Emmeline’s Birth Story | Part 2


Your promise still stands
Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness
I’m still in Your hands
This is my confidence, You never failed me yet

I’ve seen You move, You move the mountains
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again
You made a way, where there was no way
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again

Once we got home things seemed to pick up pretty quick and the timing of everything really fell into place so perfectly. Miracle of all miracles, when we got home Lincoln told Marshall he wanted to “take a nap” and fell asleep almost immediately. We were sure he would be up for the day, but this was such a little miracle. Because he slept, Marshall was able to help me labor which was super duper necessary. He was my lifeline. Him just being beside me was essential. I always kind of felt like the whole “husband coached birth” thing was just something invented to help the dad feel like part of the process, but really he carried me and afterwards it really felt like something we did together. After being together for as long as we have (11 years almost!) sometimes there don’t feel like a lot of “firsts” left, but this was definitely a first and it was so special! 

After Lincoln went to sleep things really picked up. My contractions were super painful, I couldn’t really get comfortable anywhere and they felt really back to back. I heard myself saying that I wasn’t getting a break (which is a sign of transition! But totally wasn’t in transition at this point). In retrospect pretty sure my water had broken, but I didn’t realize it despite the fact that, um, things were falling out of me. (…aaannnnd, leaving it at that!) 

I tried to labor in the tub but hated it and had a really hard time coping with contractions in there. I wasn’t comfortable sitting at all, so I tried the shower again for a little bit but after a while I got hot and I was nervous about my skin being in the hot water for that long. I paced around our bedroom and bathroom and tried over and over to find positions that were comfortable but the most comfortable I was standing, holding onto Marshall and squeezing for dear life when a contraction came. I remember telling him a few times that if we went back to the birth center and I was still 3cm I would walk myself across the parking lot to the hospital for an epidural. 

At some point while we were at home my water had definitely broken, which I didn’t realize until I was examined at the birth center. I legitimately thought I was peeing during every contraction. This totally explained the intensity of everything, in hindsight. I remember telling Marshall there was no way I was going to be able to do this for hours, but he kept reminding me to breathe and turned on some music at some point. Do It Again was on my playlist and I remember hearing myself saying “there’s no way I can do this” over and over and over and then hearing “you made a way, when there was no way” almost in direct response. 

After that the atmosphere completely shifted. I got a hold on my breathing, I was significantly more calm and relaxed. Something just clicked. Marshall told me we could go to the birth center anytime I was ready. My brother in law had come to pick up Lincoln on his way to work, miraculously right when he woke up from his “nap”. I was dreading the drive to the birth center, and it was 8am so I knew it was going to take longer than normal with traffic but I knew we should go sooner than later. Now that things were clearly progressing, I wasn’t sure how fast it would be and Marshall was for sure not excited at the prospect of delivering a baby in our bedroom. 

The drive there was incredible. I was so relaxed at this point I literally fell asleep. I’d have a contraction, breathe through it and doze off by the end of it. I have no idea how. It took us about 45 minutes to get there, traffic was completely stopped on the highway so we went back roads. Marshall did an exceptional job of driving. He said that we got stuck at every stoplight but I didn’t even notice, I had my eyes closed and I was sleeping or breathing. Later when I was in the tub I told our midwife that I kept falling asleep at the end of contractions and she explained it was my body conserving energy for pushing later on– means you’re close! 

We got there around 9am, Mandesa, the other midwife I had wanted to meet,  met us at the door smiling so big and said “I don’t think we’ve met!”. I happened to look at Marshall’s face and he was smiling so big too, and a little teary. I think I smiled at him, but I’m honestly not sure what my face looked like.  At this point we were both in complete awe at how everything was piecing together so perfectly after waiting for her for so long. Having Mandesa there was just like an extra special God hug, just because. He was like “I heard you! I knew you wanted to meet her! You got to meet her on the day it matters most! It was always the plan!” Another little promise fulfilled. 

My hands and legs were shaking and she walked us back to triage me. I was 6cm and she confirmed my water had broken. She helped me through a contraction on the table then listened to Emmeline’s heart and remarked “oh, she’s a happy baby!”, which Alexa literally had said five hours earlier. Everyone that listened to her heart beat always said that she was happy. So appropriate for our Emmeline Joy! She also made a comment about how I was doing great breathing for her and that was so motivating. I am an undeniable “words of affirmation” person so little comments like that really helped me a ton. 

She started the tub for me in our room and I made my way back there, leaving puddles of amniotic fluid along the way. In between contractions I still felt kind of normal. I made a joke in the triage room about leaking a little bit and after every contraction I’d look at Marshall and the puddle, of um, stuff, and remark how gross it was.  

In each of the birthing suites there’s a ladder on the wall and while Marshall went to the car to get our stuff I just held on to the ladder and swayed and breathed. It was like as long as I had something to hold onto, I was totally good. Once the tub was ready I asked Mandesa how I should sit since I was coping well standing and swaying, and she gave me some ideas and I finally settled on sitting on my knees and feet. After a while my feet turned kinda purple and were kinda numb but I totally rationalized that it would be worth it to lose my feet than sit on my butt during a contraction. Once I was in the tub and comfortable I told Mandesa I was scared of transition and she just looked at me and said “why? You might be in it right now.” Which may have been true, I didn’t seem to notice transition whenever it happened. 

  






Contractions came and went, and I would doze off, sitting up in the middle of the tub. At some point they got a speaker working and Marshall turned on my labor playlist and I requested “Do It Again” a few times. Soon I asked Mandesa about pushing and she told me contractions would change and breathing wouldn’t be enough to get me through them and she was totally right. Not long after, that things started to shift again and I would push through the end of contractions and it felt awesome. Awesome.  Everyone started getting things ready for a baby and I kept grunting and pushing a little, one big push kinda freaked me out because I felt her drop significantly. Mandesa talked me through some better pushing positions and we got things rolling around 11am! I had been coping and managing contractions pretty well on my own (with Marshall beside me– that was definitely the key) but pushing I super needed her direction on when to breathe, how to breathe and where to push. I couldn’t feel a lot of progress happening which got me kind of frustrated so she had me turn into a different position and she realized that my bag of water hadn’t broken completely and that was holding me back some. She popped it and a few pushes later her head was out! I think it took three contractions with her head pretty much out (have mercy, that was intense!) for her to come all the way out. She felt huge. Then all of a sudden, Emmeline was here, 11:37am! Relief! Almost 12 hours exactly from my first big contraction the night before. Mandesa caught her in the water and handed her right to me and I immediately started crying when I saw she had red hair. Best ever. I knew she would in my heart. I just knew it! She was so wild in my belly! 


She wasn’t crying yet, normal for water birth babies, apparently, so she and Anne (our amazing nurse) helped suction her and warm her up and wasn’t long before she was yelling at us pretty good (and hasn’t really stopped since…). 41 weeks and 2 days means some really developed lungs. She was making her presence in the world known, for sure! 






We sat for a few minutes then they helped me out of the tub and we walked over to the bed and they delivered the placenta and Mandesa stitched me up. I cut the cord (Marshall’s not really into that sort of thing..haha!)  and wasn’t long afterwards Emmeline latched on great and started nursing like a champ with much enthusiasm. We took turns snuggling and soaked it up! After we snuggled for about an hour Mandesa came back to weigh her and do all the newborn stuff, she had us guess her weight and I had no idea. 8 pounds 3 ounces! Mandesa said she guessed it almost exactly just by looking and feeling my belly when I came in. So fun. I could not believe that I pushed out an 8+ pound baby. What a body! Pushing was definitely the hardest part, for sure. Made more sense knowing she was a pound bigger than Lincoln. Totally felt it. Every ounce. She was 21.5 inches long (same as Lincoln). Overall, a big-ish girl– especially for our kind of people (small– ha!). Everyone that has met her since then remarks that she was a big babe to come out of me. I always fight the urge to flex my muscles in response. It’s also worth mentioning that my tailbone still hurts and I can’t really sit down or get up without wincing. 





This whole thing was just an incredible gift. The past two years have been such a refining time for me, and this birth was just a gift after all of that. God was in every single detail, and we knew he would be, despite weeks of trying to prepare and plan for every scenario. He was in the middle of it all with us, and showed off big time. His presence was tangible, especially in those final moments before she was born. 

Personally, I thought I’d leave there feeling super empowered and proud of myself but really I feel like God did most of the work. It was like something took over and told me what to do, how to breathe, how to stand, how to sit… it really was so instinctual. All of it. I mean, there’s not really any way to anticipate or practice how to cope… you just kind of figure it out at each stage.

Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of myself for sure, and this was such an amazing testament to how taking care of my body has changed how I view myself. Pretty much my whole life I’d always seen myself kind of sickly. I always had issues with eczema and asthma and I was just sick a lot, as a kid and as an adult If I didn’t have a cold (turned respiratory/sinus/ear infection) I had a stomach virus. I was never athletic or good at running, I always had a headache or was tired. I never believed my body could do anything. Since overhauling our diet and eating well I’ve been so shocked at how my body operates in general, and how good I feel and I think that was a major part of it. So much of the process was trusting my body and my instincts, and after twenty some years of NOT trusting or believing in my body it was tough, but this was just more affirmation to keep eating well and taking care of myself. My body can do amazing things if I fuel it with the best things! I finally believe that I am strong and capable of great things. This birth was such a gift, on so many levels. There is so much beauty in this life… and birth is not something to be dreaded or feared. It’s so beautiful, and empowering. Also, messy! But so is this life.  

Jualeah told me when we came in, “each baby writes their own story” and I love that my babies have different stories. Both of them were so special, and taught me so much about everything— life, myself, motherhood, our marriage, God. Thankful for them both, and my two happy healthy babes. Can’t imagine my life without them both– it’s always been them! It’s so fun to think about how as a teenager when I saw the name “Emmeline” in a textbook, that God KNEW that I’d have an Emmeline and she’d have red hair and be born in this way. She’d have a big brother, Lincoln, and I’d be married to Marshall (who I met in high school) and this would be our life. That was the plan all along. All along! Why do I ever doubt his goodness or his plan for me? It’s always so much better than anything I have planned for myself. Always. Every single time. And I always question it. And he’s always faithful. Always! 

And my husband. My sweet husband. I could not have done it without him. He knew my thoughts before I could say it, he knew what to say in the moment I needed it, he knew when not to say anything when I didn’t need it… it was truly one of the most special days in our marriage. Thanks for letting me squeeze your hand over and over. You are my lobster. Forever and ever. 

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If you’re on the fence about a med free birth or midwife care or a birth center– consider it! Trust yourself and your body, you are equipped and you can totally do it. The midwives at Baby & Company are incredible. They are incredibly thorough with their healthcare and I always left my appointments feeling so cared for and loved. Everything is so family oriented, patient centered, and the birth itself was so joyful and FUN! Not scary or clinical feeling. We are certain we are done with two kids (Marshall is certain, but I’m still enamored with E’s birth which is clouding my judgement… before her birth I was done with two, but now I don’t know!), but I wish we had plans for many more so I could deliver there again and again. Such a special place! I guess I’ll just have to go to every event they have there forever and ever. 

In all seriousness, the midwives there are amazing. Mandesa, especially, she is truly living out her calling. She was so supportive, and hands off when I didn’t need her, but as soon as I did she was right there, to hold my hand, or to tell me to relax, or with a barf bag (which thankfully I didn’t need!), or with words of encouragement. She was just the very best– we are so thankful for you and that you were the one for our girl’s story! 

And this is just the beginning, the best is yet to come. Let the good times roll! 

Special shoutout to my dear friend Amber Langhoff for being “on call” for like the entire month of April and May for us  and having a plan B, C, D and E for every day to be there for our birth! It was such a special day and we are so thankful we got to share it with you and that you were able to take photos. We will treasure them forever! 

Easter at Elevation | 2017

It’s not just about numbers. However, the reality is that each number is made up of people, each person is a life, each life is a story. People’s lives are being changed every single weekend through our church. Constantly. It’s incredible to witness. Freedom happening everywhere you turn. 
89 people from our campus began walking in life with Jesus this weekend.

2,243 people were in attendance, packed out the auditorium for 5 different worship experiences. 

446 kids were in eKidz. 

2.5 years ago our campus was 20 people streaming Pastor Steven’s sermon over an iPad in someone’s house. 
This is not normal. This is incredible. And it’s so much more than just “going to church” or “being a good person” or “whatever other cliche you can put here about being in church”. This place, the words from Pastor Steven every Sunday truly inspire people to live their best lives, walking in life with Christ. 
There was a special video on Sunday about a couple that is on staff at one of the Charlotte locations, and she talked about how she had always known about Jesus and that it was more of a Believe-In-Him-So-You-Go-To-Heaven-When-You-Die sort of thing. She said it wasn’t until she started attending Elevation that she began to understand that we’re intended for life change earth side. Jesus changes us here and we experience it here, and he does miracles and changes lives, breaks chains, sets people free. It’s here, and it’s now and it’s happening. And it’s real
Personally, this weekend was incredible. We attended the Saturday night worship experience (and I had contractions through the whole thing– bringing me back full circle to Christmas Eve @ Elevation 2014 when I contracted through the whole thing with Lincoln and had a baby four days later). I woke up super duper early for my last Sunday to serve before Emmeline comes and spent the morning shooting as best as I could with a borrowed camera and lenses (because I sold my spare and then my camera died two weeks later) and with the craziest Braxton Hicks contractions that were totally keeping me from really actually focusing on anything. I ended up scooting out early and only shooting a fraction of the day because I couldn’t focus on anything except the fully cooked baby belly and needed to sleep a bit. Hanging out and shooting with my team though, was the greatest thing ever. Those people make me laugh, inspire me and love me like no other. True family, for real. 

It’s not about me, none of this is about me, but being there days away from delivering my second baby, taking pictures of the most incredible moments of people’s lives where they are experiencing God, some for the very first time, doing what I love to do around people that I love and love me like their own family was just the biggest soul hug. Our Father is so faithful, and so sweet and so attentive to the details of our hearts and our lives. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I get to be a part of this. I will admit, I took my camera for granted. I took my gear for granted. I took it all for granted even though I didn’t mean to, but heading into this next season I’m not taking another moment of this opportunity for granted. Nope. Savoring, doing my very best, thanking God the whole way. I never would have imagined that I’d love getting up at 4am to serve at church all day long. Never, ever, ever. But it’s so worth it, it’s one of the greatest things I get to do earth side and I hope I get to do it for a long, long, long, long time. 

Find an Elevation Church location near you, watch sermons online and get connected here! 

I’m a tulip bulb.

This spring our tulips bloomed for the first time. I planted at least twenty bulbs and only three of them grew to completion, but they were so gorgeous. They were also surprisingly short lived, which is good to know for future gardening. Watching them grow and bloom though was really exciting for me, I’m just amazed by nature and the process of it all. 
When we first started going to Elevation I was coming out of a really challenging and refining season of postpartum anxiety and severe postpartum eczema, and one week pastor Steven preached a sermon called the seed is on schedule. It was during this sermon that I finally understood why people would get up and clap and shout things during his teaching because like everything he said, I was like YES! THIS IS ME! THIS IS LIFE! THIS IS EVERYTHING! AMEN! SO GOOD! Watching the bulbs grow into these beautiful flowers, having had planted them in the ground in the fall unsure if they’d do anything at all, was a miracle in itself. They grew so strong, so tall, so certain of their fate after sitting in the darkness of the dirt for literally months of winter coldness. So remarkable. If I were a tulip bulb, I’d surely wonder at some point if I had been forgotten, if maybe a mistake had been made because surely I was meant to be a tall, beautiful flower, not to spend most of my life sitting in the cold, dark earth. Which is totally how I felt in those first months of Lincoln’s life. I was meant to be more, not trapped in the dark.
I see so many parallels in my pregnancies and nature and seasons, I’m so thankful for the way God has designed it all. We welcomed Lincoln in the winter, and I literally felt like a tulip bulb. Trapped in the cold, dark, earth– unsure of my new territory, unsure of everything to come, unsure of why I was there. It was necessary for me to be there, though. I had to grow, I had to develop, I had to mature so that I could bloom and grow strong and tall as a mom, wife and woman. Although it was dark and scary at times, it was there that I became what I was intended to be, just like a tulip. 
I’m prepared for some more dark earth time, and some of this pregnancy has been that for sure. There have been moments, some days, some weeks even of darkness wondering what it will look like for me when this baby comes and what our new normal will be like. Preparing emotionally, and logistically to grow my heart with room for two has been a process that is only just beginning. I’m excited, open, expectant, and ready to bloom. 

Jonelle | Just Because + My Elevation Story

I’ve written some here and on social media about my kind of wacky and unique postpartum experience. It was rough times, and it was late September of 2015, that things started to calm down a bit and I started to reemerge from that season. My eczema had cleared up significantly, our marriage was strengthening, my anxiety and depression were improving and we were on the up and up. We had been attending a local church for several years and had a solid small group of other couples, but we had undeniably been feeling God pulling at us to move to a different church. Some seasons were ending in areas that we had served in, we were new parents and the time felt right for a change. Our small group was gearing up to start a new year and we felt like it was good to pull out of the group before starting a new year even before knowing where we were headed church-wise. It was kind of a fast decision, but one we both strongly felt God was guiding us to make. So, we made a list of churches in the area to visit put them in iCal for the next few Sundays and started the vetting process over again. We both had visited Elevation Church in Charlotte a few times and were longtime followers of their worship music and sermons from Pastor Steven Furtick (I actually blogged about this sermon a few months before Lincoln was born, and this sermon about fear and being brave changed my life a few months later) but having just come from a big multi-site church with many locations, I was pretty skeptical. I felt I wanted less flashy lights, big production on Sundays and just a quieter experience overall. Honestly, I was pretty not excited about finding a church. I felt like no matter what church we went to I was always disappointed in the people, and I think on some level I was just going along for the ride because I felt like I should, not because I felt like I was going to get anything from God. 
During my postpartum season, I had listened to almost every single podcast that Elevation Church put out, so I am not sure why I was so hesitant to visit in real life. We weren’t even first time visitors, we had been to the Raleigh location a few times when we were off from serving at our old church, and we even left Lincoln in the nursery there for the first time ever when he was just a few months old (also, we were there on Christmas Eve a few days before he was born when my labor started). Looking back it was so clear that this is where God was sending us to be a part, I don’t know why I didn’t see it sooner. 
I think we visited on September 19th, on the way out of the worship experience Marshall was like “I want to go here for a while” and I agreed (again, not totally on board but he seemed convinced so I went with it). We signed up for E101 the next week to learn more about the church (except thats where you sign up to serve– we had no idea) and then I found an eGroup that met on Friday mornings at Jubala (hellooooo my favorite coffee place!) and that’s where I met Jonelle. 
I thought her eGroup had been meeting forever, but it turns out I invited myself to the first meeting ever. My first impression was what an answer to something that I had really been longing for but not really said anything about to God, or anyone else. I had an overwhelmingly large and supportive community of moms already. Our previous small group, local friends, my sister… I had a ton and I was kind of mommed out. I was growing tired of spending time with other moms, conversations completely dominated by nap schedules, breastfeeding woes and nighttime baby sleep. I was craving real conversation, about what was going on in my life and in theirs, things they really struggled with (not related to baby sleep) and coming out of one of the hardest seasons of my life, I was just really lonely. Sitting around the table was women in a variety of life stages and it was glorious. Jonelle is a mom of girls that are teenagers (and now with one in college) and of the other women some were moms of elementary, middle or high school kids, some were single, some were college girls themselves and it was just as my heart had desired. 
Another thing that literally took my breath away for a second, was the fact that out of a group of maybe 10 ladies, I was one of I think three that were white. After the UMC shooting in Charleston, Pastor Steven preached an unforgettable message titled “It’s In Your Hands” about racism that changed everything for me. I’ve had black friends, Hispanic friends, Asian friends, Muslim friends throughout my lifetime, but at that current season in my life literally everyone I knew and interacted with on a regular basis was white– just like me, and just like Lincoln. My heart was not comfortable when I realized that. In the sermon he talked about that it is OUR JOB to raise the next generation without the racism of our previous generations. It ends with us. It changed everything for me. Our neighbors were black and we didn’t even know their names and had lived beside them for years. Our church was majority white, our small group was 100% white. Every kid that we were friends with at the time was white. How could I teach my child that other people maybe different colors but are the same as us– loved, chosen, wanted, and valued by God– if we literally never interacted with anyone that looked different from us? I couldn’t imagine waiting until he was in kindergarten for him to meet a diverse group of people. Diverse immediately skyrocketed to the top of my list when we decided to look for a new church. So, when I got to eGroup and I looked around the table I knew that God was with me there, and this is where the future was for us. Our big mighty God that created all the things shows up in the tiniest of details in our prayers, hearts and thoughts and it is the greatest. He wants great things for us, for us to do great things and it is never too late to get started. 
So, back to Jonelle. We hit it off immediately, and after talking to her some the following Sunday at church we discovered that we both had been dabbling in the paleo and autoimmune paleo diet (literally I had not met any actual person in real life at that point that had either heard of it, or wasn’t a total skeptical about the whole “gluten free craze”) for a variety of conditions, one of which was eyelid eczema that I really thought I was the only one in the world that had that! Talk about a me too! moment. The more we got to know each other, the more it became clear that we were family through and through. This woman is so special to me! And being in her eGroup was such a gift and the doorway to what would become a seemingly endless stream of blessings flowing from this church into our lives as sermons, people, serving opportunities, the stories we get to witness and be part of.. it’s unreal how we see God moving literally on a daily basis through connections we’ve made at this church. As Lincoln got older it got more difficult to get to eGroup (and to stay the entirety of the time) but I still consider myself to be a part and I honestly doubt I’ll ever leave… 
This woman’s beauty is breathtaking inside and out, I am beyond grateful that we get to share in this season together! We met one chilly day at Sola in Raleigh for some fun headshots for blog things to come for her (she’s an avid and talented writer, in addition to all the other things that she rocks at….) and it was a total blast standing on stuff and climbing around the tables like we were the only people in there (we weren’t). Thankful barely covers it. So thankful for this family. 

Matt, Dana, Ethan, Ava + Judah | family

Oh, I love this family. They are headed to Charlotte this week to begin an AMAZING adventure as part of the 2k2 program at Elevation and I really can’t imagine what it’s going to be like not seeing Dana every Sunday. Kinda makes me want to cry a bit. I’m so glad that Lincoln is little because I don’t know how I’d explain sweet Judah’s absence for a few months. He loves that kid! 
They have become dear friends and I can’t wait to have them back in Raleigh. A couple of weeks ago we met downtown to take some Raleigh love family pictures and it was such a blast. It was a chilly day but they came out dressed all fly like they do and we had a blast, jumping and frolicking through the streets and alleyways. Dana and Matt: It was an absolutely joy to take a few pictures for you guys during this special season! I am so excited to see what will come from your time in Charlotte, we love you so much! And Dana, super thankful God had it in mind to have our paths cross during this season of 90s comeback and #momdiaries. We will see you soon! 

I Am Handpicked

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As a mom especially, it’s hard for me to not have regrets or to wish I had done some things differently. I’m positive this will be a reoccurring theme for the rest of forever. Sometimes I find myself wishing I’d made different decisions or for a “do over”, for some reason these wishes come to me in the final moments of each day while trying to fall asleep. Every single mistake I’ve made or dumb thing I’ve said. Sometimes, just from that day, or sometimes from years ago. I am not totally sure why my subconscious hates me and tries to sabotage good sleep.

Occasionally, like right now, I have these lucid moments where I’m grateful for the mistakes and the imperfect way things go. My perspective wouldn’t be what it is now had things not been the way they were. And I’m thankful for that. Thankful for growth, and for a God that never leaves me and never stops teaching me. Thankful that I was designed for and handpicked for this job of ‘mama’. It’s freaking hard some days, some days it’s easy easier than the hard days, and some days I walk with an energy in my step that I can only define as joy

There may be others better at teaching, parenting, disciplining, funning, or you name it–
there is a not, never was and never will be, another person on the planet that could replace me. I was made to be Lincoln’s mom. Designed for it, in fact. Handpicked for it. And I’m rocking it.

Thank you, Jesus. Your ways are perfect. 

Martha | portraits

One day I was wandering around church taking pictures and I, quite literally, ran into Martha who was pushing a little kid in a stroller during the worship experience. We introduced ourselves to each other and she realized I was Lincoln’s mom and I realized she volunteered with him in eKids. We made the usual small talk where I found out she was originally from Kenya (so, I have a lifelong obsession with Kenya and tried really hard to study abroad there but couldn’t make it work with my Spanish major) and that she loved to babysit and didn’t have classes on Mondays. I told her to write her phone number down (neither of us had our phones on us at the moment) on Lincoln’s sheet for the day and I’d get in touch with her about Monday babysits. She forgot to that day, but the next week wrote her info down and I texted her and we set it up. She would be our Monday morning babysitter so I could work for a couple of hours. And I was SO excited because it wasn’t long after that I found out I was pregnant and all I wanted to do was sleep. 
Finding a consistent babysitter has been really hard for us. Why? I have no idea. Our kid is cute! We’re super fun people! But basically they either turned out to be a little crazy, not dependable, or were SO AMAZING they got better gigs than one morning a week.  
Enter, Martha. A literal answer to prayer.
Basically, she is the best. She and Lincoln hit it off immediately. Not long after she started babysitting we got baptized on the same night at Code Orange Revival and I got to hear a little bit of her story– she is the best! Not long after Code Orange, she decided to shave her head, and wrote on Facebook about how she wanted her beauty to come from within and not be dependent upon what she looks like, or having long hair. And she is truly beautiful, inside and out! 
I’ve been feeling a little burnt out with photography lately. I love it. It’s so much fun, and I really enjoy it but just so many things have a higher priority over it these days. When I do book sessions or weddings there’s so much emphasis on “the biz”, contracts and legal agreements and re-creating images from Pinterest and it really just bogged it all down for me. I told Martha I wanted to document her current season and her celebration of all that Jesus has done in her life. I was all– “I hope this isn’t weird… but can I take pictures of you one day!?!” and apparently, it wasn’t weird at all. And it really wasn’t! She, Lincoln, Marshall and I went downtown and took some photos and enjoyed an awesome dinner at Remedy Diner and it was such a wonderful day! The weather was perfect. The sun was perfect and she is gorgeous. Perfect day.
Today, pastor preached about getting your passion back. I have many passions in life, photography is definitely one of them. When I got home today, instead of napping or playing on my phone and watching TV while Lincoln napped I decided to finally go through these images and pick a few to share. This day was so good for my heart. Thank you, Jesus! For Martha. For Elevation Raleigh. For my camera. For our photography team. For my eyeballs. For the sunshine. For this season. 
PS: Martha wants to go to school in Charlotte next year, but LOOK AT THAT RALEIGH SKYLINE! 

Our Everyday Photos: June 30th

I decided to document our day a little differently than I have been, and get in to some pictures. I recently purchased a battery grip for my Mark ii (I kept having nightmares that I was called to photograph a birth and my battery was dead, so I bought two more batteries… have mercy) and it randomly came with a remote, which was something that I researched a while back and wanted to get but never took the plunge. We played with it a few days ago with some tripod family photos (much better than pushing the 10 second timer button and running) and I decided to take the opportunity to do some experimenting with my old 28mm Nikon lens and the Mark. 
It was a great day to learn more about aperture and focal width, and to get a chance to use some slower shutters than normal since my camera was sitting somewhere. All of these were taken by me using my remote, or self-timer + remote, some after quite a bit of “guess and check” with focus (my Nikon lenses are manual focus, they are older and I use an adapter so they work with my Canon) and settings but overall I am so happy with how they turned out. The 28mm has such a retro feel to it. I love it. And the full frame sensor in the Mark just… changes everything. I can’t believe I lived so long without it. 
My goal these days is shooting with a higher f stop number. I’ve shot wide open most of my life and wondered why it was so hard to focus (there may be a metaphor in there about my personality…)  and to get what I’m looking at straight out of the camera to cut down on editing time and  maybe, maybe get to the point where I want to pull out the film camera at some point in the future (for fun). Really the only shooting I’m doing is at church on the regular, and am second shooting two weddings between now and the fall but we’re approaching the end of our debt free journey (!) and I am getting antsy to bring in as much money as possible. I’ve got lower enrollment in my online classes this summer so I’m meditating and praying about putting feelers out for some family sessions. Waiting on God to give me the nudge– he’s usually pretty clear when it’s time for me to act. July is a pretty busy month for us, so I might just need to sit and be patient, but we will see. 
So, June 30th. I just spent the whole day taking it in through my camera and it was absolutely glorious (and kind of exhausting). Real life/work caught up with me at nap time so you’ll notice there aren’t any photos after that, but all in all, a great day. I’m not going to leave any commentary this time, will let the photos tell the story. Not pictured: we went to the mall to Shopkick, and I brought my camera but full blown toddler meltdown required two hands and I did not have wits about me to take a picture of it while it was happening. Maybe next time. I like these pictures. I didn’t get fancy dressed, or put make up on, or clean up my house. So there’s dog hair, an un-made bed and unwashed hair. Get excited. 
Thank you, Jesus. I will not take this for granted. I will thank you every day for all of this. It’s so much more than I ever could have dreamed up to ask for. You know my heart’s desires. Thank you for the way you love us. So personal, so sweet, so big. You’re the best. 

Restoration By Coming Undone

The other night I got into bed and just poured it all out to my husband. I’ve been legitimately terrified heading into this summer. Last summer was a bit traumatic for me, and we talked about all my fears and how last summer was miserable and all three of us are so much better off because of how horrible it was. As hard as it was to go through it, last summer was so pivotal in my life.  It’s really true that God uses the hardest times in our lives to bless us. We just have to let him. 

Last summer was one of the darkest times of my life. It sounds really dramatic, when I put it that way, but it was a season where days, weeks and months blurred together and I thought I’d never get out of it. I was ashamed of myself, disappointed in myself and hurt for my family that I was such a mess. I really believed they deserved more.

It was kind of a perfect storm that led to fall out. For starters, I was leaving my job of being a Spanish teacher to work from home full time teaching online. On paper it seemed like a dream come true, but I did not adjust very gracefully. I had unrealistic expectations for myself of what it would be like to be at home working with a mobile infant (when I went back to work after maternity leave Lincoln was 12 weeks old and didn’t really do much besides eat, sleep, poop and stare at things). I am strikingly terrible at time management, and without having bells or a school schedule to tell me where to go, what to do and when to eat lunch and pee, I was overwhelmed with all the hours I was suddenly expected to commandeer . There was no structure to my days or when the baby napped, and some days he wouldn’t nap and I wouldn’t eat or pee all day. I found it really overwhelming to keep up with housework, feeding the baby (and myself) and getting work done. I failed pretty miserably, and straight up didn’t get work done like I was supposed to and had to explain myself to my supervisor twice in two months. It was embarrassing, as I try to maintain a good reputation in professional circles, but I remember feeling like I was just trying to make it to bedtime. Could have cared less about my inbox.

Another element that really surprised me about the job change, was the juxtaposition of all the expectations that others had for me and how much I cared! I felt caught between these unrealistic expectations for myself and professional expectations that I had from former professors and colleagues and it seemed unwise to leave my job right when it seemed like all my friends my age were excelling in theirs. Was I making a huge mistake leaving a job that I loved, to be at home in a job that didn’t provide benefits or any type of security? Why couldn’t I be the kind of mom to send my kid to daycare? How did other teacher moms afford it? How did other teacher moms enjoy being around kids but away from their own? I hated to be away from Lincoln. This had it’s own stigma attached to it (that mom), it just seemed like a lose-lose at every angle. I was failing as a working woman to trade my career for motherhood. I was soft for wanting to spend time with my baby. It must be nice to be able to stay at home. I’d find myself correcting people, telling them that I worked from home, I don’t stay at home, like somehow that made me more legitimate.

On top of the job change, I had been struggling my gradually worsening eczema since Lincoln had been born and it was in the summer months it began to flare the worst. I tried a variety of creams, ointments and finally resorted to topical steroids and shortly thereafter experienced a flare on 80% of my body. It was all over my face, torso, limbs and everywhere in between. It was painful. It was ugly. It was itchy. It was terrifying. I saw many doctors and none could do anything for me because I was breastfeeding, and didn’t recommend any steroids (which would clear it up) because of the risk for a rebound flare which could be worse than the initial flare. I saw so many doctors, sneaking into the office mid-July wearing long sleeves and a baseball cap to avoid stares in the waiting room, just to pay an $80 co-pay to be told “sorry”.

Personally, things were on the fritz. New parenthood was hard on our marriage, and it took lots of hard conversations and intentional time spent in prayer for and with each other to get to the point where we could have pleasant conversations (in retrospect, 6 months of not sleeping through the night will make you a pretty irritable person). During the summer within days of each other, someone really close to me had a late miscarriage of their third child, and some dear friends of ours lost their newborn to a disease they found out about at their 20 week anatomy scan. The emotions of pregnancy and birth were still so fresh, I could barely get out of bed. Not too long later, my dad casually announced he had been dating someone for a year, and my mom got remarried to guy I’ve never met. Suddenly I looked up and I had no idea who I was, where I came from and what it all meant. There was no meaning, rhyme or reason to anything. I liked to sleep, and eat brownies. That was about it.

I was just really struggling, you know? Becoming a mom had been hard, leaving my job was hard, my new job was hard, figuring out my body after having and breastfeeding a baby was hard, having eczema and wondering what causes it was hard, finding out that my parents had started new lives without me was hard, seeing my husband, friends and family move on about their normal lives was hard. I’d begun having  anxiety attacks multiple times a day– and I had just come to terms with this was my new life, and I had to get used to it. I hated silence and being alone with my thoughts. I binge watched any and everything on Netflix in the background always and listened to podcast after podcast after podcast. Anything to drown out the deafening silence. I really just wanted to do normal new mom stuff: do some work at home in my leggings, watch TV and nurse my baby, lose the babyweight. I did not sign up for this despair that I found myself in.

I read this entry from Jess Connolly today. I’ve been half-heartedly reading her new book Wild and Free for the past 6 weeks or so, but I am praying and asking God to give me the self-discipline to turn off Netflix before bed and read for ten minutes until I finish it. It’s so good, and so real, and so what I need to hear in this season of my life. But it’s almost too good. Like, I don’t want to read it because I can’t just space out and read it. I actually have to read the words and think about the implications of them. It’s taking forever.

But, the entry I read today is titled Women of God: Please Come Undone, and I thought there was no better time than to share this fountain of emotions, warmed by the gradual increasing temperatures of summer, has begun to bubble over from my soul. Please read it. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be religious, spiritual, a Christian–whatever– it is so honest and real and every woman should read it, and know that there are other women out there that feel this way.

Depression is weird. Anxiety is weird. I was diagnosed with clinical depression in high school, and was medicated for a while. I don’t really remember much of high school (which it what I wanted to shout to everyone that I saw at my 10 year reunion last weekend– “I studied Facebook so I’d know your names!”) and if you’ve ever swapped crazy parent stories with me, you can probably attest that a little extra serotonin production wouldn’t have been a bad thing for high school me. But it’s just a really weird thing to experience, and to talk about. What really resonated to me about Jess’ blog post is when she sent a message out to her church people and was honest about her depression and suicidal thoughts and asked people to hang out with her– no one did. It’s weird territory, I get it. Especially as a mom now,  taking my kid over to play with  the self-proclaimed suicidal mom’s kids may not be my first choice. It’s just messy, and complicated and  we think that the first step to getting a nice, clean, uncomplicated and tidy life is to surround ourselves by people who lead nice, clean, uncomplicated and tidy lives.

That could not be farther from the truth. First of all, there’s no one in the whole wide world that leads a nice, clean, uncomplicated and tidy life. We’ve all got messes somewhere, and if for some reason we were blessed with two sane parents and no uncles with a drinking problem, we’ve got a cabinet full of self-doubt, other fears or things like poverty, disease and abuse. Nobody’s life is perfect.

Second of all, experiencing a connection with another person through their deepest, darkest moment that they wish that they could erase is nothing but supernatural. The mutual understanding of, “me too!” is what binds us, connects us, and gives us the push we need to keep going through the hard stuff. Me, too. I’ve been there, too. You aren’t alone. Last summer, that’s what I needed the most. I needed someone to come beside me that had been there, and to reassure me that I was in fact, not turning into my mother, and that things would come out in the wash. Because, that’s the truth. I’m still Kellie and I made it out.

I have mixed thoughts and feelings about sharing how much my life has changed since last year. There’s nothing coherent, or predictable about the way God moved. I knew on some level while it was happening that he was working for my good, but I couldn’t have even explicitly asked for what would come. He’s so rad like that. This year has brought some serious crap, but because of it God has revealed life to me like I’ve never experienced it. I never want to go back to how it was before. Eczema, postpartum depression and all– it’s shaped my life and made me better. Not an uncomplicated, clean, tidy better, but my perspective is better. My perspective on everything– being a wife, mom, teacher and friend– is wider. I feel like I see a bigger picture than I used to. And in the realest, most honest sense– I’m way better at self care, time management, eating food that nourishes me, exercising and sleeping. I’m still taking meds prescribed by my OB last year, and eventually I’ll try life off of them, but I’m really enjoying not having anxiety attacks. A lot of those things were out of necessity, but I count them. God answered the deepest cries of my heart that I’d never uttered out loud and made me better in ways that I’ve longed for my whole life.

I want to shout from the rooftops that God has brought me from the depths to this place, but I have these fears that it comes off as bragging. You know how people do sometimes? Post a picture of something ridiculous and hashtag “blessed” and are all humble braggy, but try to play it off that they are thanking God about it.  I have these fears, that as soon as I start to talk about what God has done for me that I’ll have an eczema flare and then I’ll find myself soaking in a tub back at square one. It’s a weird place, crediting my healing to God, and accepting that it’s temporary. I still have fears. I have so many fears, but they don’t define me anymore. They don’t have a place here, there’s too much light!

All that to say, one of my favorite lines from UnQualified was: There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. There is joy, beauty and connection waiting in the cracks. My hope in sharing this story is that you’ll be free to come undone too– there’s certain restoration waiting for us there. Amen.

Most Excellent Way to Lead Conference

We had the incredible opportunity to visit Newspring Church last month for the release of Pastor Perry Noble’s newest book The Most Excellent Way to Lead. He hosted a one day leadership conference with all my favorites: Lysa Terkherst, Pastor Steven Furtick, Dave Ramsey (and Mark Driscoll and Newspring Youth Pastor Brad Cooper, too– I didn’t really know who they were until the day of). The conference was intended for business or ministry leaders– of which I am neither– but it was super affordable, close and I could not pass up the chance to hear from these people live all together. I listen to Lysa, Steven, Dave and Perry on a weekly (if not, daily) basis via podcast and I am totally open to being in some sort of leadership position in life (you know, other than raising my own kids and motivating other people’s to do their Spanish work) should that be something God puts in my life. Absolutely everything that was taught during the conference was applicable to regular life, parenting, my job, our involvement as volunteers in church, etc. It was a total joy and privilege to learn from some of the smartest people of our generation, that is for sure. 

On a personal note, Marshall and I loved the chance to get away together somewhat spontaneously, just the two of us. A few years ago for Christmas Eve Eve we decided to go to Newspring for their Christmas service and spend the night in hotel just for fun, and it was one of my favorite memories of our life together before we were parents. We did stuff like that all the time, just go to the mountains or the beach for the weekend, decide we want to do something and go. Obviously, having dogs and now a child makes that a bit more logistically difficult (and expensive, because dogs have to be boarded), but it was such a perfectly timed getaway. 
It was also totally exhausting as we stopped in Hillsborough the night before to get a little bit of a head start in the morning and leave Lincoln there (he woke up and partied until midnight, then slept sideways between us in bed until we overslept…) and then got up before 5am to drive to Anderson. After the conference ended we drove immediately to Charlotte to meet up with the campus photography leaders, they happened to meet the day we were passing through so I wanted to go and meet them which was absolutely an amazing opportunity. It’s such a unique thing to serve with a whole group of people in a different city that you’ve never met, and then get a chance to hang out with them and have this feeling of total and complete belonging. What happens at our church is not normal. Although, I think having our shared vision and shared desire to see people come to know Christ unites and bonds us in a way that is totally supernatural. Not normal for this world, no way, no how. 
That meeting was so awesome, we got to hear from the graphics and design teams about what kind of photos are useful for them and what things to focus on when shooting worship experiences and other campus events. The way that we are able to document what God is doing at our campuses and share it all together via Smugmug/Photostream is just amazing. Technology is such a blessing. Marshall and I learned a ton, totally geeked out during the whole thing (he does graphic design/motion graphics on the side for a church in Durham) and were able to get a tour of the Matthews campus and see where all the creatives work and it was just super the coolest. 

All in all, a wonderful little getaway! I had intentions of taking real camera pictures the entire day, and was so busy and wrapped up in everything (and so, very tired) that I only took maybe a dozen. Wonderful memories in my head though!