this is a story about stepping out of the safety of a comfort zone, walking away from fear,
and answering a call. a story about how this journey came to be.
“God will show you how to use the gifts and talents he has given you.”
Those words spoken in a little room at the University of Mary in North Dakota still echo in my mind. I spent 5 weeks of my summer in 2014 at a spiritual formation program for young adults called Ecclesia Institute. Those were the most formative weeks of my early 20s. The story of how that incredible opportunity came about is one for another time… I’m here to talk about the seeds the Holy Spirit planted in my heart while I was there.
During spiritual direction, I was gushing all the unknowns I was facing at the time. What should I do with my life? Should I go back to school? What about my vocation? What does God want of me? Father Nathan, knowing me all too well, suggested some very simple advice that would later alter the course of my life in a big way, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
Each bit of advice could be an individual blog post, but today I’m going to focus on one. At the time, I was unsure of my career path. So far I had been focusing on developing my photography knowledge, taking on portraits on the side, but fear kept me from pursuing a lucrative business full time. My thoughts led me to the option of returning to school. To my surprise, Father Nathan discouraged me from the school I was considering transferring to and expressed “God will show you how to use the gifts and talents he has given you”, with that usual twinkle in his eye. I returned home later that year still unsure what exactly that meant.
Around the holidays, I received 2 inquiries around the same time. First, from my dear friends Maura & Michael. Immediately after they got engaged I got a text from each of them, pretty much begging me to photograph their wedding. Another couple I didn’t know also contacted me via Instagram. Adriana & Mathew had been following me on social media for a while and expressed their desire for me to be their photographer. I knew of other photographers who had all their ducks in a row and searched for ways to book their first wedding clients. And here I was trying to run from these opportunities. I had never shot a wedding in my life! Why were these couples so adamant about me taking on that responsibility? They were clearly seeing something in me I hadn’t yet recognized in myself. They valued the fact that I shared their faith and passion for the Sacrament of Marriage. And they took that into account when considering someone to document the most important day of their lives. Wow.
January 2015. There I was with 2 weddings booked in July and no wedding experience. I expressed my fear to my friend Michelle of Lillywhite Photography. This girl has always been cheering me on, reminding me that I am good enough. So we met at Kettle Coffee in Escondido, where we chatted about our business endeavors and exchanged photos of each other. Michelle spoke life-giving words to me. She told me how she stepped into the wedding industry and how valuable second shooting is for experience. She told me I am beyond ready for weddings. And she referred me to her connections. Just knowing someone believed in me was the push I needed to grow in confidence. Pretty soon, I had second shooting jobs with other photographers lined up for the whole Spring. By the time July rolled around, I knew I was prepared to do my job well.
Want to hear how funny God is? Well, let me tell you. I hopped on a plane to North Dakota for my first wedding on July 4, 2015. But before I got on that plane, I contacted my friend Danelle from Ecclesia (she decided to go again that summer and it started just days before) to see if she could think of someone in Bismarck who would be open to a house guest while I was there. She mentioned there was one guy in the group who was from Bismarck and that she would get back to me. Well the morning I was flying out (and somehow very much at peace despite not having a plan) I got a call from a North Dakota number (so it must be for me, right?). I answered to a guy named Ryan who said he was at Ecclesia that summer with Danelle. He then proceeded to say he talked to his mom already, she could pick me up from the airport, and provide a room for me while I'm there. Speechless. Another example of Midwest hospitality. Oh, then he said "that's not Michael & Maura's wedding is it? We've been friends with his family for years and my mom will be a guest!" Crazy small world. One really beautiful aspect of their wedding happened the night before. The family and bridal party members each signed up for an hour of adoration, so there was someone at the church praying for their marriage all throughout the night. I wanted to participate, so that evening Ryan's mom and I headed over to the Spirit of Life Church adoration chapel. When I walked in, everything looked so so familiar. That's when it hit me. Exactly a year prior, I was in this church with my Ecclesia family. And I was praying for discernment in what direction I should go. And here I was, about to shoot my first wedding - in North Dakota of all places. I was in tears at God's faithfulness.
The inquiries have kept coming in since. The past year and a half I’ve had the privilege of documenting so many beautiful weddings all over the country, as well as portraits of family life. To share the beauty of marriage which ultimately reflects God's love for all of us. To tell stories of what authentic love looks like. A perfect niche. A passion that became more of a ministry than a job. Clients and fellow photographers have come into my life in unexpected ways and turned into very dear friends. There are many question marks I still face, still fears to overcome as I navigate the waters of moving into business full time, but what I am certain of is this: He always provides. And he is always faithful. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for this journey as it unfolds.
The Lord has bigger dreams for us than we have for ourselves. He knows the best possible ways we can be his image to the world. He knows what will bring us the most joy. He knows how we can pour his light into others. What will cultivate beauty that leads to goodness that leads to truth.
As we step out of the boat, we can have the freedom to walk on water if we just keep our eyes fixed on him. He wants us to take that step toward him, to not be afraid of the light. To take his hand and let him lead us to bigger dreams than we could ever imagine.
Top two photos by Athena Grace