Rebuilding

Today I held Jon tightly and had my first teary-eyed goodbye at an airport gate. Strangers walked by and smiled gently as I wiped the tears that traced my cheeks, and I had to almost laugh at the subtext of my story because I was only going to be away for 48 hours. Still those tears have been pooling, nudging, wanting to fall for more than just today.

I don’t know if it’s the heavy, heat of summer, the prospects of a short visit to parts of my past life this weekend, or just my nature that has me splashing messily around in my emotions. Maybe it’s part of the journey, maybe it’s the two-to-one intervals of making progress and stepping back: the ebb and flow of growth.

And while it’s incredibly easy to slip into auto-pilot mode and float along on the surface of my life, it’s not how I’m built. The more I avoid the deep, sometimes murky parts of life, the more dark and murky and confused I become. In the last few years, I’ve felt pressure— internal and external— to carefully curate what I present to the world. Because this has become less of a purely personal blog and more of a blog for my business, I’ve held back from writing. From sharing, from thinking, from really being who I am. Because what would people think? What would clients think? What would colleagues think? Shouldn’t I be building my brand first and use my blog for a different purpose than I once have? And while everyone says that branding should be personal, I feel like there’s an asterisk: *but not that personal.

I have my own asterisks.

*I’m tired of branding myself.

*I’m tired of curating myself.

This summer has been full and active and filled with layers that I know I need, but it has also felt dark and heavy, and I think that is a culmination of over two years of layerless living. I threw myself so fully into building a business, into becoming successful, into learning, into fitting in that I gave up on the dimensions of my own story beyond photography. When that happens it’s incredibly easy to slip into old habits of self-criticism, of feeling eternally less than, of never measuring up to self-imposed notions of perfection.

I clipped my own wings.

Is it any wonder that now I feel stuck? I know this place well. It’s a cycle that I’ve perfected since childhood, and for the past two weeks, I’ve hidden. I’ve managed only the bare minimum of social media business tasks. I’ve really wanted to stay under the covers, and a bad cold gave me the excuse to do that some of the time.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
-Brene Brown

My story may not be tidy and exceedingly peppy all of the time. It’s true that sometimes I think “too much” about life, and I will always prefer a deep, whole-hearted conversation over small talk. I could choose to continue running from my story, but instead I’m ready to own it, to share it, to layer it with what fits, and to ruthlessly extract the parts that don’t so that I can authentically and carefully rebuild.blog

 

Live in the Layers

The noise of life always seeps in. It gnaws away at my edges and creates its familiar and distinct anxiety. Year after year, I’ve looked around and wondered when life really begins. When will I have arrived at the life I’ve yearned for. The life that will be wholly fulfilling. One where I’m not restless. Not second guessing. Not wondering what else or why.

It’s an overwhelming process that ranges from an incredibly joyful satisfaction to an increasingly uncomfortable restlessness.

I’m tired of the restlessness.

Hyperfocusing on only one part of my life and then floating along on the rest is exhausting. I’m convinced that a perfectly balanced life doesn’t exist. But I believe there is a recipe to the perfect balance we need at any point in our lives if we are disciplined enough to search it out and live it.

If you want to measure the level of happiness in your life, measure the level of discipline in your life. You will never have more happiness than you have discipline. The two are directly related. […] Whether those experiences are physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual, discipline elevates them to their ultimate reality. It heightens every human experience and increases every human ability. –Matthew Kelly

It’s been a challenging awareness to accept that in many ways, I have lacked the discipline to really create the life that will be wholly fulfilling to me: the discipline to consistently commit to all of the layers that I know I need. Oh there has been plenty of discipline surrounding them in very concentrated areas. I’ve completed challenging physical goals. I’ve written for hours and hours. I’ve gone to church. I’ve built a business and grown as a photographer. I’ve devoured books. But all of those have happened in isolation. There has been a stark lack of dimension, so where I’ve very intently focused on one, the rest have faltered.

In photography, composition is crucial. The foreground, background, the edges matter. The negative space is as important as the weighty presence of the subject. Each layer of the image has a responsibility to the whole. In some moments, different layers hold more importance than others, but it is a conscious choice we make each time we press the shutter.

And I’m learning it is a conscious choice in life.

Live in the layers, not on the litter. Though I lack the art to decipher it, no doubt the next chapter in my book of transformations is already written. I am not done with my changes. –Stanley Kunitz

It’s time to live in the layers. This is my reentry. Because I am not done. Because I’m more than a photographer. And a mother. And a wife. Because I’m a writer. A runner. A triathlete. I’m more than I’ve even begun to discover.

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Hiking and Natural Waterslides

A few weeks ago we took our yearly family vacation to my home, Uniontown, Pennsylvania. I’ve lived in Virginia Beach for nearly 30 years, but the mountains will always feel like home.  I know the exact spot on Route 17 in Virginia when we hit the crest of a hill and the mountains come into view for the very first time. I get excited every time, and Jon might possibly call me a tree hugger every time. Just maybe.

I’ve always wanted to take the kids to Ohiopyle State Park that is about thirty minutes from my parents’ house that has hiking, white water rafting, waterfalls, and natural water slides, but it seems like we always run out of time. Sometimes it’s really easy to slip into wishing that I did things but never taking the time to plan them out and make them happen. It’s such a bad habit to get stuck in, so this year, I made Ohiopyle a priority, and my mountain loving heart was in heaven.

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We went my sister and her family, which made the entire day even sweeter! And if they look familiar (minus the blue fohawks), theirs is the epic session I shot when I was there!

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Jon isn’t what you’d call a nature lover, but even though I had to convince him that he would like hiking (really, I promise, you’ll love it!), he had a good time. And he saw his first waterfall in real life! (What? Really?! Yes, really. Sad.)virginia-beach-family-photographer_0064virginia-beach-family-photographer_0063

This would be the fallen tree we either had to go over or crouch under. virginia-beach-family-photographer_0065virginia-beach-family-photographer_0068

I just love my crew! And Jon can take a good picture with instructions!

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I had to laugh when I saw this. This kid would sit down anywhere. Even on the side of a mountain!virginia-beach-family-photographer_0066

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One of my favorites from the day!virginia-beach-family-photographer_0074

After we hiked back over Meadow Run Trail, we arrived at the natural water slides. Yes! I was tempted to try it, but then I remembered my back probably wouldn’t be happy with that, so Rowan and I watched from the edge.

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The boys were brave enough to give it a go, and they both said it was pretty rough banging against all of the rock!virginia-beach-family-photographer_0072virginia-beach-family-photographer_0073

It was such a great morning, and sitting there along the rocks and water, I’ve never felt more at home. The beach maybe my home now, but my heart is always in the mountains. <3

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Finding Purpose

Today I had the honor of speaking at my alma mater to a group of students who achieved principal’s list during the last quarter. I definitely had a mix of nerves and excitement. Even though my background is teaching, this does not equate to being a gifted or comfortable public speaker. I gradually found comfort in my classrooms, but the big difference is they become safe places. Each of my classes would become more like a big, somewhat dysfunctional family. In contrast, a cafeteria full of 60 teenagers staring at me talk into a microphone is vastly different.

I was asked to talk about passion, life goals, and purpose. My life’s path has definitely not been a straight and simple one, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time (over) thinking about what I was meant to do with my life and always coming up short with finding a clear answer.

I have a rising freshman of my own at home, and he and I often have conversations about careers, life goals, and exactly what he wants to be when he grows up. And right now, he doesn’t have an idea and he tells me he’s too young to plan for the rest of his life… Wise words! Because I think back to always wondering what I wanted to be. What did I want to do with my life? And I never knew for sure. I changed my mind quite a bit, and I might have had five different majors in college. Five! And they really varied: in my 4.5 years in undergraduate school, I spent time as an English, history, art history, early childhood education, and a nursing major. (Hence the extra semester needed to actually finish my final major choice!)

Because of this constant indecision, I have always looked around and wondered how people get to where they are. On the surface it has often appeared like luck, a golden thread randomly woven into their fabric of life. There were many years of my adult life where I sat back in a protective cocoon, wondering when that thread of luck might weave its way into my life, too. It was a frustrating place, one of observation and envy, one of an almost consuming powerlessness.

And it always came back to that overwhelming question: what do I want to really do? I remember being captivated by my senior high school English teacher and her passion for literature and writing and the craft of teaching. She filled the room and shone an incandescent sort of light for us— a weary lot of overachieving seniors, but in the midst she drew out our creativity, our depth of thinking, and the writers we could one day be.

She was the reason I finally decided to teach English. I wanted to be like her; I wanted to fill a classroom with my passion. I wanted to read and write and teach. At least that’s what I thought. I’m an introvert by nature, a fairly quiet person. I work hard to not fill any room, so my experience in the classroom always felt flat. It wasn’t one of passion, but struggle; not a time of joy, but frustration and regret. From that first year of teaching, I knew I wasn’t where I wanted to be, yet I stayed for ten years hoping to one day understand that it was what I was meant to do. If I wanted to be like my teacher, I had to.

But that burning question persistently loomed well into my 30s. Two years ago, I was talking to my stepdaughter, then a college freshman, and she was embarking on a similar search as she tried to decide on a major and internships and big life questions. I found myself recanting my choices and paths.

I described my admiration of my teacher; I explained my frustration with the reality of teaching, and my perceived failures there. And what usually happens when we are helping others with their worries is that we help ourselves, too. I found myself explaining to her that admiring my teacher all those years ago did not mean that I was to teach.

Instead it was her passion I should have emulated: the way her eyes sparkled, the joy she held for her work, the momentum she created, the work she gladly put into making a happy space in her life.

I took myself by so much surprise in that statement that I had to pause to allow it to register. I had never thought about my own choices in that light. Rather than living with a sense of listlessness and confusion in what the future holds, I realized that it was up to me to bravely mark the trail towards what will make me most happy. And it didn’t have to look like anyone else’s path. Some people know what they want to do all along the way and some people, like me, might have to try a few things on before they realize what really fits. And neither way is wrong.

At that point in my life, I knew I loved photography. I knew I loved taking pictures of my children and family and capturing our life’s story. There was a quiet part of my heart that thought just maybe I could actually do this as something more than for our family, but it felt so large and frightening that I often tucked it away. Typically I wasn’t in the business of large and frightening decisions.

But immediately after that conversation, I realized my eyes sparkled when I was absorbed in photography. I would gladly put hours of work into learning and understanding the craft, the creative aspect, and the technical requirements. Finally! It was my own interpretation of my English teacher’s incredible passion for her craft. I realized that finally, at 35, I had found what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t know exactly what it would look like, and I certainly didn’t realize how hard it would be, but I knew I didn’t have to wonder anymore. It was up to me to take that golden thread and weave it through my own life, build a business, and create something wonderfully fulfilling.

Today has been full circle in many ways. To my surprise my Timehop app showed me this morning that I published parts of this blog two years ago today. And even though I honestly wanted to be sick driving to speak this morning, knowing that it was two years ago that I was brave enough to set into motion my photography dream made me feel a little braver in encouraging others to stay the course towards their dreams.

I ended my brief and somewhat shaky-voiced speech like this:

Some of you in this room may know without a doubt what you want to do. You might have a path plotted out from here until you’re my age, and that is amazing. Some of you might be more like I always was. You just might not know for sure what will be next for you after this chapter in your life is over. What I’ve learned along the way is that there isn’t one right path for any of us. Whichever place you find yourself, I urge you to search for the thing that makes your eyes light up and build your life around it. Fill the room with the part of you that shines and inspires others, and all of us will end up exactly where we are meant to be.

And I think that’s applicable no matter our age, no matter our place in life. No matter how lost or restless we feel, there’s a path for us to follow. It might be straight and simple or it could be convoluted and winding. Neither is more successful; neither is better; neither is correct. Because there’s beauty to be found in both the decisive and the indecisive.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. -Rumi

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Shooting For Me | Personal

When I first started this photography journey, it began with capturing our lives. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll remember our weekly photowalks and my struggle with being brave enough to just push the shutter button. Over the last two years, the habit of shooting for me, shooting our personal lives, and capturing our memories has fallen away. Throughout 2015, I was consumed with growing my technical ability, my business, and my presence in the industry. I went to workshops, drove hours to second shoot with an amazing photographer, second shot locally over 20 times for several great photographers, and shot several of my own weddings, portrait sessions, and styled shoots.

It definitely was a year of growth, and while I don’t regret investing so much time and energy into those choices, I’m looking forward to a year of better balance in 2016. I have many amazing projects and a brand new direction for my business that I am so excited about, but personally, I am really happy to have begun my own version of a 365 project. I at first felt pressured to take an amazing picture each day, but honestly, it hasn’t been every day and sometimes it’s not necessarily amazing. And that’s okay. What is important is that my camera is out, I’m capturing memories, and I’m pushing myself creatively at least a few times a week for personal. I probably won’t get to 365 unique images by the end of 2016, but I will have an amazing collection of images showcasing our lives, day-to-day.

Here is a sample of what we’ve been up to so far! I’m trying very hard to not set up moments, but to lurk and capture them instead. But at the same time, when the urge to be creative strikes, I am creating more intentional compositions and posed shots. I love the combination! <3

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Choose Courage

We’ve been living in our new house for about three months, and there are still boxes. Flattened boxes. Half-unpacked boxes. Still tightly-taped boxes full of random bits and pieces that I can’t quite find a place for. It’s a funny thing about boxes. They are at once useful and confining. We can pack away those bits and pieces. Store them later for different times of the year. Useful!

Boxes become confining when you create them for yourself. At first it seems a safe way to live: compartmentalizing and packing emotions and thoughts into neatly cushioned boxes. By defining so clearly the expectations of the world and our place in it, it seems safer and more sensical. Until suddenly it’s not and the packing materials and styrofoam peanuts become suffocating. The neatly placed and taped boxed world you’ve created for yourself no longer functions as it once did. You scratch at the underside of the taped flaps, aching for new light and new air.

The world can feel overwhelming without the limits we create. For me it becomes a loud static and some days I wish for a pause button, a chance to stop and organize and plan. Functioning in the midst of life’s speedy timeline is quite challenging and my protective response, my styrofoam, is to function minimally. To exist rather than live and create boxes of space to define what I believe and do.

My word this year has been limitless: a chance to see if I can break out of the boxes and live more fully in this world. A chance to believe I’m capable of a multifaceted approach to life and a chance to trust in the order of the universe. The process of building a successful photography business has been at once exhilarating and terrifying. It has highlighted a confidence I would have never believed I could muster. And in the way things have of bringing along a counter balance, it has also exposed my lack of belief in myself, the fear of being visionary, and my tendency to exist in one space. I’ve realized recently that for most of my life I have lived believing that my voice isn’t worthy to be heard. That my ideas must be silly. That story has filled the empty spaces in my head and my heart. I’ve woven it into the tapestry of me, and it is so hard to break those threads.

I’ll stare blankly at the computer screen hoping for the words to find me (like today). I’ll have moments of terror behind the lens wishing for inspiration to come. Sometimes I’ll shut down, believing in the boxes, but lately I’ve begun to scratch through the cardboard flaps and see the light beyond them. The more I grasp at that light, the more I see that it takes courage to live a limitless life. It takes trust to believe that life will bring what is meant to be here for me.

Brene Brown believes that, “We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” I may have had a comfortable life before this adventure, safe within my boxes. It might have been a lot less scary, though a lot sadder, enviously watching other people do amazing things and building the life of their dreams. Some days I might feel slightly paralyzed by all of the options, by the wish that grand ideas will find me more quickly and easily, by the notion that by putting myself so bravely out there that now things are expected of me. That now I can’t so easily retreat into my quiet box. And I’m finding more and more that that’s okay.

My new impulse is to push forward, to thrive, to grow, to dream. And happily the boxes aren’t quite so appealing anymore.

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Love this image that is now a part of Elizabeth Henson’s Live Happy Creative Stock shop on Etsy! Check it out– lots of great stock images for blog use and more!

Grasping Time

I’ve always been keenly aware of the passing of time. The boys’ rooms are sparse now and bare little resemblance to the rooms they once had: the rooms that were overflowing with action figures, stuffed animals, and lego creations. Now they require very little in the way of toys, and packing up their rooms for our recent move made this painfully obvious. While Rowan’s room required many, many boxes, the boys needed just a few to store their childhood mementos and video games. It’s a funny transition that as their bodies are growing, their need for space is shrinking significantly.

Time’s relentless forward motion is sometimes suffocating, and suddenly I’m frantically grasping at moments before I look around and realize high school is about to end. I’m pitching my thoughts back to when I thought it sounded crazy to say I had a 5 and 3 year old when now we are on the brink of 14 and 12. To accept that I’ve been home with Rowan for three years is madness. She’s entering her last year of preschool, and I can’t quite figure out what we’ve spent the last three years doing. As much as I wanted to hold onto her toddlerhood because I learned how quickly it receded with the boys, it has also become a blur of memories and moments.

So I sometimes sit and watch our lives pass by in images on my computer screensaver. It’s a mesmerizing meditation that reminds me that we have, in fact, lived and experienced so much together despite the tendency for my mind to lump it together into one, messy blur of emotions. And this is when I am so grateful for my historic tendency to document so many moments in images. Because, as we are all so intensely aware, time does continue trudge forward no matter what.

I am so grateful for this little mommy and me session from my dear friend Erin Ammons. Her heart is always in the right place, which means her images exude poignant emotion.

My sweet girl has been such a perfect addition. Her sass, her heart, her personality, and her love is the bond our family needed. She’s made me a more confident woman and a more patient mother, and I love watching her life’s story unfold.

I’m so glad to have these to add to my screensaver timeline! <3

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This is my absolute favorite!watertable-virginia-beach-wedding_0020watertable-virginia-beach-wedding_0025

Rowan scripted this one… not surprised, of course! My little posing girl! <3watertable-virginia-beach-wedding_0026

This is so totally her. She talks with her hands… just like her mama!watertable-virginia-beach-wedding_0023

Oh, I love her so. <3watertable-virginia-beach-wedding_0022

Finding Words | Personal

I’m not sure why writing comes in ebbs and flows. It pulses. Faintly underneath the fear and muck of this life, it’s the draw that gently nudged me. To come back to focus. To come back to clarity in my mind instead of blindly navigating through.

I often feel restless and dissatisfied. There’s a deep ache and yearning for something that’s not there. Something that should be there. It always seems so grey and fuzzy this should be there but isn’t feeling. So I sometimes flail about recklessly dismantling things until the newness buries the anxious tension.

I’m sure that isn’t the smartest practice. And as I lie here, the rush of traffic swelling behind me continuously rising and falling. Rowan is beside me. Safe in her warm, middle spot in our bed. Secure in her girly nightgowned world, I wonder if it isn’t the world I am restless about. Maybe it isn’t the changes that anchor me to something secure. Maybe it is this. Maybe it is a writing practice. Maybe it is getting all the jumbled words and thoughts into a slightly coherent space and stepping back and seeing what has become of them.

I feel rusty. Especially in this early morning, the words feel pedantic and simple. Flat and lifeless. But it’s a start. It begins with one. Then two. Then ten and more. Maybe it is a free flowing of words that will start the upward climb to consistency. Maybe it is writing just for me in the grey light of the early morning. Maybe it is being totally incoherent and rambling. Maybe it is the journal-style brain dump that is the foundation for a more consistent practice. And in the end a more secure view of myself and the world.

In the rush of this business over the last year, every ounce of my creative energy has been poured lovingly into photography, and it has been a necessary care-taking process. I simply have not had enough left in me to write more than short snippets before image-laden posts and maybe a simple personal post here and there. But now that the business-life dance is finding some sort of consistent rhythm, I feel ready to find words again. Because I am not only my pictures and my work. I am not only my running, biking, and swimming (or lack thereof this year), and in words I find the meaning to frame this crazy and beautiful life.

I look forward to once again sharing them with you. <3

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