As I drove home tonight and stared up at the stars, all I could think about was how 4 nights ago I was sitting in a hot tub 809 miles away in the mountains of Colorado, doing the exact same thing with several strangers that I now consider family.
When I first got the email that I had been accepted to be one of the 18 members of the OWN IT workshop, I almost couldn’t believe it. It had always been my dream to attend one of Wyn’s workshops and here it was, sitting in my inbox- all I had to do was put down the deposit and I’d be in. But still, I hesitated. Talked myself out of it, telling myself it was too much money right now with saving up for Mike and I’s wedding and our honeymoon tickets and an apartment of our own. I couldn’t possibly afford to make this trip.
But, because God is good and knew that I needed this weekend, through a random conversation in a community photography group, a friend of Wyn’s reached out to him and let him know of my hesitation and Wyn checked up on me to see if I needed anything and encouraged me to go for it. In his exact words, “if its really tuggin at your heart to come- i would go for it. i’m always the YOLO person when it comes to life though so of course im going to say join the party.” So, my heart strings won over, I threw my hands in the air and screamed “YOLO” (really, I did), and I paid my deposit. There was no turning back now.
The second I was virtually greeted in our facebook group by those in the workshop, my heart fluttered and I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew instantly I had made the right decision as I read through everyone’s brief bios and saw a small glimpse of who they were. I looked at Mike that night in bed and nearly screamed with glee; “Babe, I am about to go to the mountains for a weekend and spend 3 days with people JUST LIKE ME!!”
It’s amazing really, how much your life can change in a matter of minutes. So imagine for a moment how much your life can change in 3 days.
As we all started arriving Friday afternoon and familiar faces I had only ever met online came through the door, I sat back in pure bliss and listened to the chatter of 19 other outgoing photographers who were on fire for life. There is nothing that makes me happier than listening to people make connections like that. We listened to Ellie give an incredible presentation on owning who you are and made the unanimous decision that our workshop would get sponsored by Nike based on how many times we said the phrase “just do it”, then proceeded to eat pizza and watch Wyn, Abbey, and Ellie catch their breath after kicking off the evening with an olympic song show dance, before we split into teams and played the game “Salad Bowl”. (Timmy, your impression of Fat Amy still takes the cake for that night).
After some people had gone to bed, the remainder of us night owls stepped into our swimsuits and went out to the hot tub, where Brooke and Timmy face-planted it in the snow, where Ellie and I both agreed that alcohol tastes really, really gross, and where we talked about our lives and our businesses and we stared up at the stars- and I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say we were all thinking, “This weekend really is going to be incredible.”
Saturday I woke up with terrible altitude sickness, but thankfully the one thing I could stomach was Abbey’s delicious, crunchy bacon and some cutie pies (those delicious citrus fruits will always bring me back to this weekend). We all got our cups of coffee and sat ourselves down in our established seating arrangement and drank up Ellie, Wyn, and Abbey’s fountains of knowledge and wisdom. Then, after lunch we all got on our gear and packed up our cameras to go to our shooting location to practice with the cutest couple IN THE WORLD *cue Lauren and Josh and aww-ing*.
Going up to a higher level than where the cabin was did wonders for my altitude sickness- as we stepped out of Wyn’s car and hiked up the trail, I soaked up the sun and breathtaking view overlooking Breck. We all spent hours on that ski trail blissfully in our element- being creative, taking pictures of beautiful people, laughing and freezing our toes off, and filling our memory cards up, but more importantly- filling our souls up as we spent each moment doing what we love.
Arriving back at the cabin it was truly photography heaven, with 18 macs and my 1 lone Dell computer, 50 million cords, mouses, card readers and cameras, and everyone sitting around the living room editing (Roger the moose overseeing all of it). The wifi connection made it so we could only upload about one picture each in the span of 10 hours (not really, but seriously though…), but it didn’t matter- we were all together, in a warm cabin surrounded by way too much fur, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over each others’ work and encouraging one another. Oh, and eating freaking DELICIOUS mac and cheese (and don’t forget the bacon).
I remember sitting and talking to Jessie and Katie for forever, and then listening to the “Wop” come on, but my headache prevented me from joining whatever was going on in the kitchen. Finally, the “Wobble” came on and I could resist no longer. I stood up to find Kailee, Taylor, Angelika, Felicia, and Kylee all dancing by the kitchen table. I stepped in and joined at the end of the line, one thing led to another, and the next thing I knew everyone was in the kitchen, doing the Whip and Nay Nay, the Quan, dancing to Justin Beiber and Missy Elliot and Usher…. for a solid hour, we had our own rave right there in the kitchen (S/O to Shandie for capturing all of it on camera), and my heart was so full and so content. I had only ever been able to live like this around my childhood friends back home- yet here I was dancing my heart out with these people that I had only known for 24 hours, but it felt like I had known them just as long.
We finished the night with a game of “dirty” salad bowl (confession: I was the one who wrote “pig rolling around in the mud”… get it? Punny right). I don’t think I”ll ever forget watching Jill attempt to act out the word “strap on”, or when Wyn had to get us to guess the word “cheese” without being able to say anything, or when Jessie got up there and Brandon very clearly specified before the timer started “Whatever you do, DO NOT say “ummm”, and she picked up the piece of paper, stared at it, and then a slow “…ummm….” came out of her mouth (literally peed my pants just a little bit there). Literally, I hadn’t laughed as hard as I did that second night during our workshop in months. And I went to bed that night exhausted, but so extremely happy as I thought about how our last day together was going to be the best one yet.
Waking up Sunday, my altitude sickness had left me, and breakfast was quick as we all gathered around to listen to Abbey talk to us about business (confession: the business aspect of my creative passion is easily my favorite part… helloooooo split brain.) We took awkward family photos, ate sweet potatoes, and then afterwards, Ellie walked everyone through some squarespace 101 and then we broke into our small groups, where we asked questions and discussed more about our businesses. And then, the snow began to fall.
We all bundled up in our gear, grabbed our cameras, and went to play in the snow. I watched as a broom was attached to a little kid sled, and the girls sat in the back of the mini van as they towed Wyn off in to the distance. I caught snowflakes with my tongue as Shelby took my picture (profile pic credit right there), and then I watched Kailee and Abbey dance in the middle of the road as Abbey proudly displayed her giant gloves. It was the perfect snow, light and fluffy and drool-worthy for pictures. Everything about the evening was perfect.
We went back inside and continued editing and finished packing, and then retreated downstairs as Wyn, Abbey, and Ellie told us they had a surprise for us.
20 minutes later, we filed upstairs to see candles sitting on the middle of the table, the lights off. We all sat down in a circle by each other as soul-reflecting acoustic music played (already setting the tone for ALL the emotions).
It’s funny really, how we can go so long without realizing we have not truly been living life. How we can spend months waking up each day, going through our routine, taking those trendy instagram pics, worrying about our finances, sitting and watching Netflix on the couch at the end of the night, and then going to bed to do it all again. I don’t know about you, but as a photographer sometimes it can be so damn hard to just shut off and shut down and stop worrying about what my social media feeds look like and what my next awesome picture will be. It’s so hard to let myself just live life without worrying “oh my gosh I need to get a picture of this.” But the reality is, is that the only way we will ever remember any moment so vividly is by authentically living it, and that is what this group taught me. Sitting down in that circle that last night, listening to everyone share their feelings, their thoughts, their old fears, and their achievements, I realized I never want to let myself get so consumed with what everyone else thinks of me that I forget to just live my own freaking life. I used to be so good at it, and then somewhere along the way, just kind of… forgot.
As I rode down on the shuttle back to the airport Monday morning, I looked out the window and fought back the tears as I thought about the beauty of this life. As creatures created in God’s image, we were given one extraordinary gift, and that is to love. Agape love, to be more exact. You can’t explain it, there’s no logical explanation for it- the fact that you can meet complete strangers and in a matter of days open up your heart and soul and care about them, not because they can necessarily offer you anything, but simply because you just love every part of who they are; selflessly. It is something that will always leave me speechless, that will leave me helplessly shaking my head as I try to comprehend it. How I met 19 strangers and 72 hours later, considered them my family.
Sitting around that circle, I witnessed and felt that agape love in each one of us. And really, I could try and explain to you reading this how amazing it was, but really, it’s not possible to explain unless you were there. There is no way to explain an infinite moment- that’s what makes it an infinite moment. You know that no matter where you go, no matter who you meet or where life takes you, you will always and forever be able to be a part of and go back to that one moment in time. Sitting around that circle with those 19 other beautiful souls, letting the tears fall as we all talked about the legacy we want to leave and what our 10 year old selves would high-five our present day selves for… that will be the reason I continue to do what I love. To throw myself into my passion, and to go on to raise up and encourage others to do the same. 4 days ago, I had no idea who these 19 people were. And now, as I sit here tonight writing this blog post, listening to “Be the Song” by Foy Vance, tears stream down my face as I think how I would give anything to see each one of those workshop attendees and leaders reach their dreams. I was so worried about the $1500 it took to get me to that cabin, and now, I would spend every penny in my bank account if it meant I could relive this past weekend again.
It was a bittersweet moment, as we all looked at each other through the glow of the candles that last night, knowing that our time together was coming to a close. Thankfully we didn’t end the night in a giant puddle of tears- a hilarious game of Pie Face ensued, and then we sat around and played Cards Against Humanity (“Guys, I just realized Tim won’t be able to read my card” …. “Um you guys I can’t read this!”), and of course, Jill and I’s laughter kept everyone downstairs awake as Timmy said goodnight to us in the PERFECT Smeagol voice. Monday morning as we all said our goodbyes, it was honestly heartbreaking knowing that none of them would be coming back home with me to Idaho, but it is so amazing knowing I have so much family scattered across the midwest- that when I inevitably decide to visit Michigan, or Oklahoma, or Nebraska, or Virginia, or Texas, or Kansas, or Missouri; there will be a familiar face waiting.
Really, I know that this blog post won’t do this weekend justice (Honestly, I don’t even know why I tried). I think this is more for me and for us than it is for anybody else, cause there really is no way to truly describe what it was like and how it felt unless you had been there. As Kaelynn would say to all of us,
“It really was AMAZING, you guys- you know what I mean?”