When the American Dream is not the Goal -

Recently at church, an older man I've known my whole life listened to me excitedly tell him about China, then he, a little teasingly, moved right on from that to ask me that dreaded question: "So who do you want to be when you grow up?" I, very deflated about his lack of excitement over China, and, sinking into a little bit of sadness, quickly replied "Who knows? For now it's photographer, and I love that...", my voice trailed off. I love this older guy, and I'm (mostly) used to the ribbing. 

I got home and wrote on Twitter that I felt like it was my senior year in high school all over again. 
I got asked that question probably once a day if I went out of the house. I was certainly asking it of myself. It's so much pressure! And who on EARTH KNOWS exactly who they want to be for the rest of their lives?! It's crazy! Maybe you have a little idea, maybe you've got a massive dream, but few of us (in my world) spring out of college with your whole life figured out. 

I did have my whole life figured out.....once.
Then my Sunday School teacher died of ALS the day after 9/11. 
My grandparents followed after that. Many more loved ones after that. 

My dreams altered.

 I'd be a journalist, maybe. It was where I could see my soul most clearly. 

In my later teens, every event and adventure was captured with my camera....
So I'd be a photographer. It was where I could see myself LIVE most clearly. 

My goal in life was to make it past 30. (I'm completely serious) I didn't really have big dreams anymore. 
I never ever thought about getting old. I just tried to make it every day to 30. 

Then 2011 happened, with the loss of 4 friends to cancer. 
2012 rounded around, with the prayer "Please Lord, no one else. I can't lose anyone else."
6 months later, Avery slipped from this world to the next and all my dreams ended with him.
The next few months I don't even know what happened, because I can't remember. 
It was a blur of shock as Avery's funeral became the 1st of 5, the last ending with my remaining grandmother. 

I remember standing next to her casket while everyone cried, and my eyes were dry. 
I could either lose it, and not pull it together in hours, or...I could not cry. So I stood numb in the surrounding grief. 
I watched it all play out like a movie, like I knew it would, 
with my Daddy's arm around my waist, keeping me standing,
and I thought "There is more to this life....there is Heaven. There is more.". 

** This whole post was never going to be about a list of those I've lost, it just happened this way. **

After the loss of Avery, pictures meant EVERYTHING. I had hundreds of them of him on my computer.
I'd captured every little face he'd made in the days I'd spent with him. 

Photography suddenly took on a far greater weight than just art. It took on memories
It took on HOPE to see Avery as he was, as we are promised we will see again. 

January 1, 2015 {Shannon Ashley Photography}

On November 23, 2013, I launched my photography business, and my website. 
Five days before, I had started a Facebook Photography page, and had 100 likes. 
I'd been encouraged to do this by so many friends, to just start the business, and GO!!

{an excerpt from that Nov 23rd blogpost}

"Monday, the 18th, was the turning point day.  

The day I'll remember for a long time when God opened up everything and let me SEE my dreams could be more than dreams. 
It was a wonderful, amazing day. Not only were the "likes" flowing in about my FB page, but clients were booking me, 
and it wasn't a matter of if I could do it, it was a matter of if there were enough days to do it! 

On Monday, I wrote this on Facebook: 
"Today was an exciting day. For the first time in a long time, it felt like I stopped fearing 
and just started dreaming and dreaming BIG. 
It has been a whirlwind of possibilities and I'm feeling so blessed and loved by God. Here's to the next 70 years." 

I think it is a powerful thing to have friends and family and people you don't even know 
come up alongside of you and tell you - "You can do this.", and even more than that..knowing it yourself."
{end of quote}

And it's been an exhilarating ride! I've learned so much, and I'm not done yet, by any means.
I love my job, and I love the dreams that I've been building up, and the artwork I hope to create!
I love my little Jemmie Photography business, and I love that I've been doing it for 2 amazing years.

August 27, 2015

And on September 13th, 2015, I wrote this on a Sunday in the middle of my pastor's sermon:

"Faith waits.

Sometimes for a long time. 

"I AM the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning, and the End." ~ Rev 21

Our faith is rooted and grounded in the One who created and reigns over all our world -
as a big picture, and more personally - all our dreams.

We are not overlooked in the plan of things. 
We are intricately known, loved, heard, and seen." 


The Lord has been building up in me a good work. All the terrible sorrows and all the amazing joys,
He has been weaving into a Story that I cannot understand but yet I know I will love the best. 

The Lord has been listening to my prayers and my heartbreak and my hopes. 

God is not finished creating in me all I will be for all eternity.
God ... is not working in us a beautiful glory that will only be encapsulated and shone on this earth,
but meant to be forever as an eternal beauty and redeemed soul. We shall be like Him.

I love being a photographer. I'd love to one day be a journalist. I'd love to be a photographer AND a journalist. :D
I'd love to use both of those in ministry, whether it's in book form, or vivid art form, or story form.
Maybe I'll be an orphan advocate, or maybe one day I'll write a book on grief and joy.
I'd love to be married and have children of my own, and keep my own little house.
I'd love to see the world. I'd love to feel Scottish winds in my face, and dip my hands into the Jordan River.

But I realize that the dream and the goal which must come first is not my own. It must be Jesus.
The goal... cannot be perfection, it cannot be success, it cannot be wellness, it cannot be myself.

The goal can only be - Jesus.

In America, we dream the American dream every day. We idolize and crave the beautiful pictures,
the better scenery, the model families, the bigger homes, the clearer air, the better photographer....etc.
We make the goal --- perfectionism.

We were not created to pursue perfectionism. We were created to pursue holiness.
We were created to love One Person: JESUS. And only He.

 Jesus was not born into our world to give us the American dream.
Nor was He born to lead us in this world without suffering, pain, sorrow, loss, sadness....
He came that we might have....LIFE. Life abundant in Him.

Dream big dreams. Hope with all your heart, because He IS our Hope.

I'm finally living my dream of going to CHINA. I've known I've been called for years.
I just didn't go until now. Don't put it off so long. There is so much joy in realized dreams.

His words written to us in the Bible inspire bravery, courage, battle, pressing on, winning the race.

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope (which is Jesus & all His promises) 
without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." ~ Hebrews 10:23

Faith is the assurance of things NOT SEEN. It is strong conviction. It is actionable truth.

Faith produces trust, trust produces worship. Faith spurs on obedience and action.

Faith is the assurance of things HOPED FOR.
God never calls us to lesser dreams or hopes. God never calls us to give up.

January 1, 2015  {Shannon Ashley Photography}

"Faith is the root from which all that can beautify the human character grows." - Spurgeon

We serve a God who delights in keeping His promises, and Who loves to show us His glory.
He is building us into His own little children; it's a slow journey, but we shall arrive there.

"When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. 
He has been a party to, has made, sustained and moved, moment by moment within,
all our earthly experiences of innocent love. 
All that was true love in them was, even on earth, 
far more His than ours, and ours only because His." ~ C.S. Lewis

So run the race with endurance, and don't give up on your big and little dreams!!
God delights in hearing them, and in knowing the stories behind those dreams more than anyone else could ever understand.
Remember that He who gives you those hopes has given them for a reason. 

Remember that you are infinitely known, loved, heard and seen.

First, Jesus. Always, first. Then, Life. Then, the whole world, my loves, because He is King over it all,
and created it for His glory and our delight. He is in it, and so are we. Dream on....

With love always,
~ Jean Marie ~