This is a very special year for me. A year that is here by the grace of God and because I obeyed the Lord many years ago and let go of what I never wanted to let go of. To tell you the story, I’ll have to take you back to when I first came to Knoxville, TN. Suffice it to say this is a story with length so I’ll leave out a few things, like how God brought me to TN, but when I arrived in the fall of 2003 I began looking for a way to work with the youth in the area. I had previously worked with the youth in Lynchburg, VA for about 12 years, and my college degree at Liberty University was Church ministries with a concentration on Youth Ministries. I never felt the call on my life to be a pastor (Lordy you don’t want this crazy child to lead them in that role), but I had a clear calling for youth my sophomore year at Liberty. Being a part of their life, loving on them, doing fun and crazy things with them, (like Wal-Mart at midnight just for kicks) and just being there to do life with them. I could share so many stories.
The Lord closed all doors to youth ministries to me here in Knoxville when I arrived and began looking for a place to serve. Youth for Christ, Young Life, Fellowship’s youth group, and many other places. I was pretty lost, so unsure of why God was closing all these doors. When my small group leader, Dee, asked if perhaps God was calling me to a period of rest – well surely I didn’t need rest…why would He need me to do that? But then again, He was. When I finally got that through my head and said okay God I’ll rest, I had peace and knew He was calling me to that, even if I didn’t understand the why of it. Little did I know that He had plans of His own just around the corner.
Summer came and with it Children’s ministry! The church began asking for leaders for each grade and my friend Ken came to me and asked if I would work the same grade with him so that if either one of us wanted a weekend away we could go and one of us would still be there for the kids. Okay, sure. So we started with this group of rising 1st graders. Benji, Olivia, Nathan, Katie, Naomi, Carissa and others who have come and gone through the years. I never really knew that there was anything beyond the summer for me in this ministry and I loved these kids dearly, but this was a God thing and there were many more pieces yet to be discovered in this story.
That summer came and went and then the next summer Ken and I decided to do it again and keep the same kids so we had the rising 2nd graders. This again did not register as any kind of a God story until the summer was winding down. There was a desperate need to have leaders for the children’s ministries team. It took me some time to finally respond to the tugging of the Lord on my heart to serve. It wasn’t high school, but I had a relationship with the kids after two summers and in no time it grew to a deeper relationship including the parents as well.
I began to take the kids on outings, and yes the parents trusted me with their kiddos’, which to me was such a privilege and SO MUCH FUN! Movies downtown were fun with some of the boys who all opted to get suicide soda’s – aka…a little bit of soda from each of the soda fountains tap (yes a combo of Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Dr. Pepper and whatever else was there). Can we say sugar rush! All of these were fun even when we went to Mast General Store afterwards and I let the kids get even more candy. (I’m such a good aunt!) It’s a wonder those parents let me take them out again after getting their sugared up children back.
And there were soccer games to attend.
And then getting being invited to the “North Knoxville gatherings” as the “west Knoxvillian”, and becoming more involved with the kids and the parents in a fun and laid back setting. I had an in as most of the kids there were the kids that I had in Sunday School.
And the journey continued into their 5th grade year. Right before I got married and when my soon to be husband and I took 4 of the kids out to a movie and then ice cream and then took them home. I’ll never forget “The Wheels on the Bus” by Carson and his many many made up verses to the song, and Brittany’s steel nerves as she sat in the back seat quietly not saying a thing. I think i learned how far it really was from west Knoxville to his house that night!
My wedding rolled around and 4 of the kids came with their families. I was thrilled to have them there and their families attend.
Then began their middle school crazy years. I must admit I’m not a fan of middle school changes and the extreme amount of energy the kids have and I think I know that God has NOT called me to work with that age group. I was going back to school for photography at that time, so I was the “photographer” during those years and held no formal title or role in their lives, but watched two dear ladies (Mandy and Tracy) love them well. I was blessed to be able to watch them grow and still be a part of their lives. Those years however, were the beginning of a huge change for me. I had loved photography for a long time and had never taken the advise of my parents to pursue it until now. This was finally the time and I knew right away that a change was coming.
I knew I wanted more time to spend with the kids at events and just time to be a part of their busy lives as they began high school. However working a full-time job, part time job photography, youth group as well as family and more. It was becoming too much. I was offered severance to leave the wonderful job that I had been at at Scripps Networks for the past 8 years, and I knew this was the right move. After prayer and deliberation with my husband, the company and my parents, it was agreed and a few months later I made the move to work full-time as a portrait photographer. I hadn’t full decided to mainly work with high over the years.
So all of that to finally arrive at this year, Summer of ’15, where these kids that have been a part of my life for 12 years, 7 years, 4 years and some a number in between, these are my kiddos’! I love them and this summer and this year I have the privilege and joy of spending time with them, creating memories, laughing, drinking coffee, eating Brewster’s ice cream and most fun of all doing creative photo shoots and their specialized senior photos as well. We have already had 2 outings and a third happens this Sunday. These kids are truly getting a senior experience that most likely might never happen again, nor could I ever dreamed of having. So thank you Lord for your unexpected ways, the twist and the turns and the relationships I’ve made along the way. I’m looking forward to many more fun times this year before you all graduate and head off to college. I love you all and look forward to photographing you and creating a senior portrait experience like no other with you.
So glad it’s only the beginning of your senior year. I’m stocking up on kleenex. Next spring I’ll be needing them.