Once upon a time, a girl fell in love with photography.
Not just sort of in love, but all-out-flash-dance-worthy-obsessed love.
She woke up July 4, 2009 and knew with her whole heart that she was supposed to be a wedding and lifestyle photographer.
She laughed. She had no idea how to get from here (Olympus Evolt Camera with kit lens. An unbelievable gift from her husband. But yes, there’s a reason why you haven’t heard of that camera) to “there.” (still not totally sure what “there” is) But she dreamed and vowed to enjoy the ride.
(I will now drop the she and use I. It was starting to feel weird…)
Crazy things happened. I read every photography tutorial The Pioneer Woman had to offer and became BFF’s with Jasmine Star’s FAQ posts. I made the phone call that made my insides quiver to my beautiful sister-in-law and brother-in-law and asked them to be my models. I perused photography books and my camera manual like it was the latest Adele album. (True confession: I wanted to use NSync instead of Adele but I backed out at the last minute.) My parents informed me that God had prompted them to give me the exact amount of money for the camera and one lens I needed. I was in awe.
I worked that lens. And that camera. I learned everything I could.
I shot my first wedding. (for one of the most incredible couples ever) I fell head-over-heels-this-is-exactly-what-I’m-supposed-to-do-with-my-life in love. I started dreaming of how to make a photography session more than just a session. How to make it an experience. A time that changed my life and the client’s life. From the way they saw themselves to the moments they experienced.
I won a pass to WPPI by making a video with my little girl about how much I love my Shootsac. (no joke…my shootsac is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.) When it was time to fill out the information sheet and I came across the section for how long you’d been in business, there wasn’t even a category for me. I bought plane tickets.
Our car died. Like…death to engine, “it would be $7000 to merely replace the engine” died… I cried a lot. I felt really badly for having already bought my tickets.
I ate one meal a day. My kids and husband ate black beans and rice. And no…I’m not joking. I cried when i thought of the sacrifices my whole family were making to be there. I vowed I wouldn’t let it be for nothing.
I met people that had rocked my little world. Jessica Claire. Dane Sanders. Tamera Lackey. Natalie Norton… I listened to Jesh de Rox and knew the experience I had been dreaming of was, in fact, very possible. I got really excited when there was free food.
I came home. And I stood in awe of the God who had made this happen.
I got a flash. I actually got a flash. I call this the day I transformed from natural light photographer to photographer.
I took lots of pictures. LOTS of pictures. I met amazing people I had the privilege of calling clients. I was so grateful for the opportunity to document their stories.
Then I got a phone call that somehow brought my stomach all the way to my throat. (Still don’t know how it’s possible, but it happened.) Words like hospital, mom, internal bleeding and such left a resounding gong sound in my formerly functioning mind.
I stayed with my mom in the hospital. We joked. She got a blood transfusion. And was diagnosed with hemolytic anemia. She got to go home. I thanked God. But my insides were still in upheaval mode.
Then…I couldn’t walk. Literally.
It felt like firecrackers were going off in my joints. I nearly fainted on my kitchen floor at 4 am. Fevers and chills exchanged their hold upon my body nearly every 5 minutes. Dizziness wrecked me. And still…my joints were ON FIRE. The pain was unbearable and I couldn’t make it stop. I couldn’t turn my head anymore. I decided I was dying of cancer.
I went to the doctor. It was probably a virus. I decided it was the most hellacious virus known to man and felt humiliated that I was in the much AGONY from a virus.
Then came the splotches all across my stomach. Which led to us discovering the bulls-eye my kids did not draw on the back of my leg. Turns out that when the doctor asked if I’d been in any areas with ticks…I had. (Important note: Ticks live in tall grass. I honestly had NO idea.) Enter Lyme disease.
Enter the dark days. My mind stopped working. Literally. I would try to read to my kids and I couldn’t read the words. I was 28 years old and I could not make my mouth say the words in “Go, Dog, Go”. I got scared. My son hurt himself and I physically couldn’t lift him. We both cried. My daughter begged for me to play soccer. Through tears I had to explain to her that mommy couldn’t stand up.
My husband worked a full time job, cleaned our house, cooked our meals, and nearly single-handedly cared for our kids. Our kids also watched a lot of movies.
Guilt became my best friend.
So…of course, I took more pictures to avoid dealing with the pain. Not the best idea.
November arrived and my body could no longer keep up with my schedule. I crashed. I took time off. I decided I’d work on my issues.
I found out I was pregnant.
I prayed it wasn’t happening. And tried 3 pregnancy tests. I guess false-positives aren’t exactly common.
We didn’t have maternity coverage. The doctor I called first said that I would have to pay $3000 at my very first appointment. We didn’t have $3000 in our bank account. I found a Christian clinic that offered a free ultrasound. A baby was there and though I wasn’t feeling normal…everything looked okay. I decided women in Africa have babies without ever having a doctor, so that’s what I’d have to do. Good friends listened to me complain and prayed for me behind my back. (for which I am grateful)
Then I started bleeding. It wouldn’t stop. I called my doctor friend and left a message. (Okay…incoherently sobbed a message) I asked her what I should do. She said I needed to get an ultrasound to see what was going on and if there was anything they could do. I explained I didn’t have maternity coverage and we had no extra in our bank account. She told my story to a friend. He offered to give me a free ultrasound if I drove over immediately.
Thus began what I like to call the beige prison with a really great doctor. Every two weeks I’d go in. I’d stare at the magazines. I’d look for smudges in the paint. And I’d wait for the ultrasound to see if the baby was still alive. Truth be told, I felt like I had caused it all because I hadn’t wanted this baby.
I lost wonder. I lost hope. I lost my self.
In the midst of all this, I got a phone call from a Carolina number. I was by myself with the kids so I let it go to voicemail. It was Lara Casey. I nearly peed my pants. (Truth) A woman who had my heart and had rocked my world through the life she was living and the words she was writing. I had applied for a scholarship to go to the life-changing Making Things Happen Intensive. She called to inform me that my entry had touched an alum’s heart and they wanted to help make it possible for me to go. I cried.
I bought a plane ticket. And went to WPPI. I cried as I boarded a plane, left my two precious little ones to eat beans and rice again, and cried when I went to the bathroom and saw the bleeding still had not stopped at 20 weeks.
I entered the room for MTH intensive terrified. Drained. Broken. And yet, expectant. I was afraid they would all know I didn’t belong there. I was just a random girl that wasn’t really anybody. Instead I met some of the most gracious, honest, beautiful, game-changing people I’ve ever known. I stood in front of them and owned my fears, shared my dreams and left it all out there. And they loved me. And spoke words of blessing and healing into my life. I came home ready. Ready to fully be present with my kids. Ready to give my all to my marriage. Ready to give myself fully to my art and to give my clients my best. And in the depths of me, I knew that we needed to make a location change and I was pretty sure it was Atlanta.
Then I got another phone call. This one informed me I had a risky condition that threatened my life and the baby’s life. I turned back to my old “friend” depression while trying to keep some of what I’d learned and how I’d changed going.
My husband carried me through those 4 months. Gina wrote me encouraging messages. Friends prayed. Liz took the kids from time to time. The MTH people cared. But the truth is, I don’t remember a lot. (That may be for the best) I do remember two of the most incredible weddings/brides and grooms/families/friends in the world. I remember falling in love all over with what I do. I remember a first look that opened my heart wider than I could have ever imagined. I remember taking two pictures that are still my very favorite pictures EVER. I remember southern hospitality at it’s finest. I remember hugs and belly rubs and large breakfasts before big days. And I remember crying after shooting a wedding in the city all day and walking the entire Navy Pier stretch carrying camera equipment unable to find a taxi.
And I remember that my world grew quite small. Instead of really loving the people around me…I became so focused on myself, my problems, our hardships and my business. I’ll write more on this in days to come, but know that this breaks my heart.
We watched Horton Hears a Who. My water broke. Mandy (my amazing, unbelievable-best-fifth-grade-teacher-in-the-world, was diagnosed with Stills/RA, has been through hell and back friend) agreed to take my kids and we went to the hospital.
My body just wouldn’t start having contractions, so we had to try Pitocin.
The pain got to be more than I thought I could handle.
I asked for the epidural. It didn’t work. His head was turned the wrong way. There was two hours of pushing. I learned the term “ring of fire” is very accurate. He arrived. I felt traumatized. And two hours later I was in love with him. (I’m sorry. I’m being honest. His labor was so very traumatic. Not that natural labor is – that head being backwards thing just really messes things up…)
He smiled. I melted. My heart grew bigger and started to come back to life.
There’s more happening in my story, but I think you’ve probably had enough. (Assuming you are out there still…) But know this…somehow God is healing my heart. God is helping me see how He held me even when I could have sworn He wasn’t there. He’s helping me to see that I took how other people had treated me and thought He was the same way. And you know what? That’s not fair. He’s showing me that He is so much greater, so much more loving and so much more wonderful than I could have ever imagined.
He showed me how small I let my world become. How selfish I was. How my thoughts were all about me. And He’s showing me how much that sucks. How I was wired for more. How I lost my way from the place of wonder and trust when this journey started. How He has this crazy love for people and if I’ll stop thinking the world revolves around me…He can use me to help people experience that when they’re broken and hopeless like I’ve been.
I’m blown away that He didn’t just walk away. I said some pretty harsh words. And yet, He is breaking through my walls. I’m grateful.
To end, here’s my little miracle that I didn’t plan and could never live without: