Story of My Life | The Real Reason Why I’m an Elopement Photographer

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Story of My Life

If I’m being honest… my palms are sweaty as I read the title, story of my life, because I know writing this and showcasing it to the world is going to take a lot of soul searching and honesty.

It’s me Des!! Elopement photographer & planner, and it’s imperative that I’m open about why I do what I do—elopement photography–by giving insight to the story of my life. First, if you don’t know what an elopement is, look here. That’ll give you some context for what I do. Cliff note version: it’s a balls to the wall way to have a wedding experience that thrills you and gives you a safe space to share your commitment to each other.

But what I do is not as important as why I do it.

It turns out my whole life was leading to this.

Ya wanna get to know me? Here I am.

Let’s talk about them roots in the story of my life.

The story of my life began when I was born and raised in a teeeeeeeeny tiny town in Mississippi. The population chilled out at around 400 census after census. No one was coming in, and no one was leaving. The culture there is warm and inviting. Everyone eats everything fried, and everyone says they’re a Christian (lol but some of them I’m pretty sure aren’t). Country music. Hot sauce. Hospitality. You get the picture. It’s a pretty bangin’ place to grow up, raise a family, and work. Amazing people live there—so many I can’t even start to list them.

My mom (we’ll call her Big E bc my brother-in-law calls her that to poke fun at her) had me, my older brother, and my older sister.

My dad wasn’t around.

They divorced when I was three.

So I don’t have many memories of him, but I’ve pieced together that that’s a good thing.

I grew up in that tiny town and in my tinyyyyy elementary school trying to exceed at EVERYTHING. My mom had to work a lot to support us (not her fault, just the way it was), so that forced me to be pretty independent. I did homework on my own, cleaned my room on my own (not that Big E would say that lol), made a lot of elementary school plans on my own, and kinda built who I was independently.

Meanwhile, one of my babysitters were taking me to their church with them. And I kept hearing this message summarized loud & clear—”If you’re a good person, you can have God the Father’s love.” (Stay tuned to see how bogus that really was).

Little Des didn’t have an earthly dad, so I thought being good so God would love me would make me feel good, loved, successful, and at peace with myself. Because I could always tell something was always off with me.

I’d make a 100 on a spelling test, but that wasn’t ever good enough for me.

I’d get to start in my middle school basketball game and even score!!! But I wasn’t satisfied with that.

The truth is I had a complex—a complex that told me I have to be better than perfect to deserve love.

No one ever sat me down and told me that, but my adolescent mind pieced that complex together in between some formative years and experiences.

My mom’s an awesome mom!! But she couldn’t be a mom and a dad. So I had some holes to fill in my mind, and my brain filled them with confusing expectations I placed on myself.

And when I wasn’t better than perfect, I’d get this feeling: kind of like anger and kind of like sadness. I didn’t have a word for it then, but now I know its name—anxiety. The story of my life involves a lot of anxiety sadly, but adventure was always a great tool to combat it.

And truly, I was an adventurer as a child. I’d be gone for hours from the house exploring the pastures and rolling hills behind our home. I’d find ponds, broken down tractors, dusty fields, big trees to climb, vines to pull, streams to roll in. I’m literally getting excited to type this, because the outdoors were such a place of comfort for me. I’d found a place to get out of my own tiny anxious mind and just be. Every memory out there is precious to me, even the dangerous ones like that time I saw a puma and had to run (or my child brain told me that black house cat was a real-life puma), or when coyotes came barreling across a back road towards me, or the countless venomous snakes I tried to avoid trudging through swamps.

When I felt like I wasn’t measuring up—I’d go behind our house and get lost (quite literally sometimes) exploring. And that angry & sad feeling went away to be replaced by excitement and peace. Getting lost became a massive part of the story of my life, and that didn’t stop with my childhood.

Thank God I FINALLY found out the truth about me and how the story of my life served a purpose.

Ya see, I had grown up believing a few lies:

  1. Better than perfection is possible.

  2. You have to earn love to be loved.

And I’m PUMPED to say I now know those aren’t true about me, and they aren’t true about you either. But here’s how I discovered those were lies in the story of my life.

I was trying very hard to be “good enough” one time while I was in college. I sat across from a genius chatting about our beliefs when he asked me, “If you died today, what would you tell Jesus if He asked if He should let you into Heaven?”

So I responded, “Well I’d tell Him I’ve never done anything tooooo bad! I’ve never murdered anyone! And I’ve always tried to be a good person.”

And that day—for the first time—someone actually told me the truth about what it means to be unconditionally loved.

He told me I didn’t have to earn love, that I was already loved, and that human perfection is impossible, but Jesus had been perfect on my behalf. So I began to love and follow Christ. And I thought, “Anxiety can shove it now. I’m 100% loved, and I’m sick of trying to earn it!”

Sometimes we just don’t realize how wrong we are.

Haha at least that was true for me! I had followed Jesus so everything would be perfect now—AND THAT WAS A BIG FAT WRONG!!!!

Years went by as I followed Jesus, but time & time again I still had that feeling that I had as a little girl—kind of angry and kind of sad—when things didn’t go my way.

Even though I was known by Radical Love, I still kept trying to earn it. Even though I was working hard and was fully secure in God’s love for me, I still felt that pain of anxiety and uncertainty of my value.

Oh man, then one day it hit me—”I have a mental health disorder, and I think I always have.”

And I’m open to talk about it now, but at the time this was really shattering. To someone who felt they had to be better than perfect, realizing you had a disorder was crushing.

In years since, I’ve tried every method possible to alleviate my anxiety (and later diagnosis with depression), but each one didn’t last. It was this massive cycle of healing and despair, healing and despair.

So many things bogged me down like school or jobs or my helpless love life (BUT OMG I MARRIED DAN AND THIS WAS THE BEST THING EVER), but I kept finding going on an adventure always made me feel better and that healing lasted longer than any amount of affirmations or therapy.

I went on so many “adventures.” Belize, Vietnam, the Philippines, so many places I can’t even list—but I kept finding I felt most fulfilled and at peace when I was living in the purpose of traveling to show others they have value. Between exploring ruins, backpacking through river valleys, and communing with my backpacking pals, I began to swell up with passion, and it overflowed into discovering what I was created to do.

A Life-Changing Adventure was afoot in the story of my life!!

Who says afoot? I say afoot!!! This is a no judgement zone, Karen!!! (also you should know when I let Dan proofread this he said, “Who’s Karen?” AHAHAHA

Anyway, in 2019 I was feeling STUCK. Trudging through everyday. Generally hating that I existed—even though I was confident I was loved and didn’t have to earn it.

So I asked Dan if we could go on a bigggggg trip to escape!! One that required a lot of planning (I nerd out planning trips, it’s legit the best). I read a brochure one time in the 5th grade about “The Wonders of Yellowstone,” and that brochure stuck with me from the 5th grade until I was 25. I said, “I will go to Yellowstone one day, I don’t care what I have to do to get there!” So that’s where we planned to go.

I wanted a camera to document this baller experience, so I got a $400 camera from Amazon with some Christmas money, and MAN was I nervous holding that thing. I felt like such an imposter—”How on earth do I work this thing?!” So I would go the a river we have nearby and practice taking pictures of blue heron.

And let me tell you—being outside, hearing that river, sneaking up on blue heron, and snapping pictures—I felt again like that little girl who found peace from her struggles outside. Ya see, I hear God’s love the loudest in these spaces. When the loud noises of life are silenced, and you hear nature (plus or minus a few folks you really love), you can be free to feel peace.

I couldn’t get enough of it. I would go to that river before work and after work every day for 7 weeks until our trip.

And on that maiden trip to Yellowstone, I knew then what I was meant to do.

My purpose became showing people the mental peace & undeserved love they can possess in the great outdoors when they’re surrounded by a few trusted individuals.

I didn’t know elopements were a thing then, but now I see what God was doing.

He was giving me a skill and a passion in order to show others a few things:

  1. You’re not alone in your mental health struggles.

  2. You are loved no matter what you do or who you are.

  3. Having a wedding day that brings you peace AND adventure is 100% achievable.

But how is life really any different?

I returned from that trip with a new agenda: I would give my life to giving people safe spaces to know they are loved and that they can have peace. I began speaking out about my mental illnesses for the first time. I began offering to take pictures of basically anyone at anytime mostly just so I could have a chance to meet them and show them their stories have value.

I remember the first time I got paid to take someone’s photos. I offered some strangers on the internet a free engagement session.

I was nervous. My hands were sweaty, but I stayed true to my real purpose: showing them their worth and value.

At the end of their session, they handed me $40 for a tip! I was like FDSJKLJERAIOJIOFAHGAJRKF;AOJ DID I JUST FRIGGIN GET PAID TO SHOW SOMEONE THEY ARE IMPORTANT?!

And so my photography career began.

I put my love for peace in the outdoors with my love of people and eventually found elopement photography.

I advocate elopements, because I find peace in it. But really it’s because I believe you deserve to know peace too. And you deserve to know that you are loved no matter your background or actions.

If you have any questions about the story of my life, mental health, Jesus, elopements, essentially anythingggggggg, let’s talk by hitting that black contact button below!! But as I said above—that $400 camera and that trip to Yellowstone showed me what I was supposed to do. So here are some pics from that beginner’s little camera and my lack of expertise at the time.

Enjoy!! And go ahead and book that big trip—maybe even for your elopement. 😉

Hey, it’s us!

We’re Des & Dan! Husband & wife elopement photographers, planners, and officiants! We help couples like you create elopement days full of meaningful details, authentic moments, and creative experiences because we believe you deserve a wedding day where you are truly heard—a wedding day you can truly remember.

We’d love to help in any way you can, so check out our other free planning resources or send us an email by hitting contact! We’d love to hop on the phone and see what you’re envisioning for your elopement day.

You deserve this.

Des & Dan

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