by Luke Dammann.)

Two life-long friends prove that no matter what you share in common, the uniqueness of one another is what truly strengthens friendships.

Hannah Dammann and Summer Ghaffari, a sophomore and junior in college respectively, have been friends for as long as they can remember, and both share a bond that truly exemplifies the word “friendship”.

Hannah and Summer first met when they were in elementary school, as they both attended the same church. 

By simply observing these two “peas in a pod,” you might conclude that they have everything in common, but that is far from the truth.“Our friendship makes no sense,” Hannah proclaims, “But differences make our friendship what it is. But it just feels like we really needed to be together and connected and we’ve stayed connected through everything. I couldn’t see it any other way”.

The difference in the backgrounds of these two young women alone is striking, with Hannah being raised in Tennessee her whole life, and Summer being from a different country entirely.

Summer is originally from Russia and was adopted when she was five years old, living in Memphis for a while, until finally ending up in Chattanooga.

“Everyone’s always wondering how that was for me, because I lived in Russia until I was five”, Summer says, explaining her experiences and the adoption process, “It’s still part of me you know, I still have memories of Russia. I remember a lot of snow and the orphanage I stayed at and friends I made there”.

Another big difference between the two are their hobbies and interests, with Summer being very athletic and Hannah being a more artistic type.

“I would call myself creative. I’d rather create things than do anything else really”, says Hannah, who is majoring in art education at Tennessee Tech University. 

Summer grew up as an incredibly athletic girl, playing soccer and basketball throughout middle and high school. While she majors in physical education at UTC, Summer still engages in sports with an intramural flag football team. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between these two young women is their unique experiences in school. 

Hannah was homeschooled until arriving at college, growing up with three other siblings who were all taught by their mother.

Summer attended Loftis Middle School and Soddy Daisy High School which is where she played most of her sports.

When asked why she thinks they make such good friends, Summer’s answer was almost identical to Hannah’s, saying, “You get to learn new things. The differences are what make you grow close and connect. We’ve connected through different life experiences and have supported each other through everything.”

Hannah and Summer’s relationship is a story of true friendship despite many differences in their lives. Their hobbies, passions, backgrounds, and schooling could not be more opposite of each other, but their willingness to learn, grow respect, and support one another is always on full display. 

A New Normal by Elian Richter

Journal Entry 4

Selfie taken using the reflection in a mirror on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (Photo by Elian Richter)

After today, my college experience will be over. One last zoom meeting and a brief ten minute presentation are all that stand in front of me graduating from UTC. College has been the absolute best time of my life so far and I’m uncertain how to feel about leaving.

Continue reading “A New Normal by Elian Richter”

A New Normal by Margo Zani

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Julie Dunn assembling a wooden cross decorated with live flowers to celebrate the Easter holiday. Dunn explained that because her family couldn’t attend church they decided to celebrate by building this cross. April 11, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani)

Saturday, April 11th was my youngest brother Eli’s birthday. He turned 18 which is a pretty significant birthday to be quarantined for. He spent most of his time inside trying to make the most of his special day. At one point, Eli’s friends drove by in their cars outside of our house and honked their horns as a way to celebrate his birthday from afar. It was really sweet but I couldn’t help but feel bad that my brother wasn’t allowed to appropriately celebrate his birthday in a “normal” way.

I thought about how radically different our eighteenth birthdays looked like. Almost three years ago I turned 18 and it happened to be the same day I was graduating from high school. My whole senior year, the thought of sharing my day of celebration with all 400 students of my graduating class bothered me. When the day actually arrived, it turned out to be one of the best birthdays I’d ever had. We were all celebrating something and got to be surrounded by so many people with lots of hugs and socializing. Now fast forwarding to April 11, 2020 Eli wasn’t even allowed to spend the day with his friends or even think about having a party if he wanted to because of COVID-19. Don’t get me wrong my family and I celebrated him as best as we could but this is just another example of how this pandemic has disrupted what we know to be normal.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Paul Zani, Eli Zani, and Donna Zani celebrating Eli’s 18th birthday. Since quarantine was still going on Eli stayed at home rather than going out and celebrating. April 12, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani)

In the same weekend, millions across the world celebrated Easter on Sunday, April 12. Churches have not been allowed to gather for weeks now meaning they wouldn’t be able to celebrate one of the most significant days of the year for Christians in the typical way. This was the first time I haven’t gone to church for Easter in as long as I can remember, but that didn’t make the day any less important for me or the millions across the world. Instead of gathering at churches, many of my neighbors placed crosses in their yards or used chalk art as a way to celebrate.

These two celebrations were a bittersweet reminder that life is still moving forward day by day, and that there will be many more birthdays and holidays to come. Hopefully, sooner rather than later we can get back to celebrating the way we used to, but now with a new-found appreciation for being surrounded by friends and family.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Zani family gathers to eat brunch together. They were celebrating both a birthday and Easter during COVID-19. April 12, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani)

Journal Entry #3

Last week, I was in a meeting for my internship with The House, and my boss asked us to reflect over some questions concerning grief. I was confused. I hadn’t lost anyone so what was I grieving? But grief doesn’t always mean death, and quickly, I began to realize what I actually had lost over the last month. The rest of my spring semester, proximity of friendships, summer plans and much more. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Student interns for The House campus ministry gathering together over Zoom for their weekly intern meeting to discuss all different things pertaining to the ministry. During this meeting, they were told the story of the bible from Genesis to Revelation through different types of foods. April 7, 2020. (Photo by Margo Zani).

I have done a decent job at not letting the craziness of this whole situation get the best of me. I have tried to control my emotions, but sometimes it’s hard to deal with so many feelings when they’re happening all at once. In a time where I have the space to process what I’m feeling, the task of discerning each different emotion that comes hand in hand with grief seems overwhelming. They say there are five stages in the grieving process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some days it feels like I am processing all stages at once. However, I have slowly begun to accept this pandemic for what it is. 

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had any hard days during the past month. Some days are productive and some days are lazy. Some days I’m motivated and others I procrastinate until the sun sets. Some days I feel really good, but lately a lot of days have felt heavy. I think it’s because i’m beginning to accept my losses.

However, in my acceptance these are the things that I still know to be true. I am healthy and safe. I have my family who hurts with me, but refuses to let me slip into a funk for too long. I have friends to return to in Chattanooga, and in the meantime phone calls and letters will have to be our best bet at staying in touch. I have simple pleasures that still bring me moments of peace like music, writing and reading. Lastly, I have faith. Faith that this pandemic will eventually end and the process of healing will soon begin for all.

Saturday, April 4, 2020 – Monday, April 6, 2020

Continue reading “A New Normal by Margo Zani”

A New Normal by Alyssa B. Martin

I have not enjoyed the last few weeks of this new normal. Being separated from my family and friends seems to grow more difficult for me each day. I have spent the majority of the last few weeks stuck in a continuous loop of missing my loved ones, wishing I could go back to my hometown, and dwelling on the things I cannot change. Needless to say, my mindset has not been good. 


As I sat thinking about what to write about this week, I drew a huge blank. Everything I considered or immediately came to my mind was either too depressing or too selfish-especially considering how my situation compares to others. Nothing was worthy enough for me to document. 


I reached out to a few dear friends and explained my mindset and thoughts on it. They encouraged me to write it down anyways, step away, and come back with a fresh mindset. So I-sort of- tried it. I decided rather than focusing on all of the things I wish I could change right now and all that is wrong with the world, I should be focusing on the little, positive, good moments of each day. 


In an effort to change my perspective here is a list of moments that have inspired me or brought me some joy during this quarantine and “new normal” season:


A beautiful bluebird laid eggs in our birdhouse and few weeks ago, and the eggs hatched last week. I captured the momma bird on her way to feed her babies. 

Sweet momma bird heading to feed her babies
My backyard, Flowery Branch, Ga
Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Books. I have not been reading as much as I should be or could be. Books make me happy though, even if it is just stacking them up for a quick photo.

I stacked this books up in my room for the purpose of this photo. Books make my heart happy, even if I have not finished them.
Flowery Branch, Ga
Tuesday, April 21, 2020

I have found a new love of sketching. When I was in high school, I started painting a little bit. It is something I have kept up with a little bit through the years, but I have never been very good at sketching or drawing. This has helped me to focus my mind on something I can control and create. It is a nice escape for a little bit.

A sketch of my bedroom window.
Flowery Branch, Ga
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
(Sketch: April-something, 2020)

Nearly every night my parents and I cook dinner and eat together while watching “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.” One of my personal favorites is the amount of Marvel movie reruns we have managed to watch in the past few weeks. Also, Every Sunday morning we watch church together in efforts to keep some sort of our old routine the same, even though it is definitely very different.

The past month of being stuck at home has given me the opportunity to do whatever I want, for the most part. One particular night a few weeks ago, I decided to try being a little creative by doing a self portrait shoot and play around with the lighting in my bedroom. 

Self-portrait using stringed lights in my bedroom.
Flowery Branch, Ga
Tuesday, March 31, 2020

I bought a new fish tank for my betta, Boyfriend-it’s a long story. My best friend bought him for me on Valentine’s Day last year, and he has survived nearly seven long distance car rides and living in a gallon sized bowl without a heater. I figured it was time to give him an upgrade .

Boyfriend’s new home
Flowery Branch, Ga
Monday, April 20, 2020

These days are pretty lonely. Everyone is dealing with isolation of some form right now, I think. Over the last few weeks, I have tried to stay connected to the people I care about as much as I can. It can be difficult, but I am thankful for modern technology to make it feel like the people I love are not so far away. It has made this season a bit easier by being able to hear my little cousins voice every night and to see my best friend’s face via snapchat or FaceTime whenever I want.

Two of my sweet friends I met at UTC, Amanda and Emily, and I have sent each other personality quizzes, life updates via snapchat videos, instagram videos of silly games, etc to stay connect. One night, we all did multiple Buzzfeed quizzes to see which character we would be in various shows we watched growing up. I used put our faces on the characters we matched.

Photo: somewhere on the internet or my friends’ instagram

Lately I have been trying to look at light with a different perspective. How the moon illuminates my parents bedroom at night, or the way the sunset shines in my window each evening. Something about light reminds me about hope and comfort, like warm feeling of sitting in sunshine on a cool spring day.

My bedroom window
Monday, April 20, 2020

Even though right now is different than what any of us have ever experience, I think we can all find hope and comfort knowing we are not alone. Millions of people are experiencing the same situation we are, even if it is in a different capacity.

From this day on, I am going to try to find hope and comfort knowing the sun will shine through my window tonight, and God has granted us another day to please him. I will look for joy and light in the smallest of acts and moments. I hope everyone reading this will try to do the same.


Continue reading “A New Normal by Alyssa B. Martin”