Elevate + Grow Workshop: First Thoughts After Returning Home

After a whirlwind weekend of non-stop motion, late nights, earlier mornings, new faces, old friends, back to back sessions, too much coffee, wild inspiration, adventure after adventure, laughing till we cry, and more tears brought on by the sheer beauty around me, I finally found stillness at the airport, waiting to board my flight. I had gone into this third year at the Dear Photographer workshop expecting more of the same good times, fun people, and lots of learning and growth but I wasn’t prepared for what else would be flying home with me this year.

I sat at my gate with about an hour to kill. Headphones in, scrolling through the pictures from the weekend, I suddenly found myself overcome with emotion and tears starting to fall. I couldn't process exactly what I was feeling. I even messaged some of the girls and joked that I must really be tired because I’m crying in an airport! I never cry. Almost never.

It took me a minute to realize that what I was actually feeling was an overwhelming sense of gratitude and inspiration.

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When I was 21 years old, I marked my back with the wings of a dove, a nod to a verse I clung to at the time:

My insides are turned inside out;
    specters of death have me down.
I shake with fear,
    I shudder from head to foot.
“Who will give me wings,” I ask—
    “wings like a dove?”
Get me out of here on dove wings;
    I want some peace and quiet.
I want a walk in the country,
    I want a cabin in the woods.
I’m desperate for a change
    from rage and stormy weather.”

Psalm 55: 4-8, The Message

The storm I was seeking shelter from was inside my own head. For years, I suffered with anorexia, bulimia, self-harm, depression, and substance abuse issues. I had incredibly low self-esteem and felt completely worthless. My Father revealed Himself to me when I was at my most desperate, and by His grace I was eventually healed. I got the tattoo after my baptism, when I finally felt free.

Over the last decade I have gotten married, had two healthy children, two devastating miscarriages, and a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I have gained and lost the same 40+ pounds multiple times and have been feeling more and more uncomfortable in my own skin as each day passes. Worst of all, I’m fighting the urges that my former self would have already given into. I’m not afraid to admit it: I struggle even still with body image, confidence, and self-esteem, things I never thought I’d still be dealing with in my 30s. I know the truth about myself: I know deep inside that I am worthy, I know that I am loved, and yet I still struggle.

And what does any of this have to do with Dear Photographer?

The women at the workshop were some of the most genuine, beautiful inside-and-out, talented, funny, generous, bold, and inspiring women I’ve yet to meet in real life. The energy of the group was obvious to everyone in it. The confidence and self-love was in abundance around me and I remember thinking at one point, “I can’t believe they asked me to be here. I don’t belong here.” Isn’t that heartbreaking? I flew across the country to teach a class that I was ASKED to teach, and yet I still felt that I didn’t have anything to offer these women? I did belong. I DO belong. I am just as worthy as anyone to create, experiment, learn, grow, and express myself.

As I tried in vain to wipe clean my salty, tear-stained face I realized it: If I really am a part of this incredible group, then I must have some of that same confident fire buried deep inside somewhere too. I felt a stirring in me, a washing clean of old thoughts and feelings, of former habits and self-destructive behavior. I felt freedom again. Freedom to create photographs the way I want and not care what people think about it. Freedom to create self-portraits the way I want and not worry that I might look stupid or, God forbid, fat. Freedom to create art the way I want and KNOW that I was MADE to create, and that nothing can stop me from living out my true nature. A veil was lifted, I was given new perspective. I believe I was brought to Portland for a reason.

I am so grateful. So incredibly grateful. Adri De La Cruz, Janel Peyton, THANK YOU for putting on this incredible workshop. To my teachers, Adri and Janel of course, plus Sandy Fales, Kristy Burrell, Brittany DeJesus, Kerlyn Van Gelder, and Jayme Ford, I thank you for inspiring me and being so generous with your knowledge and gifts. Thank you for sharing your art with the world and allowing social media to connect us all. Thank you Kristy Westendorp for the endless amounts of creative outpouring through song, poetry, photography, and sheer wit. To each woman at the workshop, thank you for being brave enough to put yourself out there. Workshops like these can be intimidating, and I was so happy to share the weekend and grow alongside all of you. After all, “It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you can begin to change, GROW, and transform.” Thank you all so much. You'll never know how much this weekend truly meant to me.

So now I’m back home but I’m feeling far from normal. I’ve got my wings, I’ve got my peace, and now I’ve got my fire. I can’t wait to show you what comes next.

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