Origin Stories.

Every year about this time, I write a post similar to this one. Then I don’t publish it, out of concern that my words would be misread or misunderstood. This year I decided to go ahead and hit that publish button.

170705b-Sunset-Face-Off s

For the past ten years, the constants of my life have been that I am a writer, a mom, a wife, an accountant, a homeschooler. But four years ago, that shifted dramatically. Very suddenly I found myself sure I was going to die, dealing with daily chest pains and blacking out and heart racing. Four months of every medical test imaginable and I was diagnosed with Dysautonomia. Since that point my life has consisted of working every day at being able to minimize my symptoms. Drinking obscene amounts of water, running nearly every day, abstaining partially or wholly from the delicious parts of life like caffeine and chocolate and sugar, IV treatments, and tracking everything imaginable to see what helps or hurts my situation.

For clarification, I actually do live a fairly normal life, but I work seriously hard at being able to do so.

There are some things I can’t fix, however. I have tried countless things to make my brain work as quickly and as wittily as it used to, and nothing seems to help. Writing takes infinitely longer, and I have shrunk my writing schedule down from 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, times a week to the current 2 and sometimes only 1 time a week. If I happen to go back and read something that I wrote more than four years ago, I end up in a funk for a couple of days because it makes me so mad at how well my mind formerly functioned. And then it frightens me that my brain is in a continuing state of decline, and it’s going to get even worse.

Every year about this time, when my Dysautonomia gets especially rough (thanks, summer) and my brain gets unendingly fuzzy, I struggle with whether I should continue writing, or if I should take that pressure off of myself and quit while I’m ahead. Other times I glance at my blog’s dwindling visitor numbers and ponder whether I’m like a sitcom that’s gone three seasons too long.

But then I remember that the real reason I’m writing is for my children to read. They have 2,100+ posts over nearly ten years, many documenting their lives, and they already enjoy reading and hearing the stories I’ve captured here. Although Ali has reached the age where I don’t write about her as much because she deserves her privacy, Noah still has a lot of childhood left to document. And so I convince myself to keep writing – to not care if I’m boring people or losing readers with my diminished ability to craft words in a captivating manner. I write for the reason I started writing – to record our own personal history book.

(It really is hard to remember that because I love you all so much, and the hundreds of relationships I’ve birthed out of writing are precious to me. But at the end of the day, I try (but often fail) not to stress about my writing.)

So if I don’t write as often as I used to, or if you also notice that my writing style has drastically shifted, or if I take a long quiet break, please know that I’m probably somewhere, racking my brain for words and original thought, frustrated that I can’t remember how to think creatively.

170705c-Walking-on-Sunset s

But as hard as the writing loss has been, from the journey of dysautonomia came my love for photography. Because when my brain was too foggy to form words, I could still tell stories in picture. And since I was now forced to exercise to stay lucid, I was seeing (and appreciating) more of my surrounding world on the daily.

From that birthed Picture Birmingham, my photography business where I sell my prints, note cards, and other photo art products so that I can donate all the profits to The WellHouse, a ministry that helps rescue and care for victims of human trafficking. In the three years of Picture Birmingham’s existence, it has raised over $15,000 for The WellHouse – and zero dollars of that would have existed if I hadn’t gotten dysautonomia.

So although my daily life is affected in annoying and constant ways, and although my ability to craft words and love for writing has been decimated, and although I have to work every day to live normally, dysautonomia has forced me to LIVE to be able to live – and therefore, to help my children also live a life full of seeing our beautiful world. It has forced me to appreciate my state, to explore, to engage in nature, and to do crazy things like go in a wet cave and climb on a slippery pedestal above a 50 foot drop.

170609b-Stephens-Gap-Cave s

It has changed who I am and what I value. It has given me an appreciation for this spectacular world and an ability to go explore it. It has given me the opportunity to use those explorations to help women that are suffering in ways that I cannot imagine.

So yes, I have an incurable illness. And yes, that’s really stupid and annoying. But as illnesses go, this one does have its blessings. And I am, (at least some of the time,) okay with that.

170705-Walking-on-Sunset s

Introducing…Picture Birmingham.

If I’ve seemed a bit scarce, quieter than usual, or really slow on email responses the past couple of months, it’s because I’ve been completely consumed with designing a new project and website.

So here it is: Picture Birmingham.

Picture Birmingham

First, a bit of back story.

Last summer, I felt compelled to get involved with a local ministry, The WellHouse. God kept bringing them to my mind and putting articles in front of me about the stunning things they were doing. I resisted at first, because I don’t handle tragedy well – and their ministry is the rescue of women, men, and children from sex slavery. They were seeing and dealing with tragedy every day – tragedy that most of us don’t think happens in the United States. But it does. And one of the interstates running through Birmingham is the number one avenue for sex trafficking in the nation.

I emailed them and offered to serve. I met with Alexa, their Director of Development and listened, mouth agape, at her tales of the horrific things happening in my city, near my house, and around the nation. How they had recently saved a girl who had been trafficked for 20 years from one of the most affluent suburbs of Birmingham. How they had flown as far as Washington State to rescue someone – because they were one of the only groups who would.

She explained to me the intricacies of trafficking – how our laws are set up to punish the prostitutes, and that’s how pimps enslave these girls – by manipulating them with fear of police and promises of protection. The Wellhouse is also involved in training police and talking to legislators, but it’s an uphill battle.

I knew I must help, but I didn’t know how. It was unclear and fuzzy, and neither she or I could quite nail down a plan at the time. Then I got sick. With months of doctor’s visits and uncertainties, I knew the timing wasn’t right, and I put The WellHouse in the back of my mind – still thinking about them, still feeling compelled, but not knowing what I could do to help.

That was also when I started taking photos of Birmingham. Mostly sunsets, but with others mixed in.

130831 A Hole in the Sky

Chris figured it out quicker than I did that these photographical journeys – the thrill of chasing the sunset, trying to catch it at just the right angle, not missing the perfect moment – that this was therapy for me. It made me forget my fears about what was wrong with me, gave me an adrenaline rush, and put a smile on my face.

Birmingham Alabama Skyline Photography

So Chris began to find a way to take me on a sunset journey nearly every night. And Birmingham isn’t an easy place to find a good view of the skies – we have a LOT of hills and trees.

130822 IMG_6659

It became ridiculous – many of my friends were making fun of me for my sunset obsession, but I couldn’t quit. The skies – and my city – had fully captured my heart.

140222 Late on a Saturday Evening

But I have never considered myself a photographer. I liked how my photos looked on my tiny iPhone screen and they made me happy, but I never thought they were good enough to print.

140115 IMG_7557

Until I did – on a whim.

Photo Wall

They surprised me by looking quite lovely. They brought the joy of the sunset chasing right into my living room, every moment of every day.

140209 Prelude To An (Ice)Storm

Then other people started to ask if they could buy prints, and God started to put the pieces together for me. I could use this new passion He’d given me to benefit The WellHouse. It offered me a platform to help them build awareness on social media, as well as a way for me to support them financially. I could sell prints of the best of my photos, and give all the profits to their ministry. Perhaps this was why God made me obsessed with sunsets. Perhaps, just maybe, this was even why I got sick.

140130 Sunrise over a Frozen Shore Adjusted

Working on this new site has actually helped in making me feel better, giving me something to focus on and work toward, with the excitement of knowing that God has put this mission on my heart.

(Heart medicine has also been quite helpful. But a new project never hurts.)

The new site has a shop, where I am selling prints (on gorgeous 100% cotton art archival paper), canvases (gallery wrapped), and my favorite product, luxuriously printed notecards. All of the products are locally printed and distributed by the amazing team at Alabama Graphics, and 100% of the profits will go to The WellHouse.

Buying Art of Birmingham Alabama

The site also has a PhotoBlog, where I have archived my near-daily photo journey since June, and will continue to add photos as I take them.

The photos will not all be from Birmingham. I have documented the Smoky Mountains, Lake Eufaula, Nashville, North Alabama, Georgia, Orlando, and the Alabama Gulf in the PhotoBlog, and will continue to photograph any areas to which we may travel (Asheville, North Carolina is next.) I will add new photos for sale occasionally, and not all of those will be from Birmingham, either. So even if you’re not local, perhaps the site may hold some interest to you – or at least increase your appreciation for my city and my south.

I’ll be talking occasionally about The WellHouse as time goes on, sharing their projects and ministry. And once this new site is running smoothly, I promise to be back to my normal 100% presence here as well.

So thank you for sticking with me during this busy time, and please check out the amazing things The WellHouse is doing – you can follow them on their website, Facebook, and on Twitter.

And of course, you can visit Picture Birmingham by clicking here.


Special thanks to my husband Chris, who started the whole obsession, came up with the Picture Birmingham name, and made it possible for me to spend dozens of hours in the past few months on this project. Also thanks to Wade Kwon, who designed the beautiful logo and walked with me through many business and media decisions; to James Spann, for encouraging me to take on this journey; to my fantastic tech guy, Chris Rasco, who put up with my request of working together to design the site; to Kelli at Alabama Graphics for tirelessly answering hundreds of questions and printing dozens of proofs until I approved every inch; to Carla Jean Whitley and Jamie Golden for helping me make things pretty; to Ebony Hall, for understanding the vision of my project and trusting me with two interviews before I’d even launched (I’ll be on ABC 33/40 today in the 4pm hour and Wednesday in the 9am hour); and to my parents and babysitters who helped tremendously with my kids throughout this process. I’d have never finished it on my own, and I am so grateful for your investments into this project.