I AM ENOUGH (1/3)

This past March, I spent some time in India. Not only was i captivated by the myriad of colors and smells, I met some of the most resilient people. Since I have returned, I realized that I didn’t have an outlet to share these stories and the impact they had on me.

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This past March, I spent some time in India. Not only was i captivated by the myriad of colors and smells, I met some of the most resilient people. Since I have returned, I realized that I didn’t have an outlet to share these stories and the impact they had on me. A good friend of mine, Josh Stephens challenged me to share these stories. I sent him the full album of my pictures from India. He overlaid the hand-designed typography over three photos and challenged me to share the story related to the picture. This is part one of my feeble attempt to share some of these untold stories with you. 

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As I piled into a car with a translator, a driver, and a film student, we set off to different villages surrounding Salem, India. It was a dream. I had my camera, a Moleskine, and a purpose to capture the raw essence of life in India. I MADE IT. If my career ended that day, I would have been fulfilled. What a privilege it was to witness such a raw beauty, uninterrupted by outside influence. But to be trusted to capture its essence was a completely humbling and heavy experience. 

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During one of these long filming days, I met a group of children who loved to summon my attention. To them, my camera was a portal to another world. Each child longed for their face to be frozen in time—to be seen and known. As each child leaned toward the lens, the sound of the shutter release would let them know that they had been successful. They made it. They would gather their friends and snicker as they shared of their experience in joyful Tamil—words I longed to understand.

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As each day would swell with the excitement of new adventures that lie ahead, my attention was set on the joy of these children longing to be seen. 

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I wrestled for years with self-worth. Being known by my community led to a disarray of rejection and love. And that’s a funky cocktail that will cause anyone to doubt their existence. just like the child who leaned all of his weight toward a lens that would verify his existence, trusting perfect love as the ultimate approval of the human experience is a brilliant act of surrender.

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YOU ARE ENOUGH. 

35 mm study :: you matter

There is a cultural narrative floating around, which promises a certain level of success without pressure or hardship. It is attractive and comfortable to define your worth by the importance of the work you do. To this end, I based so much of my worth on the position I held within a Christian organization. I was comfortable, made consistent money, and had all the benefits of the American dream. Yet even in this comfort, there was an emptiness, a certain loneliness, that could not be fulfilled by the lifestyle of a professional Christian.

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In December 2017, I left a full-time career in creative ministry to pursue a passion that has been years in the making: coffee + stories. I traded in an empty office for a portafilter that gathers people around a cup of coffee. As the loneliness of an empty office and apartment seemed unbearable, I contemplated the time I wasted waiting for direction. Direction in life often follows an action—first take a step, then you will know the way. It wasn't until my passion was removed from my job description that I decided it was time to tenaciously create a different life than the one that was being scripted for me.

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I often attribute my days spent enrolled at UNCW for instilling a spirit of resilience in me. As a Communication Studies student, our mantra was Tikkun Olam—contribute to the healing of the world. This Jewish phrase was a constant reminder to always consider how the messages we construct can contribute to the healing of the world as opposed to it’s destruction. With this Jewish phrase engraved on my soul, I couldn't settle for anything less. I was hungry to love and be loved, I wanted to craft real stories that impacted real people, I was ready to take on the world around me, and do whatever I could to contribute to its healing.

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With a slew of experience behind me, I am confident that my story will continue to lead me forward. Pursuing a dream is taxing. There are days when I worry about whether I will have enough money to pay my bills, not to mention fund a retirement plan. There are days when writer's block is erected like a brick wall around my mind and will not budge. There are moments when the dark feelings of self-doubt close in just like the night.

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Despite the challenges I face everyday, I am meeting myself for the first time. All the time I spent trying to find acceptance and purpose in a professional Christian career, I was never able to fully love myself. All I could offer myself was a conditional love that was based on my performance. Constructing my life around these expectations is a bated breath that never has space to exhale. In this place of apprehension, loneliness was my closest friend. Before I could experience any level of intimacy, I first had to walk in vulnerability. When I was constantly hiding behind my identity as a “professional Christian,” every situation I walked into taunted me with doubt and rejection. Today, I can say with confidence that I am inhaling and exhaling as deeply as possible. I am seeing a new life forged from vulnerability and community that chooses love despite how I perform.

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As tasteful music fills the small shop located on 5th and Cotanche, I have never looked back with regret at the life I left in that lonely office. Each evening, the shop slows significantly. Regulars find a place at the bar. Wanderers look for a place to call home. The lonely look for a friend to brighten their world. And as each day brings in people I have only ever dreamed of meeting, my heart fills with a purpose to create an experience for these people that gather around a warm cup of coffee.

Life will always hold burdens. But regardless of the career or environment you are in, you matter. Your story is brilliant. Your worth is not defined by what you do or how others view you. The lies and jokes that people use to taunt your authenticity are just the beginning of a new life that is waiting for you to chase after it. You are worthy of love.

Take a sip.
Share a story.
#LAFLECHA

Study Notes:
Canon Film AE-1
Wesley Lane
Blackbeard Coffee Roasters

The Hardings :: Oh Uganda

Oh Uganda, your deep orange body, which paints your huts with dust is teeming with unquenchable life. Your tall, green arms sway in the rainy season breeze as your curious people stroll in the shadows cast by your broad shoulders.

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Your sweet, tangy passion fruit speaks boldly of the difficulties of the past and present, without losing the tinge of hope for a better future. Your heavy fields bear the secret weight of harvest, which is sure to supply this growing world with sugar.

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With all your naivete of the outside world, you still welcome the stranger into your midst, as we often clash and disrupt the formalities of your lifestyle.

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It wasn't long after I met the Hardings that I recognized the narrative of surrender, woven like a strong rope holding together a disheveled tapestry of tattered strings. This family became a model for me when I felt the suffocating weight of perfection.

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As I began to understand my own brokenness, their imperfection was a light, illuminating the beauty of surrender. With resilience in my soul to accept all the imperfections in my life, I admired the stillness of surrender for a worn-down soul. Perfection was no longer a prize worth chasing down.

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Wholeness is beckoning all of us to His embrace. And wholeness will stop at nothing till He calls all of us to the table. Wholeness will never leave us in pieces. However, He mends us together slowly—through the messy journey of walking with Jesus. And though it's messy as hell, I have found that even the simplest words from a dear friend can quiet an anxious mind. 

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When you let your heart embrace people long enough, you grow in a capacity that distance can’t separate. Only a few months after this family of seven sold everything and moved to Uganda, Brittany Shifflett and I booked our ticket for a visit. I can't really explain what it's like to be reunited with your best friend. But if I could sum said reunion up in two words, they would be: DANCE PARTY!

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Their house is planted imperfectly in the midst of the slums on the shore of Lake Victoria. A home that had previously been used to treat some of the sickest people in Jinja, Alex and Beth are renting as a place of refuge for their family.

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Many days are filled with challenges that only foreign places have the power to stir up. But the heart is rarely convinced to leave the place where it finds a purpose. So we plant ourselves in the midst of the challenges and find strength in the brightness of the smiles of those we worship alongside. We plant ourselves in the chaos and find peace in the reverence of heads bowed in prayer.

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These are the days we are required to understand both the hardship and freedom of surrender. With every bone in our body, we are urged to throw ourselves fully into a lifestyle that is much bigger than our comfort. And in the wrestling to still our mind long enough to acknowledge this beauty around us, we have to be willing to let the Great Creator weave His strong rope of surrender through every fiber of our body. These are the days that will be filled with laughter, tears, screaming, whispers, and squeals. But there is an eternity, which beckons each of us to a greater hope. 

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What happened in only seven days, is etched in my soul and will be remembered for years. Martha found comfort in the mess of Nutella, which slipped off her spoon because of the warm air. Penelope snuggled with Miss Bwinney every chance she could get. Ezekiel celebrated his birthday by visiting the biggest dinosaur I have ever seen. Malachi repeated everything he said at least 100 times, including: "Not a rubber ducky!" Chloe taught me how to sing without worrying about what people around you think. 

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On one of the last nights we gathered around a messy dining room table, breaking chocolate cupcakes Beth made from scratch.

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As the bittersweet cacao lingered in my mouth, I was reminded of the unshakeable Eucharist. Though people try to offer us an explanation for all the chaos, mess and brokenness around us, 2000 years later Jesus still offers us His presence. Like a strong rope that is woven throughout history, He unveils the mystery of surrender in a world burdened by the weight of the chaos. 

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Take a sip.
Share a story.
#LAFLECHA