My heart is pounding as I type these words out, I’m not really sure why. Maybe it’s because I started this journey as a “photographer” 6 years ago and now so much has changed. Just after six months my business was thriving and it didn’t stop. I worked hard to build it; there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t do something to get more traction on social media or bookings. After 3 years I was, to my surprise, more successful than I had expected. Only 6 months ago my husband and I almost got out of the military to be full time photographers while trying to start up a grass fed cattle/poultry farm. We moved out of our house, moved in with my parents, and looked at dozens of farm houses with land-all while trying to take care of our kids and the minimal daily needs. It was the theme of our life from June to September. That dream is all we thought about. We convinced ourselves we wanted to get out of the military for our children. We wanted to give them a life of simplicity and beauty. A life where they could run outside to open pastures, help with moving the chickens, and collecting eggs. In my mind, this dream coming true-raising our family in a picturesque farmhouse and owning our own business-this would be the answer to the void in me, the answer to my discontent, and the answer to my restlessness. It all sounded perfect and we had convinced ourselves this was the way to our future happiness.
Then reality set in. I was working harder than ever to build my photography business because I knew I would be the sole provider for a while once Steven got out of the Marines. One afternoon as my husband and I drove all three of our children to meet a client, we could feel something was off. In a nerve-wracking moment, with all three of our babies screaming, the heavy burden to chase our dream came crashing down on us. We knew we had hit rock bottom. It finally woke us up from the tunnel vision of “chasing our dreams” and we could see clearly our life was full of chaos.
After praying and talking about what this decision meant for me as a mom and for our sanity, Steven and I did not have a peace about getting out of the military. It was the middle of September and we knew in our hearts that we were not entering into a life of “simplicity and beauty.” We were forcing our way into an unending cycle of chaos, unknowns, and we were selfishly pursuing our own desires, regardless of the cost to our family…We were convinced that a life of contentment and peace would be fulfilled in farming. We were going to this paradise-like place of green pastures- almost as if the famous quote “the grass is always greener” was perfectly lived out in our desperate desire to find that greener grass.
It’s almost as though I was facing a real life analogy in my oldest daughter Grace. She was struggling with unending tantrums that were taking me to a dark place. I was trying to lead her to still waters and green pastures…and of course I only wanted to lead her to a life where she could experience the fullness of joy. And suddenly it came to me…I am just like my little girl. My worldly desires were distracting me from relationship and obedience with my Heavenly Father. He wanted to lead me to the green pastures; HE wanted to lead me by still waters. But I was acting out trying to find my own pastures. I was not willing to let go of the things I claimed to be mine.
That rock-bottom afternoon, Christ revealed to us His greatness, and our smallness.. Our life is beautiful, only because of the grace of God. He has loved us, and He alone will satisfy the desires of our hearts. Our dreams can never do that. Elisabeth Elliot wrote in her book Keep a Quiet Heart that “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” The root of discontentment stems from the lack of Christ-centered living. Discontentment stems from a “self-focused” living.The words that Paul wrote in Galatians could not be more spot on, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20.
We naturally live to please ourselves. We seek fulfillment by trying to feel loved and pursuing attention. The search for more and better is always on the top of our to-do list. It is our priority. And we won’t ever be able to fully cross off our infinite wishes from that list. My heart breaks to think about the way I was living and I wasn’t even aware of it. The root of it all was the lack of Christ in my schedule and my life; my lack of desire for Him. The truth was that the authority of my life was ME. How can my children fit into my schedule? How can my husband serve and fulfill my needs? How can my business bring me satisfaction and make me feel good? All this self centeredness created a vicious cycle that led to more sin: pride and the celebration of being busy. It emptied me and I wasn’t even aware of it. I was blinded by discontentment. I once heard from our Pastor that apart from God’s wisdom, we do not even have the wisdom to see we even need Him. When we are so deep into serving our own desires and living our life as we choose, we become blinded, too busy, and too prideful to wonder if maybe we have it all wrong? Maybe I’m not meant to just live this life in a cycle of busy as long as the end means I will be successful, living in my beautiful pinterest worthy home, being known and respected. Maybe I wasn’t meant for that? Now I confidently know that I was not meant for that life. I’m not meant to live life to glorify myself.
I never thought this at the time but looking back it’s as if for the past few years my aim has been achieving perfection so the world could see a glimpse of it. (Why does one even post on Facebook? Deep down inside we all want people to know us and adore us. It’s every human’s desire). 1 Corinthians 13:12 says “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” You see, we are already fully known. While my photography business took me on a journey that helped challenge my potential and allowed me to enjoy my success. I felt loved and admired as a result of my own work. I do believe that God used that time; and I truly enjoyed capturing people’s most special moments. However, it caused utter chaos in my home. It didn’t just take away a part of me, it took away all of me. It evolved into anxiety like I have never experienced before. I was losing the fight to balance work and family. It left me feeling overwhelmed and defeated to tackle the hard and important things-like raising children intentionally, learning how to fight the temptations of the flesh, walking in faithful obedience to Christ. I was emptied by the glimpses of my daily failure as a wife, mom, and business woman.
When I was juggling taking care of my three children, responding to emails, cooking, cleaning, editing, advertising… it left me with no time for God. He was not taking up the treasured space in my heart, in fact, He barely fit in the dusty corner. I was constantly in a state of rebellion and trying to control everything. I was trying to muster up my own strength and I had too much pride to admit that I desperately needed to change.
We are not called to live in a way where we eventually arrive to our success. In Simply Tuesday, Emily P. Freeman writes, “We’re called to live with Jesus and to embrace his downward way. She also says “What if our big break is breaking away?” When people say you can do it all and be it all you have to step back and consider, “Which God am I following? Who is the authority in my life?” I was on my own journey of self-fulfillment, trying to figure out how to be a good mom and respectful wife without any means to accomplishing it (because I was too prideful and busy to do something about it). At the end of the day, I, Sonya Ruth, was the focus of MY life. I wanted to see if I could “become” what I worked hard to become. It has brought us to a season of “busy” and “chaos.” I was not yielding any fruit; just discontentment, frustration, and feelings of failure. My life was not oriented in the right direction. I was focused on the temporary things, not the eternal things. Instead of intentionally disciplining my children’s growing heart, I saw it as an interruption to my dreams. I ignored my calling to respect and honor my husband. It was easier to blame him for my deficiencies. My time devoted to God was nonexistent because I felt I just did not have the time… That “dream” I once had of becoming blissfully happy as a photographer never came true. I lied to myself thinking that dream would fulfill me… if anything it took me further away from my purpose in God.
Then one snowy day in January, he called me to embrace my smallness. God doesn’t care if we are smart, rich, successful, strong, or “well put together.” He desires us to need Him. He wants all of us, not just a piece of us. Being “small” is acknowledging we cannot do it all.. and especially on our own. I learned that it’s okay to live a life where I’m not known by the world. I once read the words “It is far easier and more glamorous to aim at changing the world than serving those at hand.” That is the hard truth. We are more inclined to serving the “world” especially if we can post it on IG, Facebook, twitter, etc than doing the hard stuff that no one else sees. To serving our husbands with no expectations attached. Serving, raising, and molding our children’s character instead of distracting them so you can do “your important stuff.” Oh the freedom I have found by understanding that simple statement… and taking it to heart. Being a mom is tough, the toughest thing I may ever have to do; but the years are short, and the impact on my children as a godly woman will be way more significant than a business to celebrate myself and to exhibit my artistic abilities. I love photography and I will always have a place for it in my life, but I am letting go of my career in professional photography. In this surrendering my dreams and my desire I am gaining so much more. “When I celebrate my smallness and receive the gift of obscurity, I am free. I have hope. I can give generously. I can be who I am rather than either who you think I am or who I want you to think I am. When I resist smallness it’s because I’m afraid it means invisibility.” When I read those words of Emily P. Freeman Simply Tuesday it hit spot on of what I had once felt, it affirmed my need for Christ, and my need to let go of the things I held onto for so many years.
When I made that decision to stop doing professional photography (by God’s grace) my whole heart and mind have changed. Steven and I have renewed our commitment as members of our local church (Pillar DC) that was steadfastly loving and encouraging. These faithful Christians stood ready to shepherd even as we were blinded with our own pride. Without the support of my dearest soul sister, Alissa, my church family… and most importantly my husband Steven who dealt with me for all these years in such a gentle and loving way, I was able to slowly recognize my weaknesses and in my weakness, God’s power was and is made perfect in me. And that is the most important truth.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”- 2 Corinthians 12:9