It’s important to me that I share some about myself before I picked up a camera. This blog post doesn’t have much to do with a camera ;) but more so of just me and what led up to the point of me ever picking one up! I believe it will give you the best foundational perspective on who I am. Though you may not know me personally, I hope this gives you insight into the heart of who I am and the reason I do what I do. Because it is ultimately the reason I create what you see!
I grew up in Northern New Jersey on a blueberry farm with 15 acres. I grew up with 2 brothers, 2 sisters and 2 parents. I am the middle child :) Through 8th grade I went to a private Christian school. My family and I went to church every Sunday. After graduating 8th grade I went to my districts public high school. At the time, that might’ve been the most dramatic change of my life. I went from a class of about 20 students I knew almost my whole life, to a school of 300 students I’d never met!
High school was a huge change and I needed to find my place in this sea of strangers. It was tough. It seemed everyone knew each other except for me coming from a tiny Christian school most kids never knew existed. I did eventually get to know some friends because of repeat classes together through out the days, but the relationships never went outside of the school building. After freshman year, 2 friends transferred and were no longer there. It was rough!
I did find a new group of friends and spent my high school years hanging out with them. They are awesome and I’m glad I had the time I did with them. Our time together usually looked like having a skateboard under our feet and wandering the outdoors.
Unfortunately, high school grew dull pretty quick and my desire to be there was about a zero. My effort was also failing and each year seemed to be worse. With a broken relationship three days before my 18th birthday junior year, I became a pretty sad person and bad decisions suddenly became normal. Somewhere along this time I began smoking weed and cigarettes and alcohol was there too. I formed a habit almost immediately diving into something I never knew anything about growing up. I did end up graduating high school, though it seemed to be a miracle but I knew I just had to. I always knew I was better than what my life actually looked like. I constantly thought about what I was doing and what I had done. I always knew this is not who I am. I knew I was made for more but honestly had no freaking idea what I was doing or how to stop this direction I was heading.. Or even why..? For what? If some one could give me good reason I might have believed them but at the time there seemed to be no hope. And because of that, my downward spiral continued.
I know life is unpredictable, but this seemed to be a stretch for my family. I was always a good kid and polite and joyful. I remember in grade school I got an award in my class for “having a great sense of humor and a wonderful personality”. Because of my habits, I distanced myself from my family. It was like I had two separate lives that seemed to have nothing in common. My parents did the best they knew how to help. I remember going to countless therapy appointments and psychiatrists and medicine doctors and pastors. Nothing seemed to help. I remember my mom took me to a pastor the day after I got arrested for the 3rd time for drugs and we sat in his office and talked. He talked, I sat. I don’t remember much but I do remember him asking me why I was doing what I was doing and I looked at him and said nothing.
A month or 2 later I got arrested for drunk driving and lost my license. It was really bad. I never thought much about suicide until then but it was definitely a thought that came around more often. That happened in December and after going to court a hundred times for different things I was told I had to complete a 6 month drug rehab if I wanted my license back. Three days after my 20th birthday in March, I started the rehab. I passed all their drug tests and followed their rules but nothing inside of me changed. I graduated the program and received a coin with the Serenity Prayer on it. I still have it! I had my license again. I didn’t feel too accomplished.. A few weeks out I remember buying a big bag of pills for cheap and started using again like nothing ever happened. I did my best to keep my home life as peaceful as possible because it was much more so since going to rehab and not having a license and I really didn’t want to disturb it!
Things on the outside seemed to be better. My fines were getting paid, I was getting off probation soon, I was staying out of trouble, my parents started trusting me again. But on the inside I was no more alive. I clearly remember nights in my room with lines of powder in front of me just praying if I ever knew how, God please save me. (When I was maybe 17, I remember reading this book called The Heroin Diaries. It’s basically this dude Nikki Sixx, from the band Motley Crue, writing about his life while addicted to drugs and touring and all the craziness that went with it, and in the end him conquering his addiction. I was inspired. Just to write. I thought it was the coolest thing that he had all of this stuff recorded, almost every day he wrote something. When I first lost my license in 2010, I started writing. I felt like it was the realest way I could express my thoughts. No one ever read it of course, so I would write anything and everything, almost every day). I still have everything from back then including those prayers written on the pages and all the thoughts I had during those times.
Later that year, it was 2011, my younger brother Cody wrote me a letter saying he was praying for me and explained that there really is a God and he loves me no matter what I do. I was still going to church every Sunday in all this craziness but treated it something like school. It’s not like God and Jesus were someone I’d never heard of. I heard it constantly actually, my whole life. But I thought it was awfully nice and thoughtful of Cody writing and I remember jotting in my journal how he is such a good brother. I saved the letter too and taped it in my pages. I can’t remember if I ever wrote him back? It was around that time I noticed a change in Cody. I remember him telling me stories when he visited home from college of a recent missions trip he took to Africa that really changed his life. And it really did! My whole family noticed and we were like, “what the heck happened to Cody?”. He suddenly talked a lot about Jesus like they were buddies and he talked about the Holy Spirit and he prayed and stuff. It was weird. But he was serious. I didn’t think of it too much but it was interesting hearing him talk about something I’ve heard my whole life and now in a way I’ve never heard before.
So now it’s at the end of 2011, Cody is home for his Christmas college break and I am still stuck in a rough place. (Oh, just so you know, I am 20 years old at this point and also, I worked with my dad after high school and we built houses. He’s a carpenter and has his own business. That’s how I made money.)
I remember a few nights I came home late high as a kite, and Cody and I had these conversations. They were much more intentional and I wasn’t just observing his “changed life” from the outside, but he invited me in to talk about it. I remember him sharing what God was doing in his life and this new found community of Jesus followers he was hanging with out in Grove City, Pennsylvania where he was attending college. There were a few conversations that happened and I enjoyed them.
New Years Eve, my friend and I went to Philadelphia. Our plans fell through and we went back home and to the movies into the New Year. So exciting! Haha not really. I dropped him off and started my way home. At this time, I was pretty high off prescription pills, higher than normal I suppose (I mean, it was a holiday…) and I knew there were tons of cops out, especially in this one area I needed to drive through to get home because there always is.. but now it’s New Years and there are cops everywhere! But nonetheless, I started my drive. Within 5 minutes I passed a cop car. This is about 1:30AM and there is no one on the road..except for me..on New Years Eve..The cop turns around and pulls me over. I am totally under the influence, have drugs in my shoe and thinking my life might be coming to an end for real. After all, things “seemed to be going well” those days and if I had to start another cycle of probation, fines, court, mistrust and who knows what..I don’t know if I would make it!
So he pulls me over, a second cop pulls up behind him and they walk up to my window. He asks, “Have you been drinking?” At that time I had a breathalyzer on my vehicle to start it as a consequence of the DUI a year previous, so if you blow into it with alcohol on your breath it won’t start. I was pleased to tell him “no” as I showed him the breathalyzer. They didn’t say much more than that and walked away. I drove home peacefully.
The next day, January 1st, 2012 my life was changed forever. I can’t tell you what I did that day, but that night was most significant. It was around 7 o’clock and Cody asked me if I wanted to ride out to Walmart with him to grab whatever he needed to get. I said yes. On this drive we had a conversation that quite literally changed my life. He shared the story of Jesus in a way I’ve never understood before and I soon realized this is what was missing in my life the entire time. I can’t say I remember God ever speaking to me before but that night he made himself known in a way I knew. Cody and I sat in the parking lot of Newton, New Jersey’s Walmart and my life was changed. We talked for hours and never actually made it into the store; that was clearly not the purpose of our drive out there together, so we went home. When we got home, we prayed in my driveway and I accepted this Jesus into my heart.
The next morning I woke up and thought, “what the heck happened the last night?”. I thought, wow, well I guess I am a christian now, what should I do? Read my bible or what? Then I thought..you know, if I am a christian I should probably get rid of my drugs because I am sure no good christian does drugs. At this time I still skateboarded a lot and went off to skate with some friends. It’s just what we did all the time. I brought my drugs with me, that’s also just what I did. This decision wasn’t an easy one but I thought if I really want to be a christian, I know I need to get rid of these drugs. I know what happened last night was real. “What if I just finish these then be a christian?”. It was so real. Then I remembered something Cody said in the car on the drive home from Walmart. He said, “the devils going to come to you and tell you to forget about this conversation and keep doing what you’re doing, don’t listen.” I remembered this and said, “God, I’ll trust you but if you don’t work, I’m not going to follow you.” So after some debate, I opened my window and threw out what I had and trusted him. I remember I turned on the one christian song on my iPod and sang it and I felt a peace in my heart that was undeniable.
A month later I drove out to Grove City to spend time with Cody and meet this community of christians he was a part of called AOX. I didn’t know my life could change so much so quick but it did! There was absolutely no turning back and my previous life had disappeared. I went home and had a hunger to know who this God was. Seven months later I met a new friend named Jen who I led to accept Jesus. I shared my story with her on top of a mountain in Vernon, New Jersey and for the first time ever I felt the Presence of God fall on me like heavy blanket and I started crying. Haha, I remember her face so clearly while I shared my story and I knew God touched her heart. I asked her if she wanted to accept Jesus and she said yes. I turned to her and held her hands and we prayed and she accepted Jesus. It was crazy.
A year later I went through a summer internship with AOX in Grove City called Summer in the Grove. I spent about a year there and went back home for 6 months. I made a decision to go back to Grove City and moved to stay in January 2014 and am still here today! I’ve learned following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. I’ve also learned it is what I was created to do and it is him I was created to know.
When I became a christian, some of the first things that God spoke to me about were the arts and creating again. I was always creating when I was young but it faded in my teen years and was just about forgotten. I am so thankful for photography and the gift Gods given me and that I even discovered it! I really believe it’s been given to be shared with the world around me so I do my best! I am excited about my life and the turn it’s taken and am confident that following Jesus can only result in the best life lived. Here’s to the 5th year!
Thanks so much for reading!! I’d love to hear your thoughts! :)