Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Big Picture

Have you ever wanted something so bad that you were angry with God when it didn't happen?  I know I'm guilty of this.  I started to believe that the plan I had in my head for my life was what was best instead of asking God to guide me and show me his plan for my life.  I want what He wants, but I don't always show it.  Like a child throwing a tantrum, I have been angry before that something I wanted so badly didn't work out and I questioned God because of it.  I know we all do it, but how ridiculous is it that we question God and try to tell Him what the plan is for our lives?

A couple weeks ago at our church's high school youth group, we talked about doubt and questioning God.  Several of the kids were explaining different situations that caused them to doubt, and many of them talked about circumstances where they wanted something and prayed for something and it didn't happen.  This situation is all too real for me, but I've also learned a few things over the past few years that have taught me important lessons about God's plan for my life.  So this is for the youth group kids.  This is for anyone struggling with an unanswered prayer or a "missed opportunity."  I have been there.

You know how people refer to the "big picture"?  This is what I think of when it comes to God.  We can only see what's right in front of us in the here and now, but he has the whole map of our lives in view, past and present. 

During my senior year of college at Indiana University South Bend, I took the GRE and started applying to grad school.  I had a good GPA, I was about to graduate with honors, and I had been involved with lots of extracurricular activities.  I thought getting into grad school was going to be a breeze.

I thought wrong.

I started getting my application materials together and asking professors to write recommendation letters for me.  In my mind, there was only one school I wanted to go to, and that was Notre Dame.  I was already living in South Bend, so I wouldn't have to move.  My relationship with Justin was starting to get serious, so I could stay in the same town as him.  And then there's the prestige that comes with getting a degree from Notre Dame.  I loved the campus.  It was my dream to go there.  It was my plan, and I was confident that I would get in.

Several of my professors suggested that I apply to other schools as a back-up, so I sent in applications to a few other schools as a technicality.  I applied to the University of Michigan, Purdue University, Indiana University Bloomington, Wayne State, and IU South Bend, the school where I was about to graduate from.  Most of the programs I applied to were MFA programs (Master of Fine Arts) in creative writing rather than an MA program (Master of Arts) in English and several of the schools offered full scholarships to MFA students.  I wanted to get into an MFA program and to get a scholarship and Notre Dame offered both.  

As I waited to hear back from these schools, I started receiving rejection letters.  The first came from the University of Michigan, then from Wayne State, then from Purdue, then from IU Bloomington.  I realized just how competitive grad school is, but I still had my heart set on Notre Dame.  I prayed and prayed and prayed about it.  I thought for sure God would follow through with my plan.

And then the rejection letter came.  As I sat in the computer lab in the community building by my dorm, I was in shock.  What had happened to my plan?  What about all those prayers?  What about what I wanted?

I was devastated.  I could hardly talk to anyone about it because I had convinced myself that going to Notre Dame was the best plan for my life.  I had convinced myself that what I wanted was more important than what God had in store for me.

After a few weeks of dealing with the rejection and questioning God in the process, I received a letter from IU South Bend.  I had been accepted into their program.  It was an MA program instead of an MFA program and I didn't get the scholarship I had applied for.  I had gone there for my undergrad and I needed a change of pace.  It was the last choice on my list.  I was unhappy, but I still wanted to go to grad school.  So I accepted.  After graduation, Cohen and I moved out of student housing and got an apartment together near the school and she worked on finishing up her last year of her undergrad and I started grad school.  It wasn't my plan at all.  

But my two years as a grad student there were wonderful.

We had a small class in the English graduate program at IU South Bend and we became like a family.  We spent time with each other, bonded, shared meals together, worked together, studied together, and genuinely cared about each other.  We came from so many different stages of life and backgrounds, but we all loved each other and cheered each other on as some of us graduated, got married, got new jobs, went on to school at other places, and more.  We knew each others' spouses and families.  We could share accomplishments or rant about professors and classes or get new insight on a paper or assignment.

My grad school group last summer.  This was our "last supper" together as Justin and I moved to Ohio, Hannah moved to New Mexico, Katie moved to California, and Amy moved to Michigan. 
My studies at IU South Bend led me to get a teaching assistantship as a second-year grad student, which ultimately gave me great experience, helped me decide what career I wanted to pursue, and helped me get into the PhD program at Bowling Green.  I got to share an office with and teach alongside my fellow graduate classmates.  The English department also hired me on even after I graduated, so I had a guaranteed job after graduation.  Even though I was in an MA program, I got to take multiple creative writing workshops in poetry and fiction and non-fiction (from published authors) and my thesis director even let me do a narrative collage project.  I won several writing awards and got to meet many great authors as the school hosted poetry readings and published books through their very own 42 Miles Press.  I got to concentrate in creative writing and participate in several poetry readings hosted by the English department.  And, as I found out later after applying for jobs, having an MA makes you more marketable versus having an MFA.  My supervisor at Indiana Tech told me she wouldn't have hired me to teach there if I had gotten an MFA. 

So the program I applied to just for a back-up ended up being God's plan.  It ended up being a wonderful experience.  Justin and I were able to stay close together and we got engaged and got married during my last year of grad school.  I got to be close to my best friend, Cohen, and spend time with her before she got sick.  I was still close enough to family to make a day trip to see them.

Notre Dame was never God's plan for my life.  I could only see what was right in front of me, but God could see the big picture.

So next time a prayer goes unanswered or you don't get that job or a situation doesn't work out the way you want it to, remember that it's just God's way of saying that He's got something better in store for you.  I have learned this lesson well. 

Husband and wife, October 2012.  Our wedding was during my second-to-last semester of grad school.
May 2013.  God's perfect plan.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Have you heard of the Timehop app that lets you see things you've posted on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in the past?  I check Timehop from time to time, and today really got me thinking about some things.  This time of year always reminds me of happy things - graduations, summer approaching, beautiful spring weather.  Two years ago around this time, I was wrapping up my last semester of graduate school and was about to graduate with my masters degree.

Some of you know about my best friend, Cohen, who has practically been my adopted sister since we met in seventh grade.  We went to college together, roomed together, lived together after college, and she was my maid of honor in my wedding.  But two years ago, Cohen got sick.  You can read more about her story on my blog at or on her fundraising page at  Her mystery illness started getting worse around the time I was supposed to graduate. 

At the end of April, I was getting ready for my final week of grad school.  I had huge papers due, plus I had to finish up my thesis project and defend it in front of my committee.  Life was chaotic.  Cohen had been having some serious health issues and the doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with her.  She called me one afternoon to tell me that she was going to Indiana University Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis to have surgery because the pressure in her head was building up and they needed to relieve it.  The surgery happened to be during the final week of classes.

I was torn because I had so much work to do and I was so close with my classmates and I worried this would be the last time we would all be together, but I dropped everything and drove to Fort Wayne and then to Indianapolis with Cohen's family for the surgery.  I remember sitting in the waiting room with Cohen's mother, stepfather, and grandparents while eating Taco Bell and working on a Julia Kasdorf stylistics paper.

I ended up staying in Indianapolis for three days, sleeping on a cot in Cohen's room because I was so afraid to leave her side.  (I also learned that people in the hospital get no sleep.  Who comes in to take someone to get a CT scan at 3:00 in the morning!?) 

My bed, office, and everything in between for the three days I stayed with Cohen at IU Methodist.
I had to head back to South Bend faster than I would have liked (it was about a three hour trip from South Bend to Indianapolis) because I had loose ends with school and my thesis project.  Cohen had a brain biopsy shortly after her shunt surgery to relieve pressure and went home a few days later.  We all were anxious to find out the results.

Cohen and I together at her house in Ft. Wayne right after she got home from her shunt/biopsy surgeries. 
Two weeks later, in the midst of my grad school and graduation madness, Cohen called me when Justin and I were driving to watch my little brother's high school baseball game.  They finally had a diagnosis - it was a rare brain tumor that we later found out was incurable.  As Phillip Phillips "Home" was playing on the radio in the car, I broke down. 

Cohen was scheduled to have major brain surgery the following week on the same day as my graduation (Justin also happened to be graduating at the same time with his undergraduate degree in psychology, so it was a big deal for us).  Cohen told me over and over again how upset she was that she wouldn't be there, but I was more heartbroken that I wouldn't be there with her.

Justin and I at our graduation from Indiana University in May 2013.
Cohen's mother ended up telling me later that Cohen woke up after her surgery wanting to know if anyone had heard from me and how my graduation went.  Cohen is always worried about everyone else.  She ended up texting me while I was sitting at graduation and my mom sent her several videos of the ceremony.  It was like we were together the whole time.

The very next day, I left for Indianapolis to go see Cohen in the intensive care unit at IU Methodist.

My friend, Elisabeth, and I with Cohen after her surgery to remove a portion of the tumor.
Cohen and I at my old house in South Bend.  She came to stay with Justin and I for a few days during her recovery.
Cohen and I sporting our Boston gear shortly after her surgery. 
So this time of year has me thinking about lots of things.  Several of our youth group students from church are preparing to graduate which always gets me thinking about May 2013.  It was a time of happiness for me as I was moving on after two years of hard work in grad school, but it was also chaotic and scary and exhausting.  There were many tearful days and nights.  I wrote an entire 25-page paper and communicated with my committee about my thesis in a hospital while simultaneously fighting the anxiousness I was feeling about Cohen's surgery and the unknown (at the time) nature of her illness.

And as I prepare to go back to school this fall, I think of new beginnings and graduations and how something can be both wonderful and terrible at the same time.  Graduating with my masters was a great feeling, but it also brings with it memories of hardship and sadness and questioning and anxiety.

It's crazy how Timehop brought up all these old memories and feelings and happiness and sadness all at the same time.

I continuously thank God for the happy moments and praise him in the sad times.

"Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
-Joshua 1:9

If you are compelled to contribute to Cohen's cause or learn more about her, visit the fundraising page I mentioned above.  And above all, could you pray for her?  She is a very special young woman who has brought much happiness and joy to each person she has come in contact with.

God is good all the time.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tell Me Something Good

Let me just start by saying God is good.

So good.

I've definitely had some good news come my way this week that has blessed me immensely.  God is truly working in the lives of my husband and I and Ohio is where we are supposed to be.

First off, I entered the Toledo Museum of Art's ekphrastic writing poetry competition back in February with an ekphrastic poem I wrote about Mark Rothko's Untitled (1960).  Justin and I studied this painting in an art class we took together in college, so it was exciting to see it in the museum's collection here in Toledo.

I was contacted last Wednesday by the museum and I am a finalist in the competition.  There is an awards ceremony on May 1st at the Glass Salon at the Toledo Museum of Art and I will be introduced and will read my poem.  Since I'm a "finalist," I won't actually know what place I've won until the ceremony.  I'm hoping for first place, but we will see!  I'm excited to be a part of it and I'm proud of the city of Toledo and all they're doing to advance the local poetry community.  You can view more about the ekphrastic writing poetry contest here:

Rothko's Untitled (1960), the painting I based my poem on for the competition. 
Aside from the poetry competition, I have some very exciting news that I just found out today.  Let me start by giving some background information.

After graduating with my undergraduate degree in 2011, I started grad school two weeks later.  (I love school.)  I knew I needed a break after completing my masters in 2013, so I waited about a year and then started seriously thinking about going back to school for my doctorate.

During that time, I taught at two different colleges and I wanted opportunities for advancement, something that I would need a PhD for.  So last July, I started talking to my husband about it.  Nothing was keeping us in South Bend, IN, so he told me to apply to the schools I wanted to go to, even if they were in a different state (did I mention my husband is awesome and amazingly supportive!?).  I started searching for schools and came across Bowling Green State University in Ohio.  I had never heard of it before, but their PhD in English program was everything I had been looking for.  I talked to my husband about it and he encouraged me to apply.

This was in late July/early August of 2014.

I started filling out my application, sending in the necessary paperwork and transcripts, and working toward finding people to write references for me.  I spent a week with my husband and his family in Missouri and Arkansas last summer, and I remember sending emails to potential references on my smart phone as we ate breakfast in the hotel lobby.  I was determined to get my application materials in early.

I had all of my materials in, including my references from three of my favorite grad school professors, by October.  I submitted an application and a statement of purpose for full funding with the program along with a teaching assistantship so I could earn a stipend.  I was very nervous about the whole process because of how competitive it is.  When I was preparing for grad school, I applied to five schools and was only accepted to one and the rejection was hard.  I ended up having an amazing grad experience at IU and I know God placed me there, but it was still a reminder of how competitive it is to get into these programs.  I continued teaching and waited (im)patiently for a response.  The English department secretary said they would start reviewing applications after the January 15th deadline and would inform applicants of their admission decision and who they were giving scholarships and assistantships to by mid-April.

In the meantime, since I applied to a school in Bowling Green, OH, my husband began searching for a job in the area (apparently he really believed in me and knew I would get in!).  God blessed Justin with his dream job as the youth director at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Maumee, OH, and we moved here last November.  This is a wonderful story and a tribute to God's amazing love.  You can view that story here:

I definitely thought we would be moving because of my schooling, but God had other plans.  Clearly, Justin and I are meant to be here in Ohio.  We moved in November and I have since taken a job at the Boys and Girls Club working with the after school homework help and tutoring program.  It has been great so far, but I have been awaiting a response from Bowling Green since I began my application process last July.  The past two weeks, I have been checking my email and the mail obsessively, hoping for a response.   

And today I heard from them.

I have been accepted into the PhD in English program at Bowling Green State University with a full scholarship and a teaching assistantship.

I'll say it again - God is good.  So good.

I don't have the words to thank God for this amazing opportunity he has blessed me with.  After eight months of waiting, I finally have my answer, and it was definitely all in God's timing.  This was a prepared blessing for me, as was Justin's job here, and when I look back on the past year, I am amazed.  God orchestrated this entire move for us so Justin could have this job and I could go to school.  Wow.  Our God is a God of love who truly cares about our hopes, dreams, and desires.  He wants us to thrive.

So dream big and pray boldly.  Thrive.

I can't wait to begin my doctoral studies this fall.  Thank you God for this opportunity.   

"Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer."
-Romans 12:12 (ESV)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Never Stop

I was very excited last week when I received two literary journals in the mail that contained some of my original writing - poems I wrote and crafted and poured myself into, hoping that someone somewhere would like it and put it out there for other people to read.  Putting your writing out there isn't an easy thing.  It's a piece of you and it makes you feel extremely vulnerable.  So when an editor contacts you about your submission and wants to publish it, the feeling is overwhelming. 

Writing is how I cope with the world, so I often delve into the darkest parts of life in my poetry.  The pain, the sadness, the confusion.  So letting someone else read your stuff is a big deal; it's an even bigger deal when you feel like someone understands it enough to put it in their journal or magazine.  Last week was a great week for me and my writing, but also for my artwork.  I saw my first art publication in print, and it was a great feeling.

As an undergraduate and graduate student, I studied writing ravenously.  I devoured books, collections of poetry, and wrote all the time because of my desire to "make it" as a writer.  As a college student studying English and creative writing, you are surrounding by writers and poets that appear to have already "made it."  This leads to a multitude of questions constantly swirling around in your mind as you struggle to figure out what they did to "make it" and if you are capable of the same thing.  Is your writing any good?  Do you have the skills it takes to make it as a writer in a world that is more focused on technology?  Is reading a book, an actual book, a lost art?  Do people appreciate poetry anymore?

I studied under several published authors as an undergraduate and graduate student.  I devoted myself to reading and writing so that someday I might be able to call myself a "writer."  So after grad school, I started submitting.  And I was scared.  But I was also excited.

I started becoming serious about creating art in college.  My grandfather is a painter and I've always been in awe of his artwork.  I asked my parents for paints and brushes for my 21st birthday, but it wasn't until I took a collage art/narrative collage class as an undergraduate that I learned about creating collages from all kinds of found materials - creating a piece of art that told a story through image and text.  So I continued painting and turned those paintings into collages.  I became obsessed with the art of creating collages and even convinced my thesis director in grad school to let me do a narrative collage project for my thesis.  It was invigorating.  But my art is very similar to my writing - it tells a story about me, about the people I love.  I'm a naturally private person, so exposing those memories and feelings and emotions to someone else is difficult.  But I'm glad I took the risk.

Seeing my artwork in print for the first time was a great feeling.  Last week, I received my contributor copy of Harbinger Asylum, a magazine published by Transcendent Zero Press.  They published four of my collages in full color (including two that were originally part of my thesis project in graduate school) and three of my poems.

A look at the newest edition of Harbinger Asylum with some of my original artwork and poetry.
The Spring 2015 edition of Harbinger Asylum is full of great writing and artwork; you will not be disappointed.  You can order a copy here:

I also got the latest anthology from Futures Trading.  I had a poem published in the online version of their magazine last fall and every year they put out a print anthology that contains each online issue from the year (they are a quarterly online journal).  The anthology is phenomenal and contains four issues of the journal (including the one my poem appeared in).  My poem is featured on page 94 of the issue.  There is so much to love about this anthology. 

My poem in the Futures Trading anthology.
You can get your copy here:

A few months ago, I was looking through some literary journals and magazines and found a journal called Plath Profiles:  An Interdisciplinary Journal for Sylvia Plath Studies.  If you read my blog or know anything about me, you know how much I love and admire Sylvia Plath.  This magazine publishes essays, research, poetry, artwork, and more focused on Plath or her work.  I have created multiple collages about Plath and her poetry after reading Letters Home, a book that was complied by Sylvia Plath's mother that contained all of her written correspondence.  The book was amazing and prompted me to create several pieces about her.  I submitted two of them, and they've both been accepted for publication in Volume 8 of Plath Profiles.  The issue will be available later this year. 

So keep moving forward.  Even when I've been scared or worried about what people might think, I've still submitted.  I still keep imagining, creating, writing, and painting.  You never know what could happen. 

And surround yourself with positivity.  You need people to speak love and encouragement into your life.  Find people with interests similar to yours and work with them.  Encourage each other.  Believe in each other.

That's the thing I miss the most about grad school, I think.  We were just a small group of creative writing students that were constantly bouncing ideas off of each other, ranting, offering praise, enjoying meals and conversation together, talking about our professors, their quirks, their publications.  Everyone needs that encouragement.  Whatever your dream is, don't be afraid to go after it.   

Sunday, April 5, 2015

New Photo Shoot

I had the pleasure of doing my little brother, Tyler's, senior photos this weekend.  It was quite an adventure - we went out into the woods and the water to capture photos of him doing what he loves.  I got photos of him with his baseball gear and in his college T-shirt since he's heading off to Manchester University to play baseball and study business this upcoming year.  It was a great day out in the beautiful spring weather and the whole family came out to join us.  These are some of my favorites from the day.  

These photos and more are available on my website at  Check out my site to see more of my work or to contact me to book a session (located in the Toledo, OH, area).  The weather is getting warmer and it's the perfect time to capture lasting memories of your family.  

Questions?  Comments?  Contact me through my website!

Me with my two brothers between shooting photos.
Behind the lens.  Photo credit:  Gary LaFollette.