Sharing my story always comes back to identity, many times my lack of it, and the growth of finding it, discerning who I am, what I am called to, and learning to accept that, even if I do not always believe the truth that is instilled within it.
My parents divorced when I was 6 years old, both to somewhat quickly remarry. It was a beautiful thing/ is a beautiful thing to have so much family, so many people loving and caring for you. However, it was not without brokenness and questioning of my identity within the process.
I was also a competitive gymnast my entire life growing up. I practically lived in the gym, loving my time there. But being a gymnast stirs up feelings of perfection and unattainable goals as you are always striving and seeking for the very slimly attainable 10.0. And to mix in my already Type-A, slightly OCD tendencies, I was destined for loads of inadequacies on my end, never feeling like I measured up for the standards I set for myself, for the goals I tried to reach, or the mountains I was trying to overcome. My identity felt like a failure many days, struggling with an eating disorder and trying to fit in despite my overwhelming awkwardness, introversion and severe acne. The funny thing is that I actually have some amazing memories from this time in my life, as the friends I did have were incredible, I got to train day in and day out in the gym, and I was the weird kid who actually kind of enjoyed school. So, it wasn't all bad, but when I went to the heart of the matter, I would sink deep into my thoughts and feelings, and feel overwhelmed every time; alone and forgotten, or as if I just didn't fit in.
From High School I received a scholarship to compete in gymnastics for Ball State University, I met my now husband and truly began to discover the true meaning of grace over my life. I began to see that even though I was still a hot mess most days, it didn't matter, there was purpose for me even still. As Josh (my now husband) began pursuing me, I was also able to see more of my Heavenly Father pursuing me. The pursuit of my heart, being seen and heard and loved in radical ways opened my eyes to an entirely new version of life. Of course, being in love will do that for you, but this was something much deeper, for as Josh was pursuing me, I was also losing my identity of gymnastics, the only thing I had ever known as I underwent 3 surgeries due to injury and was unable to compete my last two years. I was being stripped of everything I had ever known, and yet it was being replaced with everything I ever wanted to know. I was learning to accept my messy, my weird, my awkward self and that propelled me to being able to care and love others in a way I had never been able to before. For, as my identity in Christ grew, as I discovered more of who I am in Him, that I am Chosen, Adopted, Beloved, Redeemed, it led me to be on mission for others, to help them to see this same thing about themselves, and that brought forth some of the greatest joy I have ever known.
Marriage and Loss
2 Weeks after graduation day, I was blessed to be able to walk down the aisle and marry my best friend. It was the sweetest memory! Kissing him for the first time, and knowing that I had someone choosing to be by my side was one of the sweetest gifts. Little did I know how much I would need this sweet gift a few years later.
January 4, 2014 we lost our first child due to miscarriage. I thought I was in the blissful days of life, everything going according to "planned", until the unimaginable, uncontrollable happened. I went numb. I couldn't leave the house, I felt as if all emotion left my body for quite a long period of time, around 5 months. I would cry uncontrollably. I couldn't eat, or sleep right. I was grieving and as we then discovered that I had PCOS and that we would most likely struggle with fertility issues, I felt as if my dream of motherhood was dying. I had always dreamed of being that mom with a large family and all her kids into sports, driving a large SUV. The dream was slipping through my fingers, and I was quickly discovering that no amount of planning or working hard could make pregnancy happen. It was simply out of my control, and this horrified me. But one evening, as I was sobbing uncontrollably and quite honestly yelling at the Lord in anger, God showed up for me.
Stepping into Photography
That day, the Lord did two things for me. 1. He gave me a name for our lost child, Olivia Grace. It was a beautiful piece of closure I needed, not to be able to move on, but to be able to breathe enough, to gasp enough air for life to be worth living and fighting for. I had battled severe depression throughout this time, even planning out suicidal actions, so this was like fresh water washing over me, a new beginning. The second thing he did, was whisper to my heart that I needed to get a DSLR camera and start trying to learn photography. I had always been a photographer at heart, snapping hundreds of photos at every family vacation, getting all the film developed and making crazy scrapbooks from each trip, accompanied by my journal entires along the way. Processing through writing and images has always been a creative outlet for me.
But what photography did for me in this season was incredibly healing. It brought my identity back into the light, both physically and metaphorically. For, I was able to notice actual physical beams of light shining in our house, and around town. I became obsessed with looking for and seeing the light. And as I was coming from the darkest state of my life, this also became incredibly healing for me, as I also began to see the beauty of creation around me. I began to see hope, to see the beauty within the mess, within the imperfection, within the incontrollable. And as this began, I became addicted. I took every online class I could, attended conferences and met as many photographers as I could, to learn and grow and discover this new blooming gift in my life.
Discovering my Calling
And as seasons turned and I grew and developed as an artist, I also began to discover the type of images I was drawn into taking. I love images with shadow light play, or strong uses of light. I love the documentation of real life, messy, just as it is, not posed or perfect. I am drawn to the connection between people, and the story that comes from each person. So, about 8 weeks ago, as I was on a plane to TX to be there for a hard time my family was experiencing, God brought words to exactly what my mind and heart had been trying to process and attain. Advocating rich stories of hope, making extraordinary of the seemingly ordinary. This was it. Identity had been brought full circle for me. And as this dream and vision continued to narrow, I have felt extremely called to advocate for orphan care and providing a home and family for each child in need in the process. Why? Identity. It all comes back to identity for me. When I come back to knowing that I am seen, and loved, chosen, adopted, and beloved, that I have value and worth, my mission is to share this with others. And who needs this more than the abandoned, or alone children on the streets around the world? The children without homes who feel neglected, forgotten, rejected, ugly, and of little or no value. These are the ones who need it most, and these are the ones I feel called to show up for? For practically speaking, I feel called to document rich stories of hope right within the families and couples I know and get to come in contact with, while supporting and uplifting people who are helping on the front lines of orphan care, whether that be family reconciliation, or creating family homes in country, or even adoption. Because here is the thing, if I can be brought from a place of extreme hopelessness and lack of purpose to knowing that I am held in the arms of my loving Father, with rich purpose before me, than I know it can be possible for others as well. So, today I am sharing my story.
Another thing that has been insanely helpful for me in my life, is remembering that I am not in control, nor do I need to be in control. Sometimes things happen in this life that are out of our control, and that is ok. As I sit back and rest in the fact that I do not have it all together and am out of control at some times, that is ok. Because God is bigger than all of it, and He is in control. I don't have to do it all, for He already has. He is enough, and I am enough in Him, just as I am, without doing a single thing. I will never be enough for the world, and that is ok. I will never be able to control the people or certain events around me, and that is ok. Shoot, sometimes, I cannot even control me. But Jesus is bigger than all of it, and He says He has got it, I can let go of my grip, and trust Him. I can trust that I am who He says I am, not who I constantly portray myself to be.
So, this is me, and this is my story. I struggle every day in identity, however, I also have been given the grace to know this life is worth it. I am worth it. I am seen and loved, chosen, adopted, beloved, and redeemed and I hope you know this about yourself as well. I am leaning into the hope despite pain and suffering, despite failed expectations or rejections, I am leaning into hope. No matter where you stand, or how you feel, there can always be hope. Lean into it today and let it meet you where you are.