*Note: I first met Julia one year ago, when I took her portrait for the Strength Source Project. The portrait below is the one that I took of her then. She is in a different place in her life now, and I met with her again to talk about what has changed and how she has grown since that time.
“I thought I wanted to be married to him. I bought the wedding dress, threw the party, but never signed the papers. I realized after the ceremony that we were no longer on the same path together. I made the decision to keep moving forward, moved into a new house without him, spent a summer working in Europe, and restarted my life. Looking back, I see that I had trouble differentiating between what a person tells you they can be, from what that person actually is and will be. I now see that what I gave as mental, financial, and career encouragement, was routinely discredited. I realize now also that I was a bit fearful of breaking up, because I was always optimistic that they would live up to their potential and because I didn’t want to see them disappointed. But that caused me not to admit that I was slightly disappointed in the years leading up to the big party. And now I accept that it is perceived that I’ve disappointed everyone after the party.
But in finally articulating what I didn’t want, I have found strength in no longer altering my voice on behalf of someone else. I know I’ve confused people because of the way that I had internalized things, but I think it’s never too late to reclaim your story. My newfound strength and clarity has filtered back into all aspects of my life. After finding my voice leaving a relationship, I found my true voice at work, in executive meetings, meetings completely in French, on holiday, with loved ones, and over executive business dinners. One year later, I stopped looking back.”
If you haven’t been out to see the show, it is hanging at Abington Art Center until October 26th! The gallery is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and Saturday. Seeing the portraits and stories up on the walls has been a wonderful experience. I am so thankful that I have had the chance to take the work out of the digital realm and into “real life”.
“Six years ago I decided to leave Philadelphia to drive cross country and find a job in a warm climate by the ocean. At the time, I thought that meant I was going to California. I lived on the east coast for my entire life, surrounded by family and friends. It was my first time venturing out completely on my own. I gave all of my belongings away aside from what fit into my car. I didn’t have a plan, a job prospect, or much money, but I had a dream and I had faith that I would achieve that dream. It crossed my mind that selling my possessions instead of donating them would be a better financial decision- but worrying about money wasn’t part of my dream.
The initial few months weren’t the easiest – mostly because I was making a big change for the first time in my life, and I was leaving a comfortable home and job without knowing where I was going or what I would do there. The anxiety of the unknown weakened me physically and emotionally. I questioned myself relentlessly. After some sleepless nights and a few poor decisions, I eventually surrendered realizing my mind wasn’t strong enough to figure out what to do next and that I had to simply trust that the Universe would work out the details for me. Surrendering to faith required so much strength. Letting go of the illusion of control was much harder than I ever imagined it would be, but once I surrendered, my intentions became reality. I ended up NOT in California, but in a place even more magical – Hawaii. I was offered a job doing what I love, moved into a house overlooking the ocean, and started a new chapter in my life. I haven’t regretted any part of my journey.”
There will be an opening for the Strength Source Project Show at Abington Art Center on Friday, September 21st from 6 – 8 pm. The show will be on view until October 23rd. I hope you will come by to view 27 portraits and stories hanging on the walls of the center!
Abington Art Show Opening
“My name is Jessica and I was born with a Cleft Lip and Palate. For the past several years I have been working with Philly Phaces. Philly Phaces is a local non profit for families to connect with other families that have children with a craniofacial difference.
I am a Philly Phaces Ambassador. I go to different elementary and middle schools with other children and young adults. We share the message of choosing kind. We tell the students about ourselves and what we have been through in our lives. At the end of our presentation we open it up for questions. The students can ask us anything from what our favorite food is to how many surgeries we’ve had. I think that is always my favorite part. I think doing these school talks and helping with Philly Phaces has made me feel strong inside because I love to educate students about being kind to others no matter what their differences are. It’s rewarding being a friend to someone who maybe going through a surgery that I had and being able to talk with them and let them know that it will be ok and that they will be fine.
I think being someone that has grown up with a facial difference has given me the strength to help others going through the same journey. “I want people to notice what’s on the inside, not what’s on the outside.”
You can read more about Philly Phaces and the work that they do here:
“As an adult, people have always perceived me as strong and I struggled to understand why. I believe many of us get our strength through survival, meaning our strength rises to the occasion. The strongest women I know are those who have come through the hardest times, it seems. While I’ve had my share of struggles, I have been lucky. Through most of them I didn’t recognize my strength until later. I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who got sober when pregnant over 22 years ago, and I had to learn how to live like a normal person for the first time when I was 26 and a new mom. I’ve been through heartaches and love affairs, a marriage and the end of a marriage, and raising a child when I felt like a child myself.
It wasn’t until I hit bottom with my depression 3 years ago that I truly felt strong. I was suicidal and crying every day for months, with bouts of debilitating anxiety that made it hard to breathe. It was because of the experiences I had up to that point that I was able to reach out for help when it was the last thing I wanted to do. I found myself utilizing the tools I learned in recovery and applying it to my depression. Do the next right thing. Ask for help and accept help. Stay for another day. I went into my doctor’s office for an emergency appointment and spent the next few months crying and trying different medications, going to therapists and slowly coming back to life. It was up and down and sometimes worse, but I kept trying because I knew that how I felt wasn’t my fault and I was so tired of living in the dark, never feeling joy and never feeling like I deserved anything good. Eventually we found the right medication for me and I have a therapist I like and I’ve been above water for a good while now. I have days here and there where the depression tugs me down, but I am learning how to let go and float through those times.”
“I was raised by a tribe. A tribe including incredible parents whose love is strong and true. By five siblings who taught me to always stand up for myself. By a Mother, an Aunt, and Sisters who taught me to never apologize for being a strong woman. By a father who taught me that everyone has a story, so always be kind. Our family is deeply rooted in those values. We were taught to always put others before ourselves, especially those less fortunate, and to take nothing for granted, since most of our life is based on luck. That we are the lucky ones. My family makes me feel strong. I find my strength in raising my children the same way. I find strength when I look at my husband who has similar roots. We are trying to raise kind, responsible, emotionally intelligent humans. This is not an easy task in a world that can look ugly and breed greed and selfishness. But they are being raised by their own tribe. You will see my strength in my family values that will continue in the next generation. You will see my children strong minded, strong hearted, and strong willed, just like their tribe.”
“When I decided to become a single mom by choice, I felt strong. Holding that little 5 lb baby in my arms almost seven years ago, I felt in awe, I felt I could do anything.
These past years have been challenging to say the least. There are times I have felt unsure, inadequate and defeated. I have questioned whether I was delusional all those years ago (and may be I was). But lately my strength has been showing up as surrender. Letting go of trying to control everything and relaxing into the moment and being mentally and emotionally present for my daughter. My strength shows up when I cry and accept help from my family. My strength precedes every time I accept her as she is, allow her to take the lead at times and be willing to learn from her. I feel strong every time I am steadfast in our living a life defined by us and not defined by others, tv or social media.”
“Finding the the courage to pursue a career in fine art and craft without a plan B is my strongest achievement to date. I have always dabbled in the arts and came only several credits shy of earning an associates degree in Illustration after high school but bailed to pursue more “financially stable” and concrete career paths. After years of going through the motions, I just recently completed my BFA in Metalsmithing & Jewelry Design, creating an installation of my work that I was genuinely proud of. I am very late to the game, just now heading to graduate school but everything that I’ve done leading up to now has given my work a stronger voice and a richer meaning. My veracious appetite for knowledge and progression has been both a blessing and a curse but I’ve come to realize that choosing a career path is only as constricting as I will it to be. I’m finally slowing down a tiny bit to enjoy my exciting journey. When I return to Philadelphia from the Rochester Institute of Technology in two years with an MFA under my belt, I plan to create and run a craft based artist collective. Looking back, I have spent a lot of time and energy fighting insignificant battles on principal and justice, but I have come to learn that at the end of the day anything extra is overkill. My work speaks for itself.”
Find out more about Mara and her work at: www.marairis.com
“I’m a midwife; I bear witness to some of the most intense and wonderful moments in people’s lives. It’s an incredibly rewarding job, and the adrenaline and oxytocin from lovely births carry me through the sometimes grueling aspects of this work; twenty-four hour call shifts, weekend and night calls, the dissolution of a woman’s birth ‘plan’, taking care of women having still births, neonatal resuscitations, etc. It’s not for the faint of heart. Seeing the strength of my clients and bolstering their strength when they need it most, gives me strength. I also gather strength from my sister-midwives, both at my current workplace, as well as midwives I have learned alongside in the past.
During my own labor, it was helpful knowing that millions of women had done this before, and thousands of women were laboring at the same time as me, all bringing new life into this world. Having the weight of my warm, wet and wriggly baby placed on my chest was one of the best feelings in my life, and in that moment, I felt that I could do anything in the world.
In labor, just like in life, there are waves of contractions or pain. As a midwife, I remind women to stay present; to not dwell on what was or worry about what is to come but to just get through this contraction. At the end of the first stage of labor is a phase called ‘transition’ (when the cervix dilates from 8 – 10 centimeters) – one of the hardest parts of labor. This is when the contractions are the most intense, and the woman may be tired and starting to doubt herself. It is during transition that I often remind women that they are stronger than they think or realize, and that I know they can do it. In the second stage of labor when a woman is pushing her baby out into this world, I remind women to take the breaks in between contractions, and to gather her strength for the next big push. These three reminders are advice we all could heed in our daily lives.”
“A midwife must possess the hand of a lady, the eyes of a hawk and the heart of a lion” – 16th century proverb.