As I sit here in my cozy little apartment, watching the orange leaves fall around my window and clutching my (okay third) cup of hot coffee, I am STILL thinking about the Pursuit 31 Conference. It’s been two weeks, which seem like yesterday and months ago all at the same time. And I realized that I have yet to really share in detail about that week, and while some of what God did in me is personal, I wanted to share what I could because maybe it will inspire you to attend in the future, or just maybe it will meet you right where you are at in this second. Feeling empty, feeling tired, feeling like everyone is getting their biggest break except for you. Maybe you’re even questioning the very things that you were once so passionate about.
Pour yourself a mug and sit on in close because I am going to do my best at sharing what the week did for me. Yes, this is my photography blog. I share my recent portrait work, and sometimes I question what other topics should be buried in the pages between. But I started blogging because I was drawn to the the photographers who let me in. Who let me see beyond their pretty pictures, and into a glimpse of their real life. So in remembering that this morning, I am diving in.
The week before the conference for me was, as predicted, an incredibly stressful one. I was trying my best to have TWO businesses caught up, scheduled ahead, and inboxes empty. I was working on my break out class, and trying to figure out powerpoint for the first time since what felt like seventh grade. I was doubting my ability to stand up there and have anything smart to say at all in light of the amazing guest speakers that were being flown in from across the country to teach as well. Mid week I came down with one of those, I cough and scare small children sort of head colds. The one that turn you into a zombie monster and breathing seems like a gift. I powered through. Refusing to let stress overtake my body. I cleaned the apartment, packed, and somehow managed to get up the next morning, and this time, in addition to my already walking Robitussin commercial that seemed to be filming in my home, I wake up with flu symptoms. On the morning I am supposed to fly to Georgia, and visit with one of my best friends for the first time in 4.5 months. Not to mention my scheduled mentoring session, and FOUR portrait shoots that weekend. Awesome.
I prayed like crazy. Had friends pray. I was NOT about to miss this week. I made it Atlanta by the absolute grace of God and Apple Juice, and I deeply apologize to the cute boy who I imagine felt a great deep remorse over his seating assignment as I went through about 37 tissues from PWM to ATL. Sorry dude.
I made it through my weekend, and had the honor of photographing some incredible individuals and families that weekend. There were times I would hold the camera and beg myself not to crumble from the dizziness, but when rescheduling is not an option, I really didn’t feel I had a choice. I share this back story with you, because I whole heartedly believe that the enemy did not want me at this conference. I started that week exhausted, drained, and pale. But God met me RIGHT where I was at.
The first day is always spent hugging necks of favorite friends who live from Maui to Maine and who you only get to see once a year at best. The Instagram filters are down and you get to see real friends in real life. As creative entrepreneurs, so much of our everyday lives are spent alone. (and introverts everywhere rejoice)- so there is something so powerful about the opportunity to come together and feel part of something bigger, part of the crowd, and be a PART of such a wonderful community for a few days. To be surrounded by like minded people, who understand that overwhelming feeling when the todo list gets too long, who relate to wanting a better business everyday, and who are just trying to make it in this industry like you are.
Mary Marantz kicked off Monday night with her powerful talk on Taking Off the Cape. She depicted the world we live in- Instagram versus real life and her stories of truth woven throughout her words hit home with every single woman in that audience. She called out lies that we were each believing, and gave us the opportunity to decide to believe them no more. I was already wrecked. I knew my lies. The ones I let whisper to my heart every morning my feet hit the floor, and every night my head hit the pillow. And I knew the week had JUST begun because it was obvious that God wasn’t playing games. He had brought us each there to skirt around the deep stuff no longer, and dive right into the hard stuff that no one ever wants to deal with.
Tuesday morning was a whirlwind for me, as I was getting ready for my breakout class at 11. Staring at my notes. Practicing my slides. Trying desperately not to faint in a corner somewhere. A year ago, Karen Stott had sent me a podcast she said that I absolutely had to drop everything I was doing to listen to. It was called Born for Greatness by one of my favorite worship leaders Jonathan Helser. He starts right from the beginning of his message, saying that the formula to finding your greatness- the way to know what God has called you to do- where greatness lies, is the exact place you are hit with most fear. That where you are hit with the most fear, is where you are called to do great things. It’s a fantastic message that I listen to multiple times a year, and I highly recommend downloading it. It was the exact message that I clung to as I climbed that stage that morning.
Now in retrospect, I was teaching a topic on branding. On specializing and building a niche with your business. Something I have mentored photographers on individually for the past year. I wasn’t talking about the deep things of God, or my most vulnerable places or secret struggles being brought to light. It was not my first time on a stage in front of a crowd. But it was the first time in YEARS. Significant in more ways that I can dive into here. Somehow, by God’s grace I made it through. Of course we are always our own worst critic, but I admit that my talk sounded much better in my room when I was alone and not shaking. BUT. Those who came were gracious and supportive, understanding it was my first big class, and I love that about Pursuit 31.
Tuesday afternoon Bob Goff gave his keynote, which of course was incredible in every way. He is such a gifted and talented speaker. And he simply talked about the concept of being love to people in a way that I had never heard. It was so inspiring, and watching him LIVE his message is the greatest take away of all.
My girl Hannah Brencher took the stage Tuesday night, and opened her heart in a vulnerable way that I had never seen her do. She talked about choosing yourself, and how God ALWAYS chooses you. I knew that it was straight from the mouth piece of God, because she arrived with a different talk altogether. That the night before, she knocked on my door, and paced around my room spilling everything that God was REALLY telling her to talk about and how she didn’t know if she could be that see thru on stage. But she did, and it was exactly what needed to be said, and exactly what needed to be heard.
Wednesday morning Jane Johnson, who for the past two years had taken the stage and spilled her deep personal heartache and loss out for us all to see, stood there as a real life testimony that there is light on the other side of the cave. That God restores all things, and brings joy to the darkest of places in His time. Being around Jane always inspires me to dig deeper into the Word and to study scripture as the life breathing book it is. To be honest, after 5.5 years of Bible College, it became difficult to see the Bible as anything other than an important text book. When you have to read it for homework for years, it is easy to lose sight of the rich, soul feeding, LIFE that it is. Jane just released her first 9 week Bible Study, Treasures of Darkness, taken straight from her prayer journals through an extremely difficult season in her life. Women left the conference with a hunger to study their Bibles and dig deep to hear the voice of God. I don’t think she will ever truly see and grasp the impact she has made in the hearts around her in this lifetime.
Katelyn James took the stage Wednesday afternoon (right after teaching a break out class on photographing wedding details! She. is. my. hero.) And she poured her heart out on that stage and talked about being a reflection of Christ in your business and using EVERY often overlooked opportunity to minister to someone’s life in the deep way that they need. To meet people where they are at. This is the third year that she has specifically been used in my life with her words to remind me that this is HIS business and not mine. That it’s not about the who’s who of this industry, but it’s about WHO gave it all to me in the first place. I often think about where I would be in photography had I not continually had the honor of looking up to female photographers and creatives like these. Who remind me what my core should be, and where my heart should always be focused.
Wednesday night, Bianca Olthoff, killed it. I really don’t know a more accurate way of describing the incredible way that God used her for me and for others in that room that night. God showed up. And just MET people right where they were at. To be quite honest, her entire message may as well have been “Dear Tiffany…”. If you have grown up in church, you may know that feeling. That feeling when the one behind the pulpit seems to be reading your journal. Where you sort of do that sideways glance to see if anyone else knows that they are talking about YOU. Oh snap. No she didn’t.
And I walked away hearing truth louder than lies for the first time in a long time. That despite my biggest failures, His call to ministry was never revoked. That God never changed His mind or decided no longer choose me. That God used photography not as as a substitute for ministry, but specifically has used it and will continue to use it to bring me to the exact places of ministry He had planned all along. That the deep rooted feelings of unworthiness to be seen or heard in a crowd have been lies that are “easier to listen to” than to “wrestle against”. That my season of hiding as a nanny are over. That is was intentional for a season to bring healing, but now it’s time to learn that HE is my hiding place. Not a building or a structure, or anything physical that I can create myself. That the very specific promises that He gave me at the start of this year, are mine for the taking whenever I decide to choose HIM, instead of the things that are holding me back.
I woke up this morning knowing God was asking me to share right from MY prayer journal. I always rave about Jane and how brave she is and awesome it is to hear what God is REALLY doing in her life. But I have never been willing to do it myself. So I played that podcast. And I opened my laptop. And I begin to type. And maybe it was for someone to read, and maybe it was simply for me to say.
I normally share about the conference in an effort to spread the word about the next year’s registration- but last I heard it has already sold out!! Word spread about what God did this year FAST, and I am already itching for it to be a year from now just to return and do it all again.
I am sure you may have seen this beautiful film by Tre Creative floating around, as a recap of our incredible week at Winshape, but I wanted to share it here just the same. I get goosebumps every time I watch it. It so powerfully depicts the cohesive flow of the keynote speakers and their hearts. The messages that God had for all of us there, and perhaps even for you watching now.