In 2013, after years of photographing and writing professionally, I filed my first LLC.
I still have the photo of me standing in our rental house, with my 3 kids nearby, holding that precious piece of paper claiming I was legitimate. On the outside, this piece of paper seemed like an obvious next step in building my career, but on the inside I was caught between 2 lives.
I had grown up in rural Delaware, the second oldest of 14 children, homeschooled K-12, married at 19, with no college degree. I was raised to believe that women should not work and their primary role was to support their husbands from the shadows and to procreate for the kingdom of God.
By the age of 23, I had done just that. I had gotten pregnant on my honeymoon, had 3 children, and 1 miscarriage, and moved 5 times to support my husband’s career.
On the fifth move, I looked around our new apartment. Dinner was cooking in the oven, clothes were folded on the couch, we were in a state where I hardly knew anyone and I had 3 children, 2 and under. I faced a feeling I had not had the courage to really explore - the feeling I was living someone else’s life.
Around this time, my husband brought home a DSLR camera. I had experimented a bit with film as a girl, but digital was a blank canvas. I took hundreds of photos a day, the best ones ending up on a little blog with 5 followers.
That camera became the entrance into a whole new world for me. As I got better at taking pictures, I got better at writing, and as I got better at writing, I got better at finding my voice.
I wrote a lot about mothering and cooking during that season, a topic I felt safe to explore given my upbringing. But soon I was delving into other topics that included business, patriotism, spirituality, and identity. That little blog grew, along with my photography, and I began taking on freelance work on the side. Eventually, an investor began to take notice of me and offered me consistent work facilitating interviews and writing articles for local businesses. As nerve racking as it was to be a 25 year old mom of 3, with very little life experience, walking into male dominated spaces to ask them what inspired them to be an entrepreneur, I freaking loved it.
Soon, I began bringing in consistent income. This brought me the independence I had craved since I was a teenager and my world continued to expand. Instead of waiting for my husband’s work schedule to align, I would pack the kids up myself and take them on trips. I moved back into a fixer upper house we had owned, handled the repairs, and sold it. I taught myself more about finances, marketing, digital design, and began making decisions of my own. I can’t explain what propelled me forward during this time, only that something was burning inside of me to lean into my fears and not run away from them. As I embraced my newfound freedom, I wrote. I took on larger and larger projects, remained the stable parent my kids needed, birthed my 4th baby, kept pursuing a relationship with God, and was surprised to find that the world wanted to hear what I had to say.
I finally got my LLC and decided it was time to do the most daring thing I’d done to date: write a book about my parents raising me and my 13 siblings. It was during the book writing process that my world completely shattered and I was forced to decide which of the 2 lives I wanted to live. The truth of my family and the foundation we had been built on began to crumble. Story after story, memory after memory, secret after secret, came sifting to the top. Perhaps it was the journalist in me, the years I’d now lived away from my parents, or the experiences I’d started to gather, but I, for the first time, had the courage to ask tough questions not just about the past, but also the present. I did not take “sweep it under the rug” for an answer.
I finally faced the truth and the truth changed everything.
Isn’t it amazing that a single moment can change an entire trajectory, but you don’t know it’s happening until you look back and see that there, where the dark meets the light, you faced the sun and went down a completely different path? Of course, I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time, I just knew that I wanted what was on the inside of me to be congruent with what was on the outside. When you are raised in an environment of fear and control, the soul becomes divided. I had warred these 2 selves for years, coming in and out of hiding, retreating when survival was necessary. The book writing process forced me to sort through the confusion and put something black or white on a piece of paper. It was there that I plunged my way through generations of misogyny, addiction, abuse, deceit, narcissism, sexual brokenness, denominational control, and one’s own responsibility to tell the truth.
In the end, I chose to live in the truth.
I knew when I made the decision that it would cost me dearly. I left a relationship with my parents, exited church legalism, took a 2 year sabbatical from the career I had worked so hard to build, entered therapy, faced my own crumbling marriage, and the sum of my life choices. In short, I walked through a wasteland, sloughing off the bits of me I no longer needed.
I look back and see that I have shed a lot, but I’ve gained so much more.
The little girl within, caged by fear of opinion, rejection, and abandonment, is a woman who walks lighter, with more confidence, girded from every side with the truth that sets me free. In this process, I have begun to surrender the story I thought I would write and have traded it for chapters of the unknown, resting in Who the real author of my life is.
If you were to look at the highlight reel of my life you would see that I have published articles, created a clothing brand, homeschooled my 4 kids, been married for 11 years, gone to church, traveled abroad, trained for a marathon, and started this podcast. Yet, this is hardly the full story. I find this is universal. Many of us have walked through crushing setbacks, yet we hide these and highlight what everyone accepts as success. It is only when we make friends with these pieces of our lives that we have shifted adversity into an opportunity for real success. With this project, I hope to redefine success and what we’ve overcome to get there.