Top 3 Favorite Vegan Restaurants

(Usual blog readers, this one’s strictly on the fun that is vegan foods. Just a cordial fyi.)

I get asked time to time how Corey and I find things to eat when going out.

Well, I’m so excited to share with you!

For starters, it really isn’t that hard. I know there are extreme vegans out there who will be quick to shut you down with our “philosophy” (and for that I do apologize), but there are people like us who… I guess, really enjoy food, and different types of it! The reason most of you have that restrictive assumption when thinking about the vegan culture is because there are obviously individuals whom have chosen the plant-based “diet” (I really need to find a better word for that because I don’t mean it as a weight loss program, I literally just mean what we eat) for different reasons. Without getting too into detail, there are individuals whom have chosen this path simply for the sake of caring for our earth and fellow creatures. So, yes, unhealthy/overweight/unbalanced vegans can most definitely exist if they aren’t necessarily concerned about the breakdown of the food, rather just the ethics behind it. There are also those whom have found a great deal in living the healthiest life possible and that not only means being plant-based but being particular within such boundaries. There are those who are HCLF (High Carb Low Fat), WSLF (Whole Starch Low Fat), there are those who won’t consume any oils (fat), there are those whom are raw (no cooked foods), and there are Average Joes like me… who have found numerous beneficial effects from choosing this lifestyle, but won’t limit so strictly on our habits because there is more to life than harsh black and white rules.

With all of that being said, there are definitely options when going to your average restaurant. Yeah, sometimes I might have to become that person I used to judge who will have to be choosy when it comes to the what-about’s in a wrap or excluding a condiment in a sandwich, but it is so feasible. Being plant-based really needs to get out of this stigma we are in of being “difficult.” (Maybe also then, would the vegan culture look like we are encouraging instead of condescending.)

I can make a list of my favorite vegan foods to choose within your everyday eateries another time. But for today, I’ve decided to enlighten y’all my my top three favorite restaurants that offer 100% plant-based foods! Yes! These places exist! Also, more exciting news: A friend of mine recently shared with me that there is actually an app out there (please comment below if you know what it is because the name is slipping from my memory!) that can help you locate vegan restaurants/pubs/breweries! But for real, you don’t have to suffer in bland salads and mono-colored smoothies! What a joke that would be! Do you know how much of a foodie I am? I think eating and cooking are some of the BEST ways to explore and indulge in life; I would never encourage something that limits such experiences and joys.

I have listed below both the menu links as well as what Corey and I have ordered during our most recent visit.

Let the drooling begin.

3. Native Foods Cafe | Denver, Colorado

This place made me a believer of “vegan cheese.” I know, I know, it can get annoying when foods are labeled as items they are obviously not, but I do find it helpful and cute that places like these have gone out of their way to recreate dishes for both vegans and non-vegans to enjoy, discover, and ultimately embrace new horizons of how food can be. The nice thing about Native Foods is they are located in a handful of places around the United States, so do a little research and see if there is one near you that you could venture to! I loved how their walls were splattered with so much encouragement on leading a healthy lifestyle, being creative, and loving the community. It really helps to know that your food was prepared by a heart that cares for the bigger picture.

Pictured Below:

Avocado Kale Cheese Dip with Corn Tortilla Chips
Reuben Sandwich made with Seitan and Cashew Horseradish Cheese
Lemon Dill Potato Salad
(& we also ordered their Peanut Butter Parfait… but obviously ate that up too quickly.)

You can find their menu here.

2. Next Level Burger | Bend, Oregon

I know that there have been amazing rumors about this new “Impossible Burger” that is exclusive to those in NY and LA, but until I find the courage to go back out into those wild cities, Next Level Burger will tie me over just fine when it comes to my good ol’ burger and fries craving. They are the definition of commitment. Their tables, the paint on their walls, their utensils, their lightbulbs, everything basically in reach within their venue has been and intentionally chosen and has been done so with the most compassionate decision-making mindsets. Corey and I have only been there once since moving out here but we are so excited to go back to try their dogs, brats, and other sandwiches! I know some non-vegans wonder why vegans go vegan if we enjoy these “animal foods.” Truth is, we also are knowledgable on what goes in them and what hazard it has done to our bodies. So, yes, every now and then these splurges happen. And the best thing about it is that we no longer have to be concerned about how it will negatively effect us, or the planet around us. Yes, we have cravings; vegans aren’t robots.

Pictured Below:

The All-American Burger made with Tempeh and Egg-Free Mayo
Bleu BBQ Burger made with Umami Mushroom and Quinoa
Oil-Free Baked Crinkle Fries & Tots with Organic Ketchup
and for dessert, Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cup Shake made with Coconut Milk

You can find their menu here.

1. Zeal | Boulder, Colorado

Yep. This place is hands-down my #1 favorite. I mean, c’mon, they call themselves, “Zeal: Food for Enthusiasts.” COULD A PLACE BE MORE FOR ME?? No, not their entire menu is plant-based, but they are super great about sourcing all of their produce, their plants, their water, EVERYTHING from upright places. Also, important side note: I never believed in “cauliflower wings” until Zeal. Or “vegan ranch”. Or “raw cheesecake”… Or anything so many other recipe books would try to scheme me into believing as far as deceiving my tastebuds go. They’re as real as you can get as far as ingredients go, and their name boldly embodies who they are. The people are so passionate about caring for and nurturing our earth, our own bodies, and each other. There is a… ZEAL (seriously, lacking words but not hating it) that is so contagious when you step inside. Their menu is ridiculously creative and, though it may not seem like it, that coconut curry bowl looking thing Corey ordered was the best thing I have ever tasted (sorry, Mom). I honestly thought… why is something so simple the most invigorating thing in my mouth ever? Would donate personal monies to have them build another one closer to me. Honest.

Pictured Below:

Cauliflower Wings with Lemon Tahini
Vegetable Rainbow Curry
Plant Burger (in a collard green wrap)
and for dessert, Two Chocolate Shakes (yep.)
and their Raw Cheesecake (…that was CRAZY good, for real. You non-vegans out there, I dare you to take a bite of this and accept the fact that it was and is HEALTHY. YEAH! That can be your life! No shame or guilt for eating CHEESECAKE!)

You can find their menu here.


I hope these posts can be encouraging to you, especially those of you who are curious of innovative ways to improve your health but aren’t certain on how to go about that when there are so many lies and manipulations thrown at us from every which way. Eating plant-based has allowed me and my household to remember what it means to thoroughly ENJOY food, having zero embarrassment in grabbing seconds, thirds, even, and realize that a huge part of knowing who and how we are is knowing what we are putting into our bodies.

Do you have any places worth recommending? Please do! I am always in need of more places to experience when I am on the road with Imogen Works! Let this sister know!

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Why I Don’t Watch The Bachelor(ette)

Fair warning: I don’t write to make sure everyone is happy; I’ve never been a good people-pleaser.

I remember the first time I watched The Bachelorette. It was 2012, summertime in Northern Michigan ( ~Kid Rock), and I was surrounded by the show’s biggest fans.

The way our nation does TV in general is something I struggle with due to… well, that can be for another time. But these shows… The Bachelor and The Bachelorette… they did an exceptional job of rubbing me the wrong way. But you know, I had to follow through on a commitment of mine: not judging something I’ve never actually tasted. So, I attended the first night of gathering and viewing. That was also my last night.

Can I tell you what I witnessed? Great.

I saw us women gossiping about other women,
drooling over men whom are not ours,
judging others merely upon appearance and what we see,
lusting upon the hopes of false love,
laughing at the expense of someone else,
and the worst part is that it was all justified because there was a screen between us.

News flash: These are still real people.

Yes, yes these individuals did willfully choose to be publicly loved, hated, humored, and humiliated.

But that still doesn’t make it okay to treat them as fictitious beings whom aren’t impacted by the way we treat them.

Can I tell you what it wasn’t an example of, in my humble opinion?

Something I’d ever want to teach young, malleable viewers to see, mimic, and do.

Something I’d ever want to teach my children to see, mimic, and do.

What are we setting an example for?

And more recently, I hear of these Fantasy Leagues? Are you kidding me? You’ve got to be, right?

What if this is the way you and your path to finding love was displayed? Just a big laughable game and your name is but one of many innocuous players. People making your personal (and most important) decision into… their decision. And their form of cheap entertainment. Would you do this to a friend? Then why would you do this to a stranger?

Yeah, I was assumed by a good portion of the individuals during that time of my life as someone who doesn’t do community, someone who can’t have fun, someone with a misguided sense of priorities. But at least I didn’t have to watch one more second of some girl telling some other girl she has no value and then tweet about it because Lord knows these are important things to share.

Guys, gals… Every new season, I observe my rather diverse spectrum of friends via social media get so excited to watch people “fall in love” on national TV. (I also think there is something to be said about why we all crave seeing “authentic” emotions such as “love” come from “real” people, I do. I think it’s because we have a void in our hearts for something as such. But this is not the way to go about it, folks.) And I’m really feeling convicted here because some (a lot, actually) of these people are my best friends, my mentors, my co-workers, and people whom I ultimately respect and look up to.

But I have to be real and I have to be straight: if you are someone (and I am speaking only to this group of people right now) who calls yourself a follower of Jesus, I have a very difficult time understanding how you would find joy in consuming this fad.

Now, before all the claws and fangs come at me (which I anticipate fully with an open heart), I want someone to give me one solid reason why and how watching and supporting these shows is life-giving. Not “life-giving” as in… full of energy or jazz. You know what I mean. LIFE-GIVING, as in it produces good to further good in this world.

I understand that we, as Christians, need to find a healthy balance in being well aware of our moving culture and lovingly understand it. Because to be in our own unrealistic bubbles of safe content and good nature is ridiculous. Obviously. But there is an important and often ignored difference between acknowledging our culture and partaking in it.

We are in this world. This does not mean we are of it.

Romans 12:2, may I remind us, reads:

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (NLT)

When I hear that excuse of wanting to become aware and knowledgable of the culture that we are in (in order to watch this show feeling dignified), I have to roll my eyes because you can do this without consuming it. See, I am well aware that things like football games and giant truck shows exist. I don’t have to binge every game, every match, every exhibition to know full well that they are real in this world and that they bring about certain vocabulary and dialogue in our lives. And I mean, even if that were to be your excuse on watching The Bachelor(ette), what is it really doing for you as far as meeting people where they are and bettering yourself in the midst of it?

It is like a man who claims that his heart is for those who are trafficked into prostitution regardless of their will (all while latently knowing he still falls into temptation of looking at women sexually himself, even if his intent isn’t to rape them or use them), going into a whore house in hopes to reach out to these women and help them as well as find those who are behind this mess, then instead get wrapped up in the culture of it, find it sexually tantalizing and not wise up to the truth that he is just as human as the next person and without accountability or the right and prayerful mindset, it is all too easy to be consumed by the flesh and what it desires.

It is so easy for us to get caught up in cultural mess.
It is wild, it is entertaining, it is widely accepted and it is a great place to not feel alone.

It it also a very dangerous place to be when you’re doing it without a second thought.

Without having seen any of the episodes, seasons, clips, or previews since that summer of 2012, I can — in full confidence — tell you what I am missing out on:

Sloth: People settling with becoming famous to gain the hopes they wish upon their lives,
Envy: Girls and guys getting jealous and acting out of emotion rather than thought,
Greed: People betraying one another for the prosperity of their own endeavors,
Lust: Girls and guys changing the deepest parts of who they are to be the perfect “one” for someone they just met,
Gluttony: The endless consumption of mass-produced mansions and cars for the sake of more and more,
Pride: The assumption of contestants thinking it’s in their clever control to win love instead of being transformed by it,
Wrath: The never ceasing gossip and trash-talk of others, leading to regretful behavior and sharing lifeless words.

Yes. I did just align The Bachelor(ette) nation with the seven deadly sins.

Here are more spoilers for the content to come:
Blatant lying and disregard of self-control, self-respect, and self-confidence,
A culture accepting the fact that being entitled to relationships is okay,
Giving attention to unfortunate and insecure behavior that should not be applauded,
People heavily blinded by money making even the roughest situations look nice,
One person giving their body away to thirty people on television and you being okay with it,
Unfaithfulness, disloyalty, and unashamed disregard for their future wife/husband (assuming they don’t win),
An unrealistic expectation for what real, raw, worthy love looks like.

You are giving power to this lifestyle, this culture, this show and all that it stands for. Don’t swallow the lie that your viewing doesn’t make a difference; it does. You are choosing to accept and agree with it by turning it on and consuming its waste.

When I think about my little sister being exposed to this show, it literally makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t ever want her to believe the lie that this is how to find love and this is what you have to do to achieve a sense of wholeness. Love is not a competition. Love is not bought with fancy boats and a trip to Finland. Love is not the dress you wear, what he thinks of you in it, how he kisses you on your first date. Love is not something that whines for attention. A man does not define your happiness. Neither does a woman. Marriage is not the end goal for life here, you guys. If that is your ultimate dream and finish line, you really will be in for a wake-up call. The cat fights, the comparisons, the ugly cries and the shameful one night stands are not the way to invest our society in, our children in, your Monday nights in. C’mon, friends. You are better than this. Your time is more valuable than this. Your intellect is more valuable than this. Your life is more valuable than this.

Look, if this is so fun and entertaining for you to watch with your galpals with wine and cheese, go ahead. I don’t think of you any less. I just really wish that you take a moment to fully acknowledge what you are doing with your time. A memorable pastor in my life would tell us time and time again, “If you want to know what’s important to you, just look at your planner and checkbook.” What is your time investing in during that hour and a half every Monday night? Yes, investing. Are you excited for what type of “fruit” that sowing will reap unto you and yours?

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Taking Back Control of Your Health

I Instagrammed (still mind-boggling that that’s an unofficial verb now) about my thoughts regarding intentional self-love/self-care and mental/physical health a couple of days ago, but in case you missed it, here was my little blurb:

Corey has been in New York (Lake Champion – A Young Life Camp) for the past week for work. People have been constantly asking how tough it’s been. Though I’d like to imagine what it’s like to be the sweet, compassionate wife who suffers longingly for her “other half” (don’t even get me started on that phrase) to come home, I also take comfort in knowing that I — in the deepest, densest part of me — am an independent. And that’s okay. I very much enjoy taking advantage of the fact that while we don’t have children, I can sow all the time I get to grow further into myself.

He comes home tonight (weather willing) and I am so excited to share with him the things the Lord allowed me to experience in my time alone.

I found my routine again. I began introducing my mornings with the Word again. I finished a private online course on nutrition and health. I tried cooking a new 4-course vegan meal, and it was delicious. I dug up my Mizunos and revisited my favorite way to spend quality time with Jesus: running.

My discipline, re-centered.

My joy, abundant.

My faith, rekindled.

My spirit, alive.

I encourage all of my strong sisters (and brothers) out there to never stop growing into yourself. I don’t know about you, but I love romancing myself. Pursuing myself. Allowing me to be me and accepting myself for it. It is so exciting to know that everyday we can become a better version of such. I believe this is why we are still alive; to press in. To play the part o this large space to make good, starting from within. And the ability to cultivate this environment for yourself is multiplied tenfold when you are willing to look within yourself and gain understanding on what kind of personality you are. How to love yourself well. Truly. Because everyone is different.

I am an independent. I am an introvert. (Surprising? It was for me, too.) I love people but I love spending time with Jesus by myself more. I know I do best in wide open spaces and I know I don’t need verbal affirmation from others to know who I am.

I am weird, I am strong, this is me.

I believe strongly that the definition of health ought to be boundless when it comes to how to work on it.

I think for so many of us nowadays, the term in itself seems unappetizing because so often does find itself associated with diet fads, unrealistic expectations, and disappointment. But I wish to change that culture for myself and my household. I believe health is so much more than a number on a scale, the texture of my hair, my exercising habits (or lack thereof). I believe being healthy starts with a mindset. It is nourished from within. Otherwise it’s all just a big cakey lie that eats itself up.

I believe being healthy starts with loving yourself.

It starts with loving yourself and finding the best way for you to get there.

For me, this journey of living a plant-based (vegan) lifestyle has been such a good practice to gain control of the simplest of mental strides. Mental strides that has allowed room in my life to love myself wholly… better, harder, and stronger. Yes, I do have the more tangible reasons why it has been beneficial for our family (listed here). But mentally, it has allowed me to work on disciplines I’ve long forgotten were key to my daily successes.

1. To research and intentionally prepare each and every thing that me and my loved ones are consuming (and have previously consumed) has taught me to not take my one body and one life for granted. It has forced me to educate myself on biology, nutrition, physiology, and self-care. This concept alone has made me read more, purchase more books, and realize that I am capable of understanding ideas I once thought were overwhelming. This has now expanded into educating myself regarding just about anything else this life has for us to explore and recognizing that my brain is capable and ready to absorb more information. I think after graduating college I was just done with “school” in general… but an unteachable mind is, I have learned, is one of the scariest things.

2. It has also given me back my self-control. Before, I lacked in this department completely. I gave into the liberal mindset of “YOLO” and thinking I’m deserving of every sugary taste, every greasy bite, every bit of life to devour. Now, I do wholly believe in experiencing LIFE, yes. (Duh, do you even know me?) But I do think we have a warped mindset on what it means to live life FULLY.

3. One of the best things this lifestyle of gaining back my health has really given me is reconnecting me with the truth that nothing is impossible. And in that, rediscovering my childlike faith. Though I wanted to attempt a shot at trying to change my ways time and time again in the past, I — for the longest season — assumed I couldn’t. Why? I’m still not sure. Maybe because I was uninformed? Maybe because I didn’t think I’d have the time or money? Probably because I just lacked a desire in general because… like anything important to grasp in life, it wasn’t easy. But proving yourself wrong on your potential is an amazing feeling. It’s empowering, it’s satisfying, and it allows yourself to marinate in the newly defined concept of success. This will look different for everyone, but it is an important idea. I have redefined myself as a successful person, for no one else but me. Because I set small, realistic, short-term expectations, get there, and understand that it is about these small victories that lead to a war fought. By seeing myself “get there” with my healthier and wiser eating habits for my personal body, I have seeped this attitude toward my desire to getting to a better place with my faith again. Becoming a better wife. Being a better friend. Being a better neighbor. Being a better person. These are all graspable, real, doable projects that begin with a positive change in our attitude. And where ever that stem can grow from, let it. For me, it started in the kitchen.

It’s true what they say, you really are what you eat. It controls a LOT more of you than you think you do. From the types of proteins to the types of hormones they manipulate. (And you allow it to by eating it!) From the healthy fats to the artificial sugars. From killing your memory to maintaining it. From a life leading to an eventual heart disease to being able to run with your grandchildren at ages unimaginable. From being grumpy to feeling like you can jump off of the walls. From the table to the workplace. From the inside out.

I’ll try to get better at listing recipes. I know I’ve gotten requests but… Let me be honest — I cook like my mother! (Yikes.) I don’t measure, I don’t write things down… I taste as I go, I change it up every time, and I love making cooking into an art! BUTTTT… I WILL try to do better. Until then, take my suggested measurements with a grain of salt. (Unintended pun.) Also, just be inspired! Get crazy in the kitchen! That’s how I find most of my favorite consistent recipes! I try new things, mess up, and create something fab that’s here to stay.

Here is one of mine and Corey’s faves. I’ll call it… Green Babies. (Because they look like they’re coddled up in a blanket… Until they’re eaten. Is that morbid?)

Ingredients;

A bunch of collard greens
1 cup of mushrooms (chopped)
3/4 cup of carrots (chopped)
1 cup of quinoa
1/3 cup of red bell pepper (chopped)
1/2 cup of corn
Curry powder
Garlic powder
Cumin
Basil

Season with salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast to taste! (As usual.)


Start by sautéing the chopped carrots and mushrooms in a stir fry skillet (or something similar).


Cook the quinoa with the chopped red bell pepper in another pan. Let it simmer with basil, salt, pepper, and cumin to taste.


Take the quinoa/pepper off of the heat once the quinoa is fully cooked. Keep lid on to contain heat.



Wash the collard greens and cut off the leaf-less stem part.


Stir in the quinoa mix with the carrots and mushroom. Add the corn, curry powder, onion powder, and keep it on low heat as the mixture immerses together. Add little bit of water if the texture is too dry.


Blanch the green collards until you can cut into the center stem piece without effort.

 Take them out and pat them dry with a paper towel.


Spoon desired amount in the center of the freshly blanched collard greens.


And there you have it! Little Green Babies to love and devour! You can add pan-tossed tofu chopped up in there as well for extra texture and protein. You can add anything you’d really like, honestly. I just hope these little posts can inspire you! Enjoy!

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Starve Your Ego; Feed Your Soul

  

To say a lot has happened since I’ve last posted a blog is an understatement.

Exactly one month ago, Corey was climbing a well-maintained corporate ladder at a head-turning pace while I was finally starting to feel the ground again in terms of really creating momentum with my photography business. We lived in an all too comfortable luxury apartment that came with its own library and multiple heated infinity pools, our two dogs were eating the most stupid organic thing you could possibly find on the suburban Denver shelves, and we were quickly becoming the type of people I used to question and I didn’t even know it.

The funny thing about leisure is that it’s always a Catch 22. One of the many falls of this world.

(Also, a precursor: This isn’t a bash on wealth. Rather, a claim on how unfit it’s been for us.)

Had we kept this pattern going, I’m sure we could’ve been great. Defined by what and who, though?

For the first time in my life, I witnessed my husband go through depression. (Yeah, can you believe that? For those of you who know Corey personally, you know how unbelievable that sounds. He lives to make others happy. And maybe that was the problem.) I don’t know how these things start; I’m not even sure if there is a way to detect Day 1. It wasn’t until late October that I really noticed. And the thing with most men — ladies — is that they like to think they can manage things on their own sometimes. Is it pride? Is it strength? I’d honestly consider it both. Regardless, it’s false. We all need each other.

Corey’s job was taking a toll and quite frankly, I’m not sure who wouldn’t have felt the way he felt. Averaging 1 day off every 40 days or so, his body was the last thing to fail. His spirit and his mental health? They started to deteriorate a lot quicker. But with the heightened growth of my own career path and the lies thrown at us about the definition of success, the concept of really taking care of ourselves became the last thing on our list of priorities.

It was a Tuesday, I remember. Corey and I were both home (a rarity) and I had asked him what he’d like to do in the few moments we had together. He neglected any option; regretfully saying no to it all. At last when I asked, “well, what sounds fun to you?” He solemnly let out a single tear. The thing is, I don’t even think he realized he cried. He just looked off into the abyss and breathed out, “nothing.” It was then I had realized we were no longer in Colorado because of a calling we had received from the Lord. We were still there for our own sake of ego and kingdom.

The thing about changing trajectories is that, because we are such creatures of habit, it is remarkably easier said than done. I remember looking my husband in the face and telling him what I think we all need to hear every so often:

It is okay to not be okay.

Your feelings are valid.

You do not have to please your boss, this world’s standards, your expectations of who you could’ve been… You do not have to please anyone else but the Lord.

This life is too short to live another day wishing it away.

You have permission to express what’s inside.

You have permission to quit.

I think the most difficult discernment to make when in positions similar to this is wondering whether it is actually a time to change something, or if it is a test and we should see it through with persistence and endurance. I also think that, for me, a really easy way to go about answering that question is asking myself and reflecting with the Lord: How have I been practicing my role as a disciple of Christ? As in, am I going out and being the Church toward the ones around me? Have I even had the energy to? Have I found myself willing to sacrifice the time to? (Or is my life just one big bag of lousy and self-centered excuses?) Even if all else is a loss, am I at least still remembering what it means to love? Am I going out and making more disciples? Do I even remember why I am here in terms of eternal salvation? Or am I wondering why our company doesn’t offer us a better insurance package while my new order of farm-to-market produce is delivered at the door?

We learn this in high school psychology, but honestly, y’all… You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself. You need to be poured in to be poured out. Listen to the flight attendants; you can’t assist someone with their oxygen mask if you yourself is dead.

About three weeks ago, we accepted a position out in Oregon. In the middle of nowhere past all the mountains and trees, where Corey and I had met. I wish to explain how it all came to be, but that in itself would be a completely separate blog post. But let’s just say: God is great. (And He so desperately awaits us to come knock at His door because all He wants to do is save you.) Corey is currently finishing out his last week in office and will be driving westward soon to begin his new position with YoungLife. We had already moved all of our belongings a couple weeks ago and he’s been living out of our empty apartment with a sleeping bag and three changes of clothes. You’d think that wouldn’t be the most pleasant, but he’s never been merrier. I asked him the other day why and how this temporary lapse in his well-being was able to rectify so quickly, and he simply replied, “Ji, I wasn’t doing what I was passionate about. I had forgotten to ask myself that during the process of becoming successful. And that’s just it. I’m not passionate about being a businessman. I am passionate about being in relational ministry. I’m sorry I had forgotten. But I don’t think we’re supposed to ignore what God has build us all individually to do. And what I’m about to do next, I know that’s what I’m supposed to do. And the knowing of what I was made to do… that makes all the difference.”

I remember sometime during college, someone explained to me their definition of passion and it has always stuck. They said when you finally get to a place in life where you experience yourself truly passionate about something, it is that moment when the Lord has finally decided to reveal to you, specifically, a very special portion of His heart. Not all can see it because not all will be revealed to it. But the moment you realize you’ve been shown it, it is then your responsibility to do something about it. If you don’t, you’ll never fully live.

Apart from prayer and supplication, the greatest lesson Corey and I have taken from this rollercoaster is that it does no good to keep moving just to move. You can be as busy as the next person, but there is nothing scarier than a lost ghost. It does one good to have regular check-ups with yourself. Are you being filled spiritually? Are you remembering to ask yourself what you were made to do? Are you actively surrounding yourself with people who remind you of your worth? And most importantly, for my Christian friends, are you serving God… or people (including you)?

I’m including in this entry in a gluten-free vegan soup I had made.

I find it relevant and it is a mental note I want to keep for my personal files because it is made with practically nothing. I mean, okay so obviously there are things in it. But I have been living out of moving boxes for the past who-knows-how-long while waiting for our new condo here in Oregon to finish. With the minimum utensils and groceries I had, I have never felt so full. When Super Target is just down the street, you forget what real hunger feels like. Or what it really means to enjoy the things in front of you. Everything is an option; nothing is received with the heart of gratitude it deserves. This wholesome, simple, and nutrition-packed soul food has reminded me through its essence that sometimes the best way to be filled is to go back to the roots. Go back to what you know replenishes you.

Ingredients;

7 (? -ish?) cups of organic vegetable broth
3/4 cups of red lentils
1/2 cup of brown rice
2 whole carrots (diced)
2 stalks of celery (diced)
1 white onion (diced) — I prefer them larger for texture
3 cloves of garlic (minced)
1 can of tomato + green chiles
1 1/2-2 cups of kale (chopped)
Season with salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast to taste!

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Dear Future President, I Need You

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Dear Mr. Trump,

Let me start off by saying I believe in you. It took me a long time to get to this place. After the election, I was quite puzzled, honestly. Too sad to cry, too heavy to feel. Praying for our country in a way I had never felt the need to before. No, our household did not vote for you. But that does not mean we’ve given up on our awesome country. I’d like to think there are people out there who may be wiser than me and if half of our voters think there is hope in you, I won’t be quick to judge. We reap what we sow and that also plays into how we invest our love.

I understand that as much as there are reasons for people to grieve, there is obviously a population that is rejoicing. I don’t condemn them, nor do I find their happiness invalid. I get that in this past season of history, there has been an unspoken group of marginalized individuals that us minorities like to find their stories petty. This doesn’t make them any less of victims to feeling true neglect from society. The rural whites whom have felt misjudged, underrated, and shoved under the rug while the urban city folk who know little to nothing about respecting their elders, killing their own food, or changing their own oil are the ones controlling the new media about religion and ethics, gun control, and taxes. Black Lives Matter has shed a new light on how to view whites in general, while having a black president during this time did not help in making these individuals feel like they owe something for the privilege on their skin. Few were to blame, but most weren’t. And all of this chaos mixed with a lot of miscommunication and poor sense of judgement and compassion in many has led to where we are now: a nation under fire.

Though the unfortunate circumstances that many of your supporters have had to face during President Obama’s terms are very real and very legitimate, the wrath that is upon the marginalized now is more vile and tragic than ever. There is a difference between not getting a tax break and feeling misrepresented by the liberal media, and having actual knives pointed at you because of your faith system or your sexual orientation (which, by the way, one cannot simply control or change). I’m not saying these scenarios are new, but I am saying that since the announcement of this year’s presidential election results, a drastic and dark shift has been made on our nation and there are people out here who truly feel unprotected, scared, and terrifyingly alone.

Many of your supporters are confused and upset that “the whiny democrats” are throwing riots and creating an illusion that our country is doomed. They want people to calm down, to stop trying to change what they cannot control, and to simply give up. I first need you to understand that I am not a violent person. I almost always believe that the more peaceful a transaction can go, the better. With that being said, I don’t know how anyone in these individuals’ situation wouldn’t go crazy with the circumstances that are upon them. Though it may seem like an exaggeration, this idea of a doomed life is the inevitable reality of many folks who call this place home. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but since yesterday there have been numerous cases of women getting their hijabs ripped off of their heads and being called unmentionable words. Imagine this is your mother, sister, or even your wife. Wouldn’t you want to do something dramatic so that maybe someone out there with a bigger voice can speak against the disgrace caused upon you and your loved ones? Some say it doesn’t matter at all how they’re treated because they’re “chicks.” To be frank, there have been some nasty remarks on how men can go about their bodies in general because of certain things you have personally done and said. (I understand that this was and is your private life, years ago… but here’s the thing: you’re going to be the president. Everything matters.) There are Mexican children being bullied to the corners of their schools by kids who’ve been spoon-fed ideals, thinking it is okay to tell their fellow classmates to “build a wall” for them. How would you like to hear that tragic tale from your own children or grandchildren as you await at the kitchen table from their day at school? Parents of gay and lesbian children are cautioning their kids not to expose who they really are in fear of unimaginable suffering, and even the most esteemed transgenders are conflicted in their value of life. No person should ever have to weigh the option of taking their own life for the sake of being accepted. For the sake of anything. My own mother who has been legally residing in this country and working her life away for the past 19 years is being scoffed at by new locals at the grocery store as they tell her to learn proper English or go home.

She is home. Or at least she thought she could call this place as such.

I get that there is a difference between the legal and illegal immigrants you’ve spoken about deporting.

I get that you believe you were simply having “light” locker room talk when speaking horrifically about women and their bodies.

I get that you are now having second thoughts about the promises you made regarding ejecting Muslims.

But not everyone whom have followed you can piece that together.

Many are still brewing up hate and loving it, thinking this is what their new president elect is about.

I understand that not every supporter of yours is closed-minded, that many of them chose you for the sake of being pro-life, getting out of debt, or not wanting a decorated liar in the Office. But with the way your campaigns have been ran up to this point, it has brought out a lot of people who’ve been waiting to run along someone who wouldn’t completely frown upon them for thinking certain thoughts about foreigners, women, homosexuals, and every other human on earth who isn’t exactly like them. People are truly, truly scared for their lives. Not necessarily because of what you as a president might do, but because of what the following whom you’ve created might believe and do in your name. The closet racists, sexists, and xenophobes are coming out, believing that they don’t have to feel shame in the awful things they believe about other human beings because they think you are here to back them up.

I need you more than ever, Mr. Trump. I need you to speak out.

I listened to your tone and your carefully selected words during the tired morning of November 9th as you humbly received Secretary Hillary Clinton’s concession. That’s just it — I never thought I’d use the term “humbly” when in reference to anything regarding you. Something about you switched. You no longer had the type of anger I always recalled you having. You didn’t have to put on this ugly mask of running a campaign anymore. You were simply grateful. You were finally being you. Yes, I have faith to believe that  you are so much more than arrogance, pride, and ego. I think it was dawning upon you what a joy and honor it will be to be this person you’ve always imagined. Whether I wanted you in this position is no longer important. I’d like to see more of this new man, Mr. Trump. I will be the first to willingly admit, I may have been wrong about you.

But I need you to defend this country.

I get that this population of folks who needed an unashamed leader was an easy target for you. Like you’ve said yourself, you are a businessman. You see an opportunity, you seize it. But I also have serious hope that you are so much more than what the media and the corrupt society has told me you are. You are a father, a son, a brother, a friend. And soon, you will be our 45th president of the United States. Things are different now. People are looking up to you to be a model for them, a spokesperson for their dreams, a hero for their young ones, a light for us to want to keep lit. You are going to be the president and that means so much more than being rich, powerful, and famous. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt that you will step up to the plate. But in order for me to personally feel okay to introduce children to the truth of this presidential term, I need them to have a president who embodies a true leader.

I need you to apologize for the things that have been said, the hurt that has been spilled, the pain that you have caused, whether or not you thought it would go this far. I am a Christian, Mr. Trump. And according to you, you say that you are, too. If this is true, I would assume that you know that the process of repenting and forgiving is crucial for growth for all involved. We need you to lead by example in the things that can still be managed. We’re all looking for something authentic, something genuine, something from the heart. I need you to be bold and break the loud silence of discrimination and hate. I need you to represent all of us.

Tell the ones who want to oppress the vulnerable that it is wrong. Say that you may have spoken without thinking in the past and have done things without wisdom. Apologize and admit for once in your life that you have made mistakes. Because, right now, lives are literally at stake. You’ve received what you’ve wanted. You’ve won the election. You no longer need to fool people. You are a person who is entitled to make misguided judgments, just like the next citizen. Show these people who think it is okay to spray paint swastikas on the walls of immigrants’ homes that this is not what you stand for. Be the man we hope you can be. Because right now, you have the perfect opportunity to prove me and so many others wrong.

We’re looking to you. We are all looking to you.

We need you, Mr. President Elect.

I need you.

With all due respect,

A Concerned Yet Hopeful American

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First Smoothie Recipe + Other Thoughts

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Hi.

I have been humbled, affirmed, and feeling loved by all of the messages and comments I have received regarding my recent transition into veganism! (Also, auto-corrector keeps telling me that veganism isn’t a word… But facebooking is. So, whatever.)

I don’t intend this blog to be consumed with recipes and vegan-only thoughts. However, soon following all of the celebratory cheers were immediate requests on lists of things I have been eating. Which, at first I thought, Why? I mean, I get it. A new regimen for lifetime is a lot to transition into, whether that be new routines, grocery lists, go-to restaurants, even nights out with my hubby. But I guess I was thinking, There are so many recipes and how-to’s on the internet nowadays! I’m just a know-nothing newbie! But then I also realized that it truly is different when it is someone you know doing something you’ve only heard of. All of the stuff out there could be misleading, inaccurate, and untrue.

If there are two things I need my food to be, it’d be, 1. Flavorful, and 2. Nutritional. The first part can be difficult at times to gain when we are all too conscientious about the latter. However, I think people need to get over the uninformative idea that people go vegan strictly for the sake of losing weight. That’s untrue. People go vegan for many different reasons. You can totally snack, indulge, have your moments, and truly enjoy foods while eating vegan. We don’t need to go sacrifice all sorts of seasonings and flavors for the sake of diet. No no.

We don’t reduce, we replace!

I do realize that there are “vegan guru”s out there who claim that raw diets (only uncooked, unprocessed foods; aka mainly fruits and veggies straight from the garden) are the best way to go, and there are others who say that we should eliminate all oils and fats. Alas, like I’ve said, I’m a know-nothing newbie. Maybe one day I will flow that river, but for now, I still like my food to… taste like food. I mean, I do love me some straight-up greens and mangoes and peaches, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that that type of strict dieting for all day, all season, is the reason people have such misconceived notions of this lifestyle. When in reality, veganism is actually super enriching, enlightening, and enjoyable!

With that being said, I have quickly discovered my new favorite (+ easy) smoothie!

I call this, Coconut Berry Bliss Smoothie. (I know, super catchy.)

I usually add spinach or kale to my breakfast smoothies, but we were out this morning.

Ingredients;

1 frozen banana (I actually kept the peel on for the extra nutrients! You can’t taste it!)
1 cup of berries (I mixed blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries)
1/3 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup of unsweetened coconut milk
1/3 cup of flax seeds
Maple syrup to taste!

(Depending on your personal preferences of thickness, I’d recommend slowly adding the coconut milk while mixing until it is to your desired liking!)

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One of the many things I thoroughly love about eating vegan is that it encourages others to consider adopting some healthier habits into their lives (even if it means getting out to their local farmer’s markets every so often), and… wait for it… there are very little calorie restrictions! Coming from someone who likes to EAT, it is so refreshing and countercultural to see a diet that works… where you don’t have to feel so limited in your consumption! All of these foods are high in fiber, rich in nutrients, yet a FRACTION of the calories. So… SLURP UP, FRIENDS! It’s time to get livin’!

I will continue to post recipes and foods I eat even so often. I pray that this doesn’t ever seem as though I am pushing people to go vegan. I simply want all of you out there to see that there really are healthier options to the daily likings we crave. Because… did you know that this is the first generation where we us kids will most likely not live as long as our parents will/did? And the leading cause of this is because of our unhealthy lifestyles that we CHOOSE to participate in daily! I recently found that out, did some research, and felt extremely sad! I mean gosh you guys that is not progress. That’s pitiful. Also, I promise that I would also be the first to tell you when something… doesn’t taste good. So you can trust me when I recommend something that you won’t be sacrificing the flavors for a fad. Cheers to longevity in our laughter and loving, because Lord knows we need more positivity in this life.

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Why I Decided to Go *GF Vegan

This is week 4 of gluten-free, vegan Ji.

I have been hesitant on making anything public regarding my recent change of regimen for two main reasons:

  1. The fear of unknown commitment to it in the future, and
  2. Never feeling as though I could do enough research.

However, a lot of my online community has inquired about it. About the why’s, about the how’s. And after a good portion of this past week spent on prayer and supplication, I feel really good about sharing with you some of the reasons why this journey has begun, and why I am very confident in my continuation of it.

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As much as it’d be nice to say it was for ethics, it honestly started because it summed up to be a healthier lifestyle for me (and eventually my husband hahaha). I essentially grew up on a gluten-free, pescatarian diet having lived with Korean parents; I just didn’t know that that is what it would’ve been labelled. When going off to college and cooking for myself as well as eating the foods on campus/in the “American” life, I realized just how out of hand my physical health had become. Understanding that it wasn’t out of my total control to take the wheel again on where my health was headed, I took a radical leap last month and I haven’t looked back.

I think the biggest concerns most express when regarding the vegan lifestyle specifically are questions such as, Where do you get your protein? and,  Aren’t you tired all the time?

And as much as I am grateful for those whom are so concerned, I’d like to eagerly inform you that:

  1. The average American intakes MORE (like, way more) than the suggested amount of protein daily. The excess actually inhibits so much of what our body wants to process naturally. I mean, how often do you hear of anyone in our country dying from a protein deficiency? And yet how often do you hear of people suffering from heart diseases and cancer from their lack of paying attention to the things they put into their bodies?
  2. Our God is certainly a creative God. There are so many ways to ingest protein outside of meat. So many ways.
  3. From my personal experience I can tell you that my energy has never been at this level in my life. For as long as I can remember.

Truly speaking, I wholeheartedly believe every body is different. Every need is different. Every life is different. So, for someone to encourage a specific regimen — whether it be vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, paleo, gluten-free, what have you — to someone else who obviously is created differently is absurd. I would never suggest someone to join me in my gluten-free, vegan lifestyle without having known the history of his or her health, eating habits, and so many more personal things that go into something as intimate as food. I just know that for me, this change in my life has alleviated so many things that I honestly didn’t even realize would be impacted. To give you some insight, here are a few perks I’ve noticed just in this first month of experimenting:

• I dropped 10lbs within the first week. Just like that. Now, I say this with caution because I don’t think losing weight should necessarily be the essential reason anyone goes vegan. It always should be something much bigger than that… for anyone to change their diet ever. It ought to stem from when one desires to work on something from the inside out. Because, let’s face it, we really are what we eat. I also should mention here that I began to regularly work out again. Someone could be a size zero and hella sexy on the outside but who’s to say what their BMI looks like? For all we know, the chica has no muscle, excess fat on her body, and is absolutely drained from energy because of toxic foods she may be inserting into her body. What I’m trying to say is that, yes, it is rather common for individuals to experience losing some weight by omitting dairy and meat from their diet. But more than anything, I think it really shows how much extra crap I was really putting into my daily routine that was truly unnecessary because my energy levels have not gone down and I’ve still been eating the same amount of calories, if not more.

• Speaking of energy levels… I’ve been jumping off the walls. I mean, not excessively. But really, you guys, it’s been unreal. I was hitting a point where having a home office, being married, and living in a place where it’s getting colder was all contributing to me becoming less and less concerned about my looks and physical activity (stupid Corey; why does he have to be such a sweet husband and call me “beautiful” all the time??). Something seriously needed to change. I felt fatigue, stress, and I finally began to understand that I, indeed, wasn’t invincible. Like, at all. Literally the shift happened after Day 1. I woke up excited (that was new). I was feeling like my optimistic, perky self again. I felt light on my feet. I felt like I could hike the highest mountain (so much so that Corey and I actually went for hikes in this lovely state of Colorado more this past month than we have this entire season).

• Waking up without feeling bloated. Enough said.

• Cooking is more fun than ever. I didn’t even know that could be possible. It’s like this weird game I have with myself. I love challenges. Especially if I am my hardest competitor (you may as well call me Monica Geller). It’s honestly such a fulfilling moment when you get to experiment with foods you’ve never even known had existed… with foods you’ve known all your life, and discover that your palette has been completely neglected as far as optimal nutrition and flavors go. And, man… when you nail a recipe (whether original or googled), it feels (and tastes) priceless. I win. I win the game against myself. And it feel so good to be on top.

• My skin has actually begun to clear up in places I didn’t realize I needed internal healing to affect the outsides. Specifically, I had some weird eczema-like, scabby situation happening at the back of my neck on my hairline. I don’t know why I never consulted with a dermatologist on it. Maybe because they’re ridiculously expensive. Yeah, that was probably why. But anyway, it’s gone. Completely. And I didn’t even correlate this event with my newly installed eating habits until I noticed my skin was feeling softer overall during a bath last night. I began to examine my body and I was quite amazed. This all may be too much information for you (but I frankly don’t care because you obviously find it interesting), even the darker spots under my armpits and weird marks I had near my upper thighs faded away. I have a feeling that this was from the gluten-free change I had made more than anything. And I am so glad that life is encouraging me to keep this path by showing me positive conditioners.

• It has caused me to dig up my own research and read up on our body, essential nutrients, and its purposes. You see, I used to be the girl who secretly (and heavily) envied people who could tell me the difference between a food that was low carb in comparison to something that was high carb, but it was complex carbs so it was okay/not okay, etc. I always thought, Man, as much as all of that nutritional stuff sounds important and all, I honestly have so many other things I need to be studying and taking the time using up my brain power with. Like, when is Dominos going to speed up the rewards process on the online pizza orders? There were always too many vitamins, proteins, oils, and such that it was overwhelming. I’d give myself a pep talk of false-pride every so often that went something like: You are so care-free and live your life to the fullest, you know that? That’s an awesome trait! The way you can eat things without a second thought of where it came from, who it was made by, what it is doing to your body… it’s freakin’ liberating… sexy, even. You’re simply enjoying the natural gifts from God! People like hanging out with easy folk like you. Because you make them feel better by boasting about how much junk food you had in the last five minutes not give a care like them Hollywood characters would. But when you limit your diet to vegan restrictions, you kind of have to know what is in literally everything. I began learning (A LOT) about what all those complicated words were on the back of cereal boxes, what was actually harming my body (by miles and miles) with each bite, and why knowing the make-up of each consumable object truly matters. They’re all affecting us in different ways. They can make us happy. They can make us exhausted. They can sometimes even have the power to mess with our hormones. Are you consenting that? It’s literally taking advantage of your body with or without your permission. How little of control that is of your own life! I simply liked knowing that with the gluten-free, vegan life, I finally am feeling like I am starting to get mine back.

• More than anything, it has taught me about self-control and serious discipline. My mind is becoming stronger and healthier and I could really cry if I start thinking hard about how reckless so many of us have gotten in terms of our well-being and contentment. Reality is, we are powerful. All of us. The amount of integrity that I have had to show for myself and practice has wholly altered my character. I choose not to cave or to take the easier path. I choose not to lie to myself about what I have and have not eaten/done/said that day. I learn what it means to treat myself gently, to give myself grace, yet enforce hard truths and face real consequences. All of these lessons have leaked themselves unto other parts of my life and seeing all of me rejuvenated from inside out is one of the most awesome things I have ever experienced with the Lord.

So. As you can see, I can really go on for a while. But I hope this echoes the gist of my reasonings. It’s not to say that it’s always been easy. Of course, I am human, cravings occur every so often. But truth be told, meats and animal byproducts really do not smell all that appealing anymore. HONEST! This is coming from somebody who DEMANDED KFC every birthday (I am not a diva but this is literally all I wanted; a single crispy drumstick from my one and only colonel). When your body acclimates to certain behaviors and habits, it could really surprise you. Almost all that we eat and do in life… they’re there because of patterns and “norms” that our culture and society has created to be “right” or necessary. When in reality, almost everything is a market, a business, a scheme. I won’t push an agenda; I never hope to with veganism. But things like milk? Cheese? Even that awesome buttery garlic bread from Red Lobster (my fave)? Your body has never needed it. Rather, there are just people out there who are paying people to tell you that you need to buy it. In fact, I have learned that there are over ten things I can list from the top of my head that can easily replace all of those few “nutrients” brought to you by these processed foods that are whole, natural, and simply better for your digestive system. But the sentiment and the addiction, that is what we often can’t get over. And that’s okay. I am just in the journey of creating a new culture and society for our home.

One day I hope to be a mother. This consumes my thoughts very often. And when it does, I pray that I am doing whatever I can even now to prepare my mind, body, and soul to be the best I can be for my child/children’s heart safety, wholesome health, and happiness longevity. I hope to be there for as long as I can, for as often and consistent as I can. And I just don’t know how much them buttery garlic breads promise me that kind of lifestyle I long for. I believe taking care of my physical body is crucial. Veganism has sincerely retaught me this. The Bible tells us that our bodies are a temple. I have been treating mine like the bleachers in the student section of a high school football field. I believe my kids deserve better than that. I believe my husband deserves better than that. I am starting to believe that I, too, deserve better than that.

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My Prayers as a Wedding Photographer

There has only been one instance in my entire career as a wedding photographer that made me sincerely question my desire to continue what I do.

It was last year, it was rainy, and I wholeheartedly felt like we all forgot why we were gathered.

And trust me, it showed in the pictures. In the faces. In the lack of life. In the lack of love.

It’s a sad reality when you are in the midst of documenting what is supposed to be the most vivid reflection of unconditional and unshakeable love. Instead, you are reminded that for some of us, we are hoping for the best wedding, not so much for the best marriage.

I know that expectations are an inevitable reality for all of us. It is not that I blame folks for having dreamt of what their big day looks like.

How it will feel.

How it will smell.

How it will glisten.

How every single thing will be in neat. perfect. order.

How people will react.

How people will post about it.

How it will be remembered.

How it will go down in history of all the weddings of the world.

I remember some of these anticipations, being a married woman myself.

I remember the planning, the anxiety, the mild worries, the temptations to care even more than you already do.

But you want to know what I remember most?

Letting go.

People often assume I love my job.

Maybe I’m just an overexplainer (or maybe this is just me being female) but the answer to whether or not I love my job is twofold.

Do I love photography? Honest answer: no.

I think it’s a pretty cool expression of art and I am extremely grateful that the Lord provides me the opportunity to use it as a business and a ministry.

But… what do I LOVE? I love being with people. I love capturing life. I love exercising my creative heart. I love making people realize the beauty within them in the truest of colors. I love seeing moments of passion and holding them for more than the seconds they exist in this world so that maybe, just maybe, my images can reignite real emotions, real memories, real comfort and real joy in the eye of the beholder.

I love being surrounded by something real.

So, what pains this love for what I do? When the intentions are abused. When the thoughts and expectations of my clients listed above trump the list below:

How he will look at me.

How this love is so undeserved.

How we are all so broken yet gifts like this day exist.

How much sacrifice my friends and family have made to be here.

How I look and what others think are so little in comparison to the sheer joy inside.

How… this day isn’t actually the best day at all. Rather, it is the first of the infinite best, favorite, and memorable days to be had with my significant other.

How nothing else matters.

Because… To be before God, and to hold my one and only, is all I came here to confess, and all I came here to portray.

In this life, it could rain. It could pour more than your faint heart could’ve ever imagined. And you know what? I hope you can find it in yourself to dance in it. Your dress could quite easily get dirty. You’re going to have to dry clean that thing one way or another anyway. Your hair may become disheveled. Bobby pins will surely fall. But are you asking yourself: am I having fun? That one bridesmaid may run late (as we know she always does), and your groom might forget that one thing you asked him not to forget. But by the end of the day, y’all are getting married. And that’s pretty rad. The florist could mix up which arrangements go where. No one else will have a clue. Cufflinks could get lost and the cake could fall over, to which I say, what a story to tell later. Someone could’ve made the wrong turn and show up in their loud car in the midst of the ceremony, and it was your aunt twice removed who show up in all white. And you know what? That’s alright. Life goes on.

But, do you get what I am trying to say? These imperfections in terms of photos, are perfect.

The wrinkle in the nose. The ugly cry. The dirt embedded in the shoes.

It makes the day believable. It makes the whole thing beautiful and honest. It makes your day truly yours.

As a photographer who cares more about the mood of the day, the flow of the laughter, and the authenticity of the expressions on your faces, it is an absolute inconvenience when the dress has to be fluffed to a tee, the make up has to be in its neatest chapter, when that jacket has to be ironed for the seventh time by the mother-in-law. I mean, you do you. I am the last person to say what should be done and how. But if you’re doing any of this out of concern that the photos might not look as nice, let me assure you, you have never been more wrong.

The perfection is not what makes your wedding day memorable. Or important.

The in-between moments are.

It’s in the life.

It’s in the Love.

That wedding last year was a huge wake up call for me. It broke my heart and yet, it also allowed me to incorporate an essential tool in my work. Something that I really should’ve practiced using every single time I took my camera out. I regret to this day for not having had the discipline and the diligence to use it all the times before.

Prayer.

So simple, yet so easily forgotten. I decided from that specific wedding forward, I will do my part and pray for the couples I get to meet and love. From the day they book me on the calendar to the morning of the big day, my prayers are lifted up. It has become my most favorite thing about my job.

My prayer is that your joy overpowers your need for perfection.

My prayer is that the defining moments of your marriage are not determined by the temporary.

My prayer is that when I ask you two to share a kiss in front of my camera, it isn’t the fully-rehearsed, better-side-of-your-face showing kiss that you hope to emulate from Pinterest (please don’t). But rather it is as if I weren’t there, as if it was just a secret moment between you and your beloved, that every time you embrace, you forget any outside prompting… all distractions crumble away… it is as if you were kissing for the first time. As if you were kissing for the last time.

My prayer is that every person that you had invited to this extremely important event was selected out of pure and thoughtful intentions. That they weren’t for the sake of filling up the pews or because they have a heavier wallet than others. Because if the latter reasons are the motives behind their invitations, then surely you will find yourself being unnecessarily self-aware and not showing your true self. The people surrounding you that day should feel like a cloud that lifts you up, not an audience to perform in front of.

My prayer is that you really understand what you are getting into. Because if your concerns for the artificial details truly dictate your attitude and outlook of your wedding day, I worry for you. Out of love. Out of knowing and realizing time and time again that marriage is no joke. And if something as fickle as a playlist or someone’s uninvited date is going to sabotage the beginning of your holy matrimony, you need to check your priorities before it’s too late.

A wedding isn’t a show.

It definitely isn’t a mark of money or reputation.

A wedding isn’t just a party. And it is most certainly not something you want to waste away.

It is one of the most important promises that you can ever make in your life, that just so happens to be in front of a handful of carefully chosen witnesses.

I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty intimate. In my opinion, all else is, as Joey Tribbiani puts it, moo point.

A wedding is supposed to be a prelude to a MESSY, up and down, RAW, unfiltered, wholehearted marriage. Let it reflect as such.

Not a preview of some cheap ABC family film that never shows the outtakes.

I will do my part as your photographer. As a business owner. As a friend.

I will remember to pray for you and your beloved. It is my honor and absolute joy. I will remember to ask the Lord to bless such a day, to help us keep in the forefront of our minds what this celebration is supposed to be focused on, and how much work, sweat, and hard love it took to get us here.

I just ask that you do your part, as a soon-to-be married. I ask that you forget what the world tells you of what is to be expected. Be open to life happening and realize that your love for the life ahead of you with your partner surpasses any high or low. Realize that hard laughter can cure just about anything and that none of us are worth taking too seriously.

Just be you. Beautiful you. And accept that. And I can promise you. It will be picture perfect.

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Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

I’ve always associated September with starting new.

Maybe that’s an influence from the academic calendar, or perhaps because it introduces my favorite season.

I’m not quite sure.

I want to talk about suicide today. I am currently on the road for photography work and have inevitably found myself back in my stomping grounds: Grand Rapids, Michigan. A couple days ago, I ran into someone I knew during grade school. I don’t know how and am still uncertain why, but she boldly made the decision to tell me about how she’s been wanting to end her life. Soon.

If there is anything we as a society don’t talk about honestly enough, it is depression. It is considered taboo to bring it up. So many don’t.

I’m not under the illusion that all experiences of depression are alike. I cannot speak on behalf of everyone out there struggling. But I can speak out of my personal experiences.

It’s waking up everyday, counting down the moments until you can close your eyes again. Secretly hoping it’d be the last time. It’s when the simplest of tasks such as getting out of bed and putting on your face for the day is an Everest of a climb and you’ve somehow misplaced all of your tools to get there. It’s looking into every opportunity possible for an imminent death — everywhere you go, everyday you’re alive. Daydreaming about it. The thought of it being an escape. Realizing that the only time you can ever feel any sense of peace is when you dwell about not having to do this anymore. This dance between earth and hell. This charade of a life you’ve had to create while people buzz around you without a clue, without seeming to care.

You feel waves of guilt. Always bigger than the wave before. It gets harder and heavier to keep your feet planted while the words and the thoughts wash over you… drowning you quite literally in a place you don’t want to stay in. Yet you don’t know where else to go. You wonder how you were ever anywhere else. You wonder why someone more grateful couldn’t have had your life. You would easily donate your time left to someone willing to receive it. You’ve heard people dismiss the opinions of those who’ve committed suicide before you. They say they were weak. They say they didn’t seek help. They say they were selfish and wrong. You begin to implant those words, those opinions, those identities in yourself. It doesn’t help. It makes you less tempted than ever to reach out to anyone. Due to judgement. Due to condemnation. Due to hopelessness of anyone out there who might dare to try on your shoes. You become easily envious of those in hospital beds, only a few breaths left until they pass. At most, they have loved ones around them, and they know they will not die in vain. You pray for something like that. You pray for a plausible death so that you don’t have to commit this sin. But praying for such a thing seems like a sin in itself. If anyone else heard your thoughts, they’d probably find you arrogant and self-absorbed. You come back to square one. Feeling completely and utterly alone.

To be depressed is feeling completely misunderstood, wildly incapable, and wholly alone.

What I want to educate others about thoughts of depression is that although someone’s feelings and views may seem dramatic or invalid at the time, you are not one to judge that. No matter the circumstance, the background, the size of the matter, everyone’s feelings and views are valid in their world. To them, it is everything. It is their lens, it is their emotions, and during that time being, all of those feelings and views are the realist things they know. So for someone to come up to them and say that it is not as difficult as it seems… you may as well have not given effort to “help” at all. This may go against the concept of discipline and hard truth. But in such fragile instances, a simple act or word could make it or break it for someone. There are definitely right and not so right moments to teach somebody a life lesson. But during the depths of dark depression is not the right time to lecture someone. It is the most pivotal time to love someone. To embrace someone. To comfort someone. To cherish someone.

What you can do is be there. Quite literally. Be present. Pursue them. Think of the ways in which Christ has pursued the Church even whilst we push away time and time again. Extend your time. Be bothersome if you have to. If you have an inkling, if you have even a remote curiosity that something might be wrong, don’t hesitate to open up a conversation about it. In reality, those suffering are dying for someone to see that they are barely making it inside. The fact that people don’t only affirms them in their mind that no one in their world actually ever knew them because they are obviously depressed and no one has noticed. Which makes them feel valueless. Unimportant. A burden.

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I am a suicide attempt survivor. It was autumn, weather was very similar to this, and it was the beginning of my senior year in high school. I was dubbed homecoming queen and skinny as a stick. It’s funny how creative and great one can get at making people assume you are just fine. I specifically remember someone that evening coming up to me and saying, “You literally have the perfect life, you know that? I’m so jealous. Your parents must be so proud.” I also remember driving home by myself on an empty road, the unforgiving tiara tousling about in my trunk, cheap makeup running down my face, chuckling like a crazy person as those words echoed and swirled about in my head. Jealous? Proud? My parents? Oh how perceptions can be so far from the truth. I would say that night was the peak of feeling that this world will never see me for me. When I got home, I stared at the mirror in my parents’ basement for a very long time. I crawled into the corner of the bathroom, swallowed pills of death and immediately the images of every person who I’d be killing by killing myself flashed before my eyes. My little sister. My best friend. The people who depended on me, those who may have looked up to me. Maybe it was my people-pleasing heart, or maybe the fear of my sister losing hope, but I stuck my index finger down my throat immediately like instinct. I puked. Hard. Incredible panting, incredible pain. I just lied in the fetal position, listening to the faucet drip slow droplets of excess water onto the base of the sink, wondering if I was making things up, or if it was Jesus that I just heard say through the fog,

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

You want to know the only resource that truly helped post-suicide besides my years of counseling and digging into the Bible?

Moments after my attempt, I Googled something along the lines of, “easiest ways to kill myself,” (since my previous try had too many controllable variables for me to prevent the intended purpose) or “DIY suicide” — something bleak as such. One of the first links to pop up simply read, “Read this before committing suicide.”

Guys, the internet can be a real pain the butt sometimes. But there is always beauty to be found when a gathering of people realize something can be used for good. Whoever typed this up is a hero. I clicked on the link. Looking back, I wonder why. I think — even if I didn’t know it, I didn’t actually want to die. I think somewhere deep inside of me, I may have been hoping that there could be a way out of this trap that the devil has so mischievously set up for me. It was a website with all too simple of a layout. There were white words written on a black background and I ate up every sentence because my life depended on it. It told me to just do anything I can to get by the next minute. Whatever that looks like. So I did. I’ve never paid more attention to anything before in my life. I obeyed every little task it asked me to do. It told me to breathe. I did. It told me a lot of things, actually. It told me I mattered. It told me that I wasn’t alone in this, and that someone out there might care. It told me that my life was worthy to continue with and… for the first time, I felt loved. I felt loved by a computer screen. But even so. At that point, it didn’t matter. I felt known. I felt understood. I felt loved.

It’s been seven years since then. I can confidently say that I have been fully healed and have fully processed that season of my life. I am making sure to state this, because for anybody out there who may be wondering if the misery could ever end, I want to assure you: It can. It will.

You are important to me.

You are beautiful.

Your every breath is intended to exist.

You were not a mistake.

Your scars, your wounds, your past are all remarkable testimonies of your strength, your confidence, your perseverance.

Your laughter is heard. Your cries are valid. Your smile is perfect. Your joy is missed.

There is a way out of this. There are options. There is hope.

You matter. You aren’t forgotten.

You. Are. Not. Alone.

It’s not to say that the traces of depression are forever gone. I think someone might be lying to you if they’ve come to live through their twenties and thirties and still claim they’ve never experienced an ounce of anxiety or depression. This kind of stuff, this mirky, gross, toxic in-between emotion that comes and attacks when the enemy wants to feast on your life… Take them as vivid reminders that spiritual warfare is real and that the biggest lie Satan wants to buy you with is that you are alone. He sees you fighting. He sees you conquering at life and he is jealous. I dare you to spit in his face. I hope you throw his plans into hell along with him by finding the courage to reach out to others. Near, far, where ever. People are listening. People care. God is listening. And He cares.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Let us not shy away from something so real. I bet you’d be surprised to know who is suicidal around you. Not to say that that is the kind of radar you should be aware of 24/7. But it’s the dense truth. Never take for granted the moments you have with those around you to affirm them in their life plans, in who they are, in the impact they make in this world. We need more transparency and less of this hiding behind screens, have-our-lives-put-together, altogether perfect facade.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

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