We are bringing you something a little bit different today, that we believe will truly bless and encourage you. Not only are will we be getting to know Jennifer Smith, but will have the opportunity to hear the stories of some amazing women who are walking through a very difficult and painful season. You will be inspired, as we have been, by the stories of these women who are faithfully walking through trials. Feel free to share your words of encouragement for these ladies in the comment section below.
Heirloom: How do you begin your day? Do you have any morning rituals that help you start the day off on the right foot?
Jennifer: Coffee! Always coffee. I am married and have two kiddos ages 2 and 4, so they make sure I am always up bright and early. Beyond that my life is about making breakfast for the kids, cleaning up any spills, and getting my kids dressed and ready for the day. I would say my main rituals for the day are at nap time, which is when I have another cup of coffee, study my Bible, and get in any extra emails or editing. I wish I could tell you that I wake up at 5:00am, go on a 6 mile run, drink a protein shake, have my quite time with the Lord, shower, and then wake the kids, but that's not quite the routine...yet.
Heirloom: Tell us your story. How did you get into photography?
Jennifer: My parents bought me a film camera in high school that I loved. I was horrible at photography and had zero idea what anything on my camera did. I knew how to load and unload film, focus, and push down the button to take a photo. However, I loved it and it was an instant passion of mine.
My love for photography grew as I went on mission trips with my youth group and I was able to capture the raw side of humanity. When I graduated college, I got a fancy DSLR for graduation and then we moved off to California for my husband to pursue his masters and for me to begin a job as a nurse. California was the perfect place to practice photography. There were so many places that were so beautiful to photograph. I was also able to take a photography course while I was there as well.
After about 3 years we moved to Texas where my photography really took off. I would stay up literally all night reading photography 101 books, reading articles on line/blogs and looking at other photographer’s work that I admired. I filled up a spiral notebook with all my notes and ideas on photography. I knew zero people in the city we moved to and I had lots of down time to learn everything about my camera. I reached out to any and every photographer I could and asked if they would meet me for coffee or if they would let me tag along on a shoot or if they would mentor me in any way. I figured I had nothing to loose. I would say for about every 5-10 photographers I emailed, one would respond back to me. I learned so much from the photographers that met up with me or allowed me to get an inside look at their practice.
I am a hands on learner and there was only so much I felt that I could learn from books, internet, videos...ect. I needed mentors to help me get to that next level. After a few years of living in Texas I decided to end my nursing career to really go after photography and to be with my kids more. It has been such a great decision and I have never looked back.
Heirloom: Tell us a little about your shoot with this lovely ladies.
This session was incredibly special to me and much prayer and thought went into it. I get inspiration from people and as these ladies have entered my life and I have find myself caught up in their stories.
A friend shared that her mother had been in a car wreck, had been sent to the ER for a head CT and that the results came back that she had multiple lesions on her brain. Her mother later had brain surgery. After the surgery the surgeon told my friend Kristin, "Your mom has Glioblastoma. It's stage 4. There's no cure...just treatment." Glioblastoma is the most deadly and aggressive kind of brain cancer there is. Flooded with emotions, Kristin and her brother and set out to find out the best treatment options and facilities. One month later they ended up at M.D Anderson in Houston where she would have 20 rounds of brain radiation and 1 month of chemotherapy.
Kristin describes her mom as follows, “Mom is strong emotionally and spiritually, but we are all aware that this disease will end her life...it's just a matter of time. With her first grandchild on the way, she now has a strong sense of hope and determination to see this child born in September. During this time of ever-changing emotions and grief stricken days, we have learned to love each other unconditionally, make the most of every moment, and thank the Lord for the time we still have with her.“
At the same time we heard another story from another sweet friend who had just given birth to her second child in January. The child was perfect. Beautiful in every way and they were thrilled to have not only a little boy and but also a baby girl. After 2 months her mom started noticing some issues with her daughter's motor control. Their pediatrician told her that she just has low muscle tone and not to worry about it long term. However, after undergoing a little more testing they learned that their precious 11-week-old daughter has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, type 1, the worst possible diagnosis they could have received. Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a disease that robs people of physical strength by affecting their motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, taking away the ability to walk, eat or breathe. It is the number one genetic cause of death for infants and affects 1 in 10,000 babies. Babies who have this disease do not live past the age of 2 for there is no cure.
Despite this news they describe their situation as follows, “Our world stopped. We have already learned so much through this journey, and will never be the same. God is teaching us how to fully rely on him, how to prioritize what really matters, and for the first time – we have a true eternal perspective. Of all genetic diseases, SMA is one that is closest to a cure. We have great hope that God will heal our girl and use this for his glory. He is the ultimate Healer and we fully trust him, but we still struggle with fear and doubt. We appreciate the mighty prayers of our friends and family as we navigate this journey.”
After hearing these stories I wanted to put together a special mother’s day photo session for these ladies who are strong, courages, determined, hopeful, and passionate about fully living into every moment of each day. I called on some friends in the industry to help pull this day off. My friend Brit help with designing the prints and table setting. Megan helped with hair and make up and Priscilla allowed us to use her space for the session.
It was such a sweet session and it was an honor to be a part of capturing their stories. These ladies are walking through incredibly difficult days, but have hope and a new perspective on life. I have been inspired by them and have learned that each and every day is an absolute gift. One of the verses that came to mind while preparing for this session was Proverbs 31:25. “Strength and dignity are her clothing and she can laugh at the days to come.” I think it takes incredible strength to be able to laugh at the days to come when the days ahead are filled with trial and hardship. Real strength is being able to find the will to laugh no matter what life will bring you. Not only did I want to give these ladies a chance to smile, I wanted to tell their story of strength, perseverance, and hope because those are the kinds of stories that are most worth telling.
Heirloom: Where do you go to find inspiration in your work?
Jennifer: I find inspiration in people. I want to capture life in a way that is true to that season and moment of life. I am inspired by stories that need to be told. I am moved by beautiful light and raw candid moments. Capturing the stories of humanity in a way that is real drives me more than anything.
Heirloom: What is your favorite part of owning your own business?
Jennifer: There are three primary things I enjoy about owning my own business. The first is the sheer challenge of owning a business. I am a very driven person and I enjoy setting goals for myself that challenge and stretch me. Photography is a passion.
Through the journey of owning my own business I have learned some valuable life lessons that I plan to teach my children someday. First, when you are passionate about something the only thing that stands in your way of that passion is yourself. I want them to learn to have courage and to never give up on themselves.
Second, creativity. I love allowing my creative spirit to run wild. When you allow your creativity to go beyond anything you’ve ever dreamed up before, you find that anything is possible.
Third and most important, my work allows me a great deal of flexibility and family time. At the end of the day, there is nothing more important or more gratifying to me than the time spent with family. They make all the late night editing sessions and long Saturdays worth it every time.
I am definitely still learning every single day about what it takes to run a business and to do it well. By no means am I a master of this, but I am taking it one day at a time and learning from my successes and failures. I know this is what I am supposed to be doing at this season of my life and I am completely humbled to be where I am right now.