Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The 10-Year Anniversary of the Event that Changed My Life

On October 29, 2006, my father was in a serious accident (for an earlier post I wrote about this, follow the link: 1000 Paper Cranes). For years, I've told this story as a way to share my testimony, to tell people about hope and love and faith, and to help others get to know me, because this has been a big part of my story. I've always wanted to make a video that tells this story and reflects on how it impacted me and my family, and I thought it was the perfect time since this year marks the 10-year anniversary of my father's accident.

I'm grateful to my husband Justin who shot and edited this video for me - thank you so much for helping me tell my story.

And thank you for watching and listening.

Video credit: Justin Samson

Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear. You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favor.
-Job 11:13-19

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Fiddler's with Steve

When I started college in 2007, I was a biology/pre-med major. I wanted to be a doctor (for more on this, see this blog post: Why I Wanted to Be a (Medical) Doctor). I was taking a biology course with a four-hour lab that fall, and I got the flu one morning during the week and had to miss lab. Of course, I had to make it up once I was well, so I went in on a Friday with another student who had been absent to complete the lab activities we missed. This student's name was Steve, and we had never talked before since he didn't sit close to me, but we hit it off right away. I was 18, fresh out of high school, naive, focused on nothing but school. He was a paramedic in his late thirties with gray hair and six kids. We didn't have anything in common, but somehow we developed a wonderful friendship.

From that point forward, I sat with Steve in class and a couple other classmates, Heather and Cyndi. We all became close and would work together and study together for our biology class, often taking our work to South Bend's famous Oaken Bucket across from campus. They would drink beer, I would drink diet Pepsi. We would share appetizers. We would talk, laugh, and sometimes get some studying in.

We would talk about becoming doctors and achieving our dreams and goals. Steve said he wanted to go to medical school in Chicago and that he would take the train from South Bend to get there. I admired his drive and determination. He was very intelligent and seemed to know all the answers in our biology class.

Steve was very progressive and was on the fence about religion. I was a new Christian, eager to talk about my faith, but also wanting to hear the stories and beliefs of others. Steve invited me to Fiddler's Hearth, a well-known Irish pub in downtown South Bend for dinner one night, and we ended up talking for hours. He told me about his time in the Navy, his ex-wife and the four kids he had with her, his partner Erica and the child he had with her (his daughter Aley wasn't in the picture yet). I told him about my family, my best friend Cohen, the campus ministry I was involved with. I told him about my father and his accident and how he somehow survived. I will never forget Steve's response: "Kristin, he should have died. As a paramedic, I would have given him a 1% chance of survival." I think that was when he realized miracles existed, that they were real.

We ended up having many of these dinners at Fiddler's Hearth. Steve, an Irishman from a Catholic family, would drink Irish coffee and beer and we would eat cheese from a platter. We would share everything with each other, me always enjoying a rarebit grilled cheese with fries and plenty of ketchup. I thought of our meetings as a "theology pub" - a place where two completely different people with completely different beliefs would meet and talk and share stories and views and still be the best of friends. Steve was one of the most interesting people I've ever known, and he taught me a valuable lesson about people and life - you don't have to agree with someone to love them.

I got to meet his partner Erica and their son, Dominic. Later, I got to meet Steve and Erica's newborn daughter, Aley, and Steve's second-oldest daughter Brittany from his first marriage who became a cherished friend.

I was dating a guy named Josh when Steve and I first met, and he would always ask me if Josh was treating me right and that I deserved only the best. When I started dating Justin, Steve recognized him from classes he had taken with him at IU South Bend (Justin was also a science major for awhile). Steve called him a "punk," but gave his approval when he would see how happy Justin and I were together. His opinion mattered so much to me that I invited Steve to lunch with Justin and I so they could get to know each other better.

Justin had sinus surgery while we were dating, and I had to take care of him. There were a few complications, and I would be on the phone with Steve telling him about what was going on and Steve would be giving me advice, helping me stay calm, offering to come over as soon as possible. He was always calm in tough situations.

Right after my last semester of college ended, I was going through some crazy stuff in my personal life. I needed a place to stay, and Steve and Erica let me live with them. Their house had three bedrooms, one for them, one for Dom, and one for Aley, but they moved Dominic into Aley's room so I could have my own space. They didn't charge me a dime to live there. Steve's daughter Brittany had moved in with them, as well, and she was staying in the basement. There was one shower for the six of us, but it worked. I lived with them for the whole summer before I got back on my feet and was able to get an apartment with my best friend, and it was an experience I will always remember. I was a part of the family, and I could so strongly feel the love that their family felt for each other. Justin was always welcome, and Steve never thought I was weird when he would see me leaving the house at midnight with tennis rackets because Justin and I wanted to play a late-night game of tennis. Brittany would cook perogies for us, I would feed little Aley green peas off my plate, we would sing and dance with the kids. I loved being a part of their family.

Steve and Dom came to my graduation party after I finished college. Erica and Brittany celebrated with me at my wedding shower and my bachelorette party. Steve and Erica danced together at my wedding reception.

We lived life together. Steve was a once-in-a-lifetime friend who made a huge impact on me. He taught me about love, acceptance, generosity, caring for others. He is one of the most generous people I've ever known. He took in children who were not biologically his. He took me in.

I found out last night that Steve passed away. I am heartbroken for Erica and the kids. I can't imagine the pain they are feeling right now. I hope and pray that Steve could see God through me during all of our dinners together at Fiddler's Hearth, during the nights when Dom and Aley would come in my room after I had been sleeping and I would hug them and send them back to bed, when he would come to my campus ministry meetings with me on Thursday nights in college. I hope I will see him again one day in heaven.

Thank you for your friendship, Steve. I will miss you.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Day in the Life

Growing up, my best friend always told me that I had the weirdest things happen to me, and it's taken me a few years to realize that it's true. As a kid, I had all of the "regular" issues and procedures - tubes in my ears twice, adenoids removed. At 16, I had all four of my wisdom teeth taken out. But I have had a few interesting things happen to me in between and in the years following with plenty of surgeries and hospital visits.

When I was 14 years old, I was on a class field trip to the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne (a couple days before summer break). For lunch, we stopped at a park and a couple of my friends and I decided to play on the playground. As my science teacher yelled over to us that it was time to go, I went to go down the curly slide one last time and got my arm caught between two metal vertical bars (it's hard to explain - weird, I know). I heard the snap immediately and knew it was broken, but my teachers still made me ride the bus back to school (about an hour drive). A trip to an orthopedic surgeon yielded an x-ray and a bulky orange cast - and I still went to my eighth-grade dance later that evening. 

My arm healed up for the most part, although I do still have some pain in it from time to time (possibly because I broke it at the growth plate? - not sure about that one). As a softball player in high school, I got all kinds of injuries. My junior year of high school, I seriously injured my right hand (and I'm right-handed) which led to four surgeries over the course of eight years. (This is a long story, and one you can read about in detail here: What I Learned from Orthopedic Surgery). To make a long story short, I had the first repair in December 2006, then two scar tissue surgeries in June 2007 and December 2008. The final surgery was in July 2013 when I had the joint fused. When I had my first surgery in 2006, my father had just gotten out of the hospital after a lengthy stay following a serious accident that almost took his life. People who saw us together would always ask if we were in a terrible accident together because his neck was broken and my arm was in a cast. They were always surprised to hear that our injuries were unrelated! (For more on my dad's story, see this blog post: 1000 Paper Cranes). 

My hand after my third surgery to remove scar tissue adhesions.
The x-ray I received in the hospital after my joint fusion surgery.
During my junior year of college, my roommate drove me to the hospital with what I thought was appendicitis. After lots of tests and a dose of morphine to help with the pain, I woke up the next morning thinking I had surgery to remove my appendix. It turns out that I was extremely allergic to morphine (I'd never had it before then) and had a seizure. I had no memory of any of it, and I didn't even end up having appendicitis, but mesenteric adenitis, which is caused by swollen lymph nodes in the abdominal area, a condition that usually clears up on its own without intervention. I ended up missing over two weeks of school trying to recover from the after-effects of the morphine allergy! If it hadn't been for the morphine, I would have been sent home from the ER that night with some mild painkillers.

Justin and I "celebrating" our one-year anniversary after I got out of the hospital with mesenteric adenitis and a severe morphine allergy.
My freshman year of college, my best friend and I got our ears pierced together (I got mine double-pierced and she got a cartilage piercing). About a year later, I got my nose pierced and then my belly button a year after that. The belly button piercing didn't last long, and I never had any issues with my nose. However, the second piercings in my ears started hurting and then started to grow scar tissue. I didn't think much of it at first, but the scar tissue starting growing and getting worse. I went to see a plastic surgeon who told me I had keloid scars, an overgrowth of scar tissue most commonly found in darker-skinned individuals (like me). The excess scar tissue made sense since I had had problems with scar tissue following my hand surgeries and I had surgery during the summer after my junior year of college to remove the keloids, but the doctor warned me that they have a high rate of occurrence and, sure enough, they returned much larger than they had been before. 

These were taken before my first surgery.

These were taken after my first surgery to remove the keloids.
I went back to my plastic surgeon and he suggested surgery again to remove them, but this time I would need to follow-up with radiation treatments to keep them from returning. (And, after both surgeries, I was required to wear "compression earrings" on my ears to also help keep the keloids from returning). So during graduate school, I had the surgery again, but I had to receive radiation treatments at Michiana Hematology & Oncology for two weeks afterward. This was a very interesting process - I had to go in for several pre-treatment visits so that they could fit me with a protective head piece so that the radiation was only targeting the affected area and so my head was protected. I had these lead contraptions that I had to wear when I would go in for treatments. It's strange to say I've never had cancer, but I've had a series of radiation treatments. I had to keep ointment on my ears for a couple weeks because I did have some redness and dryness from the treatments, but everything worked out and the keloids have never returned. Plus, Justin (my then fiancé and now husband) surprised me on my last day of radiation at the cancer center with flowers.

These were taken before the second surgery, which was in the spring of 2012. As you can see, they grew much larger after the previous surgery, which was why the doctor suggested radiation treatments.

These were taken after the second surgery. There were a lot more stitches the second time around, and it was difficult to sleep for about a month!
I've also had weird issues with allergies throughout my life. When I was going into eighth-grade, I ended up in the hospital after petting the horses in my uncle's barn. I didn't know someone could be allergic to horses, but apparently I am! In the years to follow, I would have random moments when my face and throat would begin to swell, but I never knew what was causing it. In grad school, Justin and I went to our regular Bible study at Bethel College and my eyes swelled shut, sending me to the hospital again. Because of these weird episodes, I went in to have allergy testing done (a scratch test) and tested positive for almost everything on the panel. I had a series of "rapid desensitization" allergy injections and then followed up with two years of allergy shots at my family doctor's office. I still have issues with my allergies, but I'd like to think they are a bit better after my injections. 

After my "rapid desensitization" injections.
I consider all of these experiences part of life's adventures and am thankful to God that I am happy and healthy. I have scars and titanium and memories to remind me of the bad times, and the good. Through it all, God is good and life is good.

As a final story, Justin was once driving me to the doctor when I was in grad school because I had come down with a nasty case of strep throat. About two minutes away from the doctor's office, we witnessed a woman drive her car into a telephone pole and Justin had to pull over and help her and I had to call 911. We were late to the appointment with my doctor, but my strep was so bad I had to get a steroid shot to lessen the swelling in my throat! From what I heard, the woman in the accident was okay, but suffered a broken wrist. She was reaching into her purse to get something when she hit the pole.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Community of Men and Women

"Because the image of God denotes sociability, we therefore must be in community in order to develop fully as persons, and though this does not necessitate marriage, that community must include the opposite sex."
-Dr. Amy F. David Abdallah, The Book of Womanhood

The way men and women act within Christianity can be interesting at times, and I'm sure questionable to outsiders who may not be in the "Christian bubble." I have to admit, I am often flummoxed by the "rules" that men and women supposedly have to abide by in Christianity. The question I'll be addressing here is this - what are relationships between Christian men and women supposed to look like?

I feel like it's important to give a little background on my perspective. I did not grow up in what I would call a "Christian home." My family didn't go to church, and the Christian influences in my life were friends and their families who would sometimes invite me to church on Wednesday evenings and the occasional Sunday. I didn't start going to church or to a Bible study until my freshman year of college. This is where I became very involved in Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) and later Impact Campus Ministries, and also attended a local Southern Baptist Church while I was away at school. Because of my background, I wasn't instilled with the "rules" that men and women should interact as little as possible, and especially not without a chaperone present. One of my female friends from college said that I shouldn't be seen alone with a boy because that would "give people the wrong idea." As someone new to the Christian world, this was all very confusing for me. I remembered thinking, aren't men and women just people?

I am the only daughter in my family, so growing up, many of my interactions were with boys. And this was never a problem for me or my family. I would spend time with my older brother and his friends, and anyone who knows me knows that my younger brother was and always will be my best friend. Tyler and I were inseparable growing up. I loved spending time with boys, especially these boys who loved and respected me and included me in everything they did. My closest friends in high school and college were boys, as well. I once drove three hours in college to a Halloween party at Anderson University, packed in a small car with four of my closest male friends from school. Don't get me wrong, I had just as many female friends, but my life was better (and still is) for having close male friendships.

But it seems like Christians try to distance themselves from the opposite sex, and I'm still not sure why.

When Justin and I were still in college, we had broken up for a bit (that's a long story), but we both went to a Christian leadership conference with other members of BCM in North Carolina. While we were there, Justin asked if I wanted to go play mini-golf with him, so we left to go walk to the course. Our leader stopped us and said he would go with us, pointing out that it was "inappropriate" for us to be going anywhere alone together. I was 21 and Justin was 22 at the time - we were adults! Like I said earlier, all of this made me question Christianity as a new follower. Was being a Christian about growing closer to Jesus, or adhering to a bunch of rules set in place by other Christians? What was so wrong with boys?

Justin and I have been talking about this topic a lot lately. Recently, he told me he went to high-five a woman at a music festival and she refused because she was engaged to be married. I don't understand this, but I'm not surprised by it because this is how I was conditioned to think during my first years as a Christian. And what is the deal with "side hugs"? I see "Christian side hugs" happening all the time, but I have a hard time believing that, if I saw Jesus here today, he would give me a side hug. The "rules" seem to be that men and women should stay as far away from each other as possible, unless they are married, and then it's appropriate to be around the spouse, but not other members of the opposite sex. I've been married for four years now, but I still love and cherish my friendships with other males. And my husband has many important female relationships in his life, as well. If one of my old college buddies called me up and wanted to have lunch, my husband would tell me to have a great time. There would be no trust issues there, no shaming me into letting go of all my relationships with other males. People are people.

A couple weeks ago, I went with my husband and our youth group to the Life 2016 conference in Kansas City, MO (for more on this, see my blog post My Week at LIFE 2016). While I was there, I attended a seminar by Dr. Amy Davis Abdallah, author of The Book of Womanhood. I was blown away by her talk and her discussion of women and Christianity (and I think she echoed quite a few things I talked about in this blog post: Women and the Church). I ended up purchasing her book and I've been reading through it since we got back. I've been so enthralled by The Book of Womanhood and what it says about women being made in the image of God and how we are called to be in community with others. Reading the quote from her book that I've provided at the beginning of this post really struck a chord with me; we are made to be in community with one another, and that involves both sexes! If this is true, then why do so many of my Christian friends tell me otherwise?

Davis Abdallah writes in her book, "Both female and male, the two sexes, are in God's image. God created sex, the act, and sex, the distinction between male and female" (26). She goes on to quote psychologist Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen when she states, "'If God is a social tri-unity whose image is in all persons, then it comes as no surprise to read in Genesis 2 that it is "not good" for the man to be alone. So God creates the woman. Once they are together, God's clear intention for male and female is equality and interdependence in the context of differing sexuality" (27). However, as Davis Abdallah points out later, this "does not necessitate marriage," but that community and fellowship "must contain the opposite sex" (28, emphasis added).

So, if this is true, why do Christians have such an aversion to the opposite sex? I don't have the answers, but I'm definitely interested in opening up conversation about this topic.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Vegetarian Life

So, as a long-time vegetarian, people are always asking me what I eat! The idea for this blog post really came together last week while I was in Kansas City, MO, with the youth group from my church (as I discuss in the video below). Our meals were provided, and they definitely weren't vegetarian and there was very little raw food (I think we had a pear one day with our meal). Lots of people were asking me what I usually eat while we were in Kansas City (if you want to read my post about my week in KC, click here: My Week at LIFE 2016), and people ask me on a regular basis what I eat. So here's a short video (the link provided below) of my food intake for the day! 

This is me in college with a "GO VEG" sticker.
The life of a (somewhat raw, sometimes vegan) vegetarian:

I also get asked often why I became a vegetarian in the first place. The short story is that I grew up in a house full of hunters. I was an animal lover at a young age, so seeing my dad and brothers hunt and butcher their own meat (let it be known that I have no problem with this - it is a humane and natural form of obtaining/eating meat - it's just not for me!) made me back away from meat as a kid. I never really liked the taste or texture of meat either, so making this switch was easy for me. I was probably 11 or 12 years old the last time I ate meat. What did my parents say? Well, I've always been an extremely picky eater, so they went along with it. Yes, they sometimes got frustrated with my limited diet, but my mom became a master at making me veggie/tomato sandwiches (she still is the master).

Okay, so maybe I sometimes wanted to check things out after my dad/brothers went hunting.
If you have questions, leave them in the comments section!

Monday, July 11, 2016

My Week at LIFE 2016

Last week, I attended the Life 2016 conference in Kansas City, MO, with the high school students in our youth group at First Alliance Church along with my husband (who was just promoted to the Director of Student Ministries at our church!) and Alec, the summer youth intern. We shared a bus on the way down and back with the high school youth group from Westgate Chapel, another local church.

When Justin started his first ministry position at St. Paul's, I was in between jobs (we had just moved from Indiana to Ohio) and I hadn't started school yet at Bowling Green. Because of this, I was able to be very involved, attending youth group every Wednesday, leading a small group, helping coordinate fundraising events, and going on the annual mission trip. However, once Justin started his new job, I was in the middle of a busy semester at Bowling Green, teaching, grading, going to class, and studying every single day. Because of this, I didn't actually get to meet or get to know the students in the youth group until a camping trip over Memorial Day this past May (Justin started the job in February).

When Justin asked me to go on this trip as a leader back in March, I tentatively said "yes." I knew I would be taking summer school and that I would need to get a summer job, so I wasn't sure if I would be able to go. About a week before the trip, anxiety began to set in. I had a lot of work to keep up with for my summer school class, the students didn't really know me, I committed to helping a family with childcare for the summer, and my best friend's health was fading fast and I was uncomfortable being so far away from her (for more on this story, see this blog post: Still Perfect).

But despite the anxiety creeping in, I accompanied our group to Kansas City on July 5th. The bus ride down was a combination of movie-watching, sleeping, listening to music, and talking. Our bus had some issues and we had to switch to a new bus, so that put us behind in getting to the hotel before the first session of the week began. Because of this, we all ate pizza as fast as we could on the bus, getting to the session so late that we had to sit on the floor at the convention center. However, despite the rush and being in the very back of the auditorium, we had a great first night of praise and worship. We got to listen to Francis Chan speak. FRANCIS CHAN! I read his book Crazy Love at a Bible study I was in in college and I LOVED it, so it was an amazing experience to hear him in person for the first two days of the conference.

I ended up having to stay at the hotel during a couple of the sessions throughout the week so I could get my homework done, but it got done! I was concerned going into the trip that I was going to fall behind in my class, but God gave me opportunities to stay caught up and get my work done.

Our days were pretty structured at the conference. I shared a room with the three female students that went on the trip and we hosted breakfast for the whole group at 7:00 each morning. Since all of us had to get ready, this meant getting up very early and getting breakfast out and ready for everyone. We were on the bus at 8:00 to get to the conference center for the first main session of the day - worship and listening to a speaker (like Francis Chan and Jefferson Bethke). Then we went to our first seminar of the day followed by the second seminar and then lunch. After lunch was free time, which usually involved heading back to the hotel to swim. On one day, we all went to the mall that was attached to the hotel and took photos outside by the fountains. On our last day, we went back to the mall and had pizza and ice cream together for dinner. During the other days, we would be back on the bus by 4:00 to get to the convention center for dinner, followed by free time (this involved a variety of things at the convention center - archery tag, frisbee, and other group activities). Afterward, we had our final main session of the day with more worship and another speaker followed by small group time where we would pray and chat about our thoughts from the day. Then we all went to the block party downtown until 10:15 where there was live music and games. Then it was back to the hotel for sleep and to do it all over again the next day.

It was an exhausting trip, but one that helped me get to know and bond with the students and grow closer to God. The seminar that stands out to me the most is one that was given by Dr. Amy Davis Abdallah. She has a PhD and teaches theology and Bible at Nyack College in New York, so I felt like I could relate well to her situation. She talked about the value of being a woman and that being a woman is a privilege to be proud of. We are all made in God's image! (It all reminded me of a recent blog post I wrote. Check it out here: Women and the Church). I bought her book, The Book of Womanhood, and I can't wait to start reading it.

During our small group time one evening, Justin and I got to share with the group about my best friend and her health and the anxiety I was feeling about the situation. I also talked a bit about how nervous I was going into the trip about being able to stay caught up in my summer school class. I think the main thing God shared with me on this trip is that I need to trust him. I admit that I am a "worrier" and I often get anxious about the future and things that are completely out of my control. There were several of those anxieties going through my mind on this trip that were distracting me from what God had for me, but I heard him through the chaos. He is faithful. He will take care of me. He knows my future. He knows the big picture. His plans are better than mine. Period.

Cohen's mother kept me updated consistently while I was on this trip. I spent time working on my schoolwork. I got to know the students. God took care of every issue I was concerned about going into Life 2016.

He is good. He is faithful.

I am truly blessed for having been able to go on this trip.

Justin and I in downtown Kansas City after the first evening main session.
The First Alliance Church group.
The girls of the First Alliance crew.
The group at the photo booth during free time.
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
-Matthew 6:25-34

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Women and the Church

Disclaimer: These are my own thoughts and opinions and are not tied to any one particular person/group of people, congregation, church, etc.

I grew up in a tight-knit family as the only girl in between an older brother and a younger brother. My father was a pilot and was away from home a lot, but when he was home, he spent all the time he could with my brothers and I. Growing up in Iowa, my dad spent his summers teaching us how to be strong, hard-working, and determined. My dad never looked at me as being different than my brothers; he would suit me up in catcher's gear and teach me how to catch a softball without flinching. He played soccer with me in the yard. When I wanted to try out for the tennis team, he waited for me in the car every day after school with a snack and a bottle of water and we would go practice at the local courts. When I wanted to play hockey, my parents signed me up and didn't care that I was the only girl on the team. When I only wanted to wear t-shirts and jean shorts and play in the dirt, they didn't think twice. When I asked my dad for a pro skateboard as a high school graduation present, he happily presented me with one. To my dad, I was no different than my brothers. I was just another one of his kids.

(From left) My older brother, Brandon, my younger brother, Tyler, and me around 1999.
My mother raised me to be fierce and independent. When my dad and brothers were off hunting (this was never something I was really interested in, not something I was excluded from because of my gender), she would read to me and teach me. She would tell me over and over again that she never got the opportunity to get a college degree, but that she wanted me to go after my goals with tenacity and determination. Her greatest wish for me was to grow up and be a strong person who could take care of myself without needing to be dependent on another person. She instilled this in me over and over again.

My parents didn't apply a "gender" to my hopes and dreams and the life I wanted for myself. My goals were just that - goals. It didn't matter that I was a young woman in a family of boys. They taught me that I could do anything and be anything.

I am also a woman of faith. My relationship with God is the foundation of my life, and I look to him for every decision I make in life. 

Now, as a student, teacher, and scholar pursuing a PhD, I realize how complicated my identity is. On one hand, I am a Christian woman who is married to a youth director, a man who has made a career out of ministry. On the other hand, I am a scholar who is serious about education and creating a successful career for myself in academia. I also have an identity as a daughter, a wife, a writer, and, dare I say it, a feminist. 

I feel like I need to take a moment to define feminism as I see it. I am a feminist because I believe that women should have the freedom to choose the path for their lives that they desire. This can be anything - a stay-at-home mother, a doctor, a scientist, a pilot, a teacher, etc., etc. A woman has the right to decide what she wants to do with her life and it shouldn't be decided for her by society because of outdated traditions or patriarchal oppression. Secondly, men and women should be treated as equals. God created us all, and people have been using religion for too long to make women inferior and to prevent them from reaching their full potential. Women are beautiful, creative, intelligent, and fierce beings, and they deserve to be paid the same amount as a man for doing the same job. Women should hold positions in politics. Women need to be listened to and need to be considered on a level playing field.

Now, as I stated before, my identity proves to be a bit complicated when it comes to the church. In my experiences, women are happily accepted and praised in the church...but only if they fulfill a certain role. Many of the women in churches that I have met are uneducated, have several children, and care for the home while their husbands work. (As I said before, I have no problem with this if it is a role that the woman chose for herself rather than a role she took on because she felt pressure from tradition, her parents, her husband, or the church). However, while this type of woman is loved by the church, women like me are often seen as going against "God's intention for women."

I have a huge problem with this. Actually, many people in the church often can't comprehend a woman who is outside what they see as traditional Christian wife-hood and motherhood. 

I get asked all kinds of misogynistic (and very personal) questions from men and women alike in the church. For example, I have a tattoo of a typewriter on my left arm, which represents my love for writing and poetry and also my role as a scholar in the field of English. A woman from a church once approached me and asked if I was a secretary, as if that was the only reasonable explanation that a young woman such as myself would have for having a typewriter tattooed on her body. It was as if my hard work and years of schooling through my bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees has gotten me nowhere and that it will never be possible to transcend the oppression women face daily. I see this misogyny every day in the world, but why is it so rampant in the church? Why are women in the church stuck in the "care" positions as nursery workers and children's directors? Why do churches not ask women to be elders? Why does my gender limit me in a place where they teach that God accepts and loves everyone as they are? I'm sure this woman did not have bad intentions, she is just the result of traditions that teach that women belong in particular roles.

Once during a conversation with some people from a church (both men and women), one of the pastor's wives was talking about her education and her focus during her graduate studies. A man involved in the conversation responded by saying with a laugh, "So basically you have a degree in being a pastor's wife." I seemed to be the only one offended by this comment, but I was appalled. Not only was he completely downplaying this intelligent and successful woman's education and achievements through earning a master's degree, but he was only giving her an identity through her husband. To him, her education didn't matter and she wasn't an individual - she only had meaning through her husband and his role as a pastor. To him, this woman's only role was to support her husband in his endeavors. Her accomplishments weren't even considered.

My last name is often confusing and complicated for people, as well. My name is legally hyphenated, but professionally (at school, teaching, and in my publications) I use the name I was born with. I was given this name by my family; it is important to me and I have a strong connection to it. It's part of who I am. I received my undergraduate and graduate degrees under that name. I'm not upset when someone refers to me by my husband's last name because I love my husband and like knowing that people see us as a unified team. However, I also feel like it diminishes my identity and the way I choose to identify myself. People don't ask a woman what her last name is; they assume it is their husband's last name because that's what patriarchal society has taught us our whole lives. But there's more to my identity than my husband's last name. I kept my last name because I'm attached to it and because it is my connection to my family. I didn't become a new person when I married my husband. I gained a life partner, but I'm still the same Kristin. I appreciate my husband in so many ways, and one way is that he honored my decision to keep my last name when we got married and even offered to hyphenate his. My individual identity matters to him. My family matters to him. My husband doesn't view me or anything else through a patriarchal lens. Women in the church don't often keep their own names when they get married, and if they do, it's met with confusion and judgement. This shouldn't be the case; it should be the woman's choice to choose freely without judgement.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because I want to feel comfortable in church. I want my identity to be mine alone, not an identity that is based only on the fact that I have a husband. I love and adore my husband and he is one of the greatest blessings in my life, but he is not the source of my identity, God is. God created me, God guides my steps, and God creates the path for my life. And God brought me to where I am now in my life - a married, 27-year-old, childless woman who is still in school. And I am happy. I am so happy because God has brought me here. God created me to value education, to have a desire to teach and create, and to enjoy my marriage and spend time with my husband one-on-one. I'm no stranger to the weird looks people give me when they find out my husband and I have been married for almost four years and have no children. The looks and personal questions I get are hurtful. Since when is it okay for other people to inquire about my body?

It is unreasonable to think that all women have the time, money, or resources to be home with children all the time in contemporary society. According to the United States Department of Labor, 57% of women in the U.S. are employed and 70% of women with children are working mothers. Working is inevitable - the cost of living is always increasing, and women want to be able to give themselves (and their children, if they have them) a good life. Many of these women are attending or have attended college to educate themselves for the job they want. According to a 2014 article by the Washington Post, "For 35 years, women have outnumbered men in American colleges. Federal data show that female students became the majority in 1979 and for the past decade have accounted for about 57 percent of enrollment at degree-granting institutions." Despite these statistics, during the fall semester at my campus, there was a group of Christian men with demeaning signs that said "God's Role for Women" with a list of qualities. I've included an actual photo of the "protest" below that was taken by one of my classmates on Bowling Green's campus.

In case you are having a hard time reading it, it says the following:

God's Role for Women
Submission - Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. (Eph. 5:22)
Motherhood - Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. (1 Tim. 2:15)
Keepers at Home - The young women are to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children. To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. (Titus 2:4-5)
Quietness - A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. (1 Tim. 2:11-12)
Beauty - Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. (Pro. 31:30)

This sign was on my college campus and these things were encouraged by a group of Christian men! To say I was shocked and astonished is an understatement. I am not a theologian, nor do I know every verse of the Bible and its intended usage, but to see men of faith at my college campus discouraging women from achievement and education was a tragedy. We are on the same side - we all love God and want his will for our lives. I know God has called me to pursue my education at Bowling Green and I know he has called me to teach college students, so how can these men who know nothing about me or my relationship with Christ stand there and tell me what God has planned for me? The sexism, misogyny, and oppression facing women in the church is great. Is this what Christian men want for their daughters - to have them do nothing more than marry, procreate, and care for the home? How could these men use God's word, something holy and sacred, to make me feel lesser, like something inferior? What would these men think of me if they really knew me - a woman who is pursuing a higher education, who has always worked outside the home, who has no children, and who kept her maiden name? Why should these choices define me? Why should my gender determine my worth?

Roxane Gay, an author, professor, and feminist, wrote a book called Bad Feminist which is a collection of essays on race, gender, politics, and society. In an essay titled "Bad Feminist: Take One," Gay writes,

"This tension--the idea that there is a right way to be a woman, a right way to be the most essential woman--is ongoing and pervasive. We see this tension in socially dictated beauty standards--the right way to be a woman is to be thin, to wear makeup, to wear the right kind of clothes (not too slutty, not too prudish--show a little leg, ladies), and so on. Good women are charming, polite, and unobtrusive. Good women work but are content to earn 77 percent of what men earn or, depending on whom you ask, good women bear children and stay home to raise those children without complaint. Good women are modest, chaste, pious, submissive. Women who don't adhere to these standards are the fallen, the undesirable; they are bad women" (303-304).

This is society's view of what is necessary in order for a woman to be labeled as "good," but I would also argue that this view is even more strict in the church. In a place where women (and people in general) go to feel loved and accepted, they are met with judgement and a harsh set of qualities and characteristics a woman must have in order to be "good." The bottom line is that men and women are different, and if we cut women out of the equation when it comes to church leadership, ministry, and responsibilities other than those in children's ministry, everyone is missing out. Women have a lot to bring to the table and, I feel like it needs to be said, we are valuable beyond our reproductive potential. Women throughout the Bible (Ruth, Esther, Judith, etc.) have done some pretty incredible things, and God chose them and orchestrated their journeys. Why can't he choose us too? Why aren't we being listened to?

As Gay points out, there is no right or wrong way to be a feminist. She states,

"Essential feminism suggests anger, humorlessness, militancy, unwavering principles, and a prescribed set of rules for how to be a proper feminist woman...[to] hate pornography, unilaterally decry the objectification of women, don't cater to the male gaze, hate men, hate sex, focus on career, don't shave. I kid, mostly, with that last one. This is nowhere near an accurate description of feminism, but the movement has been warped by misperception for so long that even people who should know better have bought into this essential image of feminism" (304).

No one is a perfect feminist, and feminism isn't about "hating men" or only "focusing on a career." My family and husband are my greatest blessings. I love my husband, and if I had children, I would love them too. Feminism isn't about one or the other, it's about being able to have both a family and a career if a woman chooses to and to be able to choose a lifestyle without judgement. Women should receive equal pay and should receive equal help from their partner in household tasks. Women should be in leadership positions in the church. Women are fierce warriors for God. Women make up a large percentage of the workforce and make up the majority of college students. Women are going places and are changing the world.

Instead of being looked at as an anomaly in the church, I want to be seen as an individual with leadership potential. Gender should not be part of the equation. Women in the church need to know that feminism is fighting for them to be able to choose the life they desire without fear of judgement. If the church doesn't get on board, women outside the traditional "role" will continue to feel ostracized and will leave the church, and everyone misses out when women aren't included in the conversation

Monday, May 30, 2016

Tyler + Jodie - Photo Shoot

A little over a year ago, I took my little brother's senior photos as he was about to graduate from high school. A month after that, I took photos for him and his girlfriend before they went off to their senior prom. This past week, I did a couples' portrait session with them as they both just wrapped up their freshman years of college. Time goes fast.

I spent this past week in Indiana visiting my family and Tyler and Jodie wanted me to do a photo shoot with them, so we walked around downtown and through Center Lake Park (on a very hot day) near the same place where I had taken their prom photos the year before. I just got a new camera, so it was a great time to give it a trial run! I love the results (and some of the filters/editing techniques I'm trying out), and I love these two people even more.

Tyler + Jodie

Do you live in northwest Ohio and are interested in a photo shoot? Check out my website and contact me!

LaFollette-Samson Photography

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Journey to Graduation

When I met Justin in 2009, he was a junior in college (I was a sophomore) struggling to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He had changed his major a couple of times at that point, but always felt in limbo - nothing seemed like the right fit. He started out as a pre-veterinary medicine major and then switched to chemistry, and that's what he was studying when I met him. He was a part-time student, fighting to maintain his grades while working a lot. He had just lost his job right before we met and was trying frantically to find a job so he could maintain bills and the rent he shared with a friend.

The following school year, Justin got sick and had five consecutive surgeries which resulted in him taking the fall semester off. He dropped his classes and focused on his recovery. During his time off, he considered applying to a different school to major in youth ministry. Several mentors steered him away from this and encouraged him to pursue an area of study as a "backup plan" in case ministry jobs weren't available. After much thought, council, and consideration of his interests, he started the spring semester as a psychology major with a minor in religious studies. He was still part-time, but he was hooked on psychology. He had finally found his niche.

A couple semesters later, he started back again full-time. He had a lot of catching up to do since he had changed his major several times and was going part-time for awhile, but he kept with it. I graduated with my undergrad and started grad school in 2011, and Justin started work on his final research projects to complete his psychology degree. We got engaged in August 2011 and got married in October 2012, right before I was about to graduate from grad school and Justin was about to graduate with his undergrad. During the time leading up to our graduation, we planned a wedding, remodeled an apartment, went to school full-time, and worked. It was a whirlwind, but our graduations in May 2013 made it all so worth it. We graduated from the same university, and during the ceremony, they made a special announcement that we were graduating as husband and wife.

After years of grappling with illness and life changes, Justin accomplished his goal and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and religious studies.

Justin and I at Notre Dame's Joyce Center for Indiana University South Bend's 2013 graduation ceremony.
Justin always wanted to pursue his master's in ministry or theology, but married life kicked in and we had bills to pay. He took a job as a customer service representative in the call center of an RV manufacturing company and worked a lot for little pay. It was a summer position and once the summer was over, the same company hired him on as a purchasing agent. He was restless in the job and knew he was meant to be working in ministry, but he didn't have any leads and didn't receive responses to the jobs he applied to. He decided to apply to Bethel College's Masters in Ministries program to start in spring 2014. He was accepted and was very excited to start. Justin's journey through his master's program was not without its difficulties. He broke his arm and was in a full-arm cast during his first class at Bethel. Oh, and we moved states in the middle of his program.

Poor guy couldn't type any of his assignments for school.
During all this, I was teaching at IU South Bend. The threat of not getting classes to teach because of being an adjunct instructor and a desire to go back to school led me to apply to Bowling Green State University's PhD in English program during the summer 2014. In anticipation of my acceptance, Justin applied to a job in Ohio and got the job. We moved to Ohio in November 2014. Justin did not want to transfer from Bethel because of issues with transfer credits, but his new employer supported his education (at first) and encouraged him to continue his studies at Bethel. It wasn't easy, but we made it work. Justin traveled a lot and spent many late nights working on homework. He was gone quite a bit and would stay with his parents in Indiana when he had class. His new employer decided he didn't like Justin being in grad school, so Justin faced a lot of push-back each time he would need to leave for school or do homework. He burned every vacation day he had attempting to please his employer and still attend grad school. (Thankfully he is at a much more supportive job now!)

When Justin started the new job in Ohio, he had three semesters left of his grad program. This past weekend, HE GRADUATED!!! Despite all the travel, the late nights, and the sacrificed time, he did it. I'm one proud wife.

We definitely celebrated the occasion. A week before the graduation ceremony, some wonderful friends of ours threw Justin a graduation party at their home here in Ohio. It was great to celebrate with friends and family.

Justin and I with Kirk and Heather at his "Ohio grad party." They were wonderful hosts!
The following Friday, we had a get-together with friends in Indiana at one of our favorite restaurants (where we also had the rehearsal dinner for our wedding!). It was like looking at a timeline of our lives - we had students there from each of the youth groups Justin had been involved with, students who we have mentored and who have shared meals with us in our home and who have done Bible studies with us. We had friends there who we shared life with when Justin and I lived at the Impact Campus House for two years before moving to Ohio. It was a great time of fellowship celebrating Justin's graduation.

Justin with some of our Impact friends at his "Indiana grad party."
The following day was Justin's graduation ceremony. Justin's parents and brother came and my parents came. It was an awesome, emotional ceremony and we were all so proud of the dedication Justin had in completing his master's through plenty of adversity.

The graduate - Justin A. Samson, M.Min.
He did it, he got his master's degree!
We had a great weekend celebrating his accomplishments. I'm so excited to see where his education takes him and how it helps him become a better youth and ministry leader. He has come a long way and I am so proud to be Justin's wife.

As a side note, I just finished the first year of my doctoral program at Bowling Green State University. It feels good to be a second-year student now!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

New Stuff from a Writer/Poet/Teacher/Scholar/Human Being

Some new art and poetry publications, along with some exciting presentations coming up.

I have two poems in the latest issue of West Trade Review, Volume 7 (Spring 2016).  You can order a copy of the issue here.
My artwork featured in Volume 8 of Plath Profiles:  An Interdisciplinary Journal for Sylvia Plath Studies.  See the entire issue here.
I have two poems in the most recent edition (Volume 4 Issue 1) of Vagabonds:  Anthology of the Mad Ones.  You can read the entire issue online by following this link.
On April 23rd, I'm presenting some archival research along with some of my classmates at the College English Association of Ohio Conference at Kent State University.  I'm also presenting with two of my classmates at the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Academy Conference, which takes place at the University of Findlay on May 16th and 17th.  I'm excited to be presenting on my thesis project from graduate school, its interdisciplinarity, and navigating the student-teacher-scholar role as a graduate student.

I also have some artwork forthcoming from Spry Literary Magazine and a work of narrative collage forthcoming from Two Cities Review.  Stay tuned!

And here is a parting collage:

The duality of identity?  I worked on this collage over spring break - it contains lines from a poem that was originally published in FIVE2ONE Magazine, Issue 7 (Summer 2014).

Monday, February 29, 2016

Written in Ink

As a writer and an artist, I appreciate all things creative.  Tattoos are a form of art I've always been interested in, and I've even designed a couple for my best friend, Cohen (a "tree of life" tattoo she got on her foot and an ichthus tattoo with a bible verse she got on her wrist).  I think tattoos are a great channel for artistic expression, but I think tattoos should represent something meaningful and important since they are permanently fixed on the body.  I have a some ink that I am proud of and that I put a lot of thought into, so I wanted to write a little bit about my tattoos and the meaning behind them.

I got my first tattoo during spring break of my senior year of college.  My best friend, Cohen, and I were traveling to New Bern, North Carolina, to visit some friends of ours.  We planned to get our tattoos together during the trip and had been planning ahead for awhile.

I got this one at Bombs Away Tattoo in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
When I was a freshman in college, I had the opportunity to go with my college bible study on a mission trip to Panama City Beach, Florida, during spring break.  We went with a group from Ball State University, and they had a pastor with them named Chris.  I was with Chris's group for most of the week (along with some other students from my group), and I was continually challenged by his faith.  A former atheist, Chris was able to connect with and minister to people in Panama City in a way I couldn't - he understood disbelief and doubt and could truly speak into the lives of others experiencing similar feelings.  I was still developing in my faith, and listening to Chris's stories and hearing him speak life into others impacted me greatly.  One night during worship, there were large sheets of paper taped to the walls with paints sitting on the floor underneath the paper.  We were asked to show an expression of our faith with the paints, and many students were dipping their hands into the various colors and were creating wonderful images of joy, beauty, and faith.  I watched as Chris painted something in green on one of the sheets of paper.  I took a closer look to find that his image was very simple, but it was one that would impact me for the rest of my life.  Above a hand print with a mark where a nail would be, he had written "it is finished."

Unfamiliar with the verse, I looked it up to find that it was from John 19:30.  "It is finished" were the last words Jesus spoke before he died on the cross.  After reading this, I felt like I understood the sacrifice Jesus made for me for the first time.  I wrote the verse on the inside of my bible and meditated on it for the rest of the week in Panama City and beyond.  Three years later, I sat in a tattoo shop in Jacksonville, North Carolina, with three of my friends and got the verse tattooed on my foot as a permanent reminder of how that mission trip changed my life and helped me read and understand scripture in a way I never had before.

I got my second tattoo during my second year of graduate school.  Justin and I had just gotten married and we were on our honeymoon in Chicago.  We had both talked about commemorating our marriage in some way and creating a tangible representation of our commitment to one another, but we had a hard time deciding on a design.  We knew we wanted the date we started dating, the date we got engaged, and the date we got married, but we each wanted to customize ours with a saying or image unique to our relationship and couldn't decide on what to get.  When we got back from our honeymoon, I had a "light bulb" moment and knew exactly what I wanted.

Justin and I got these tattoos at Marvel Tattoo in South Bend, Indiana.
A friend had gotten Justin and I a painting as a wedding gift with some words in Spanish across the top.  It said "hasta que la muerte nos separe," which translates to "until death do us part."  I decided to get that under the dates and Justin decided to get some of the lyrics to one of our favorite songs under the dates along with some Celtic designs.  Both of us have our "wedding" tattoos on our shoulder/back area, and I love having it as a reminder of the commitment Justin and I made together in marriage as husband and wife.

The next tattoo I got was last summer, and it was completely spontaneous (even though I had had the idea for awhile).  Fall 2014 was a chaotic time for Justin and I.  I had applied to a PhD program in Bowling Green, Ohio, and Justin was applying to jobs in that area.  When he was in the middle of the interview process for a position, I was often anxious about the future and a potential move.  I had a playlist on my iPod that I would listen to when I was feeling anxious, and it included songs like "I Need You" by Matt Maher and "Thrive" by Casting Crowns.  I loved the line "we know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives, it's time for us to more than just survive, we were made to thrive" from the Casting Crowns song.  I would listen to this over and over and remind myself that God had a plan for us to thrive and that he wasn't going to leave us empty-handed.

I also got this one at Marvel Tattoo in South Bend, Indiana.  The same artist who did my "marriage" tattoo did this one!
Justin got the job, we moved to Ohio, and I got accepted into the PhD program.  I was worried and anxious for nothing - God had provided and had reminded me to have faith in his plan.  I always wanted to get the word "thrive" tattooed as a reminder of God's provision, but I kept putting it off.  During Memorial Day weekend 2015, Justin and I decided to take a trip back to South Bend to see some friends and go to some of our old favorite places.  One day, we decided to go to Three Oaks and New Buffalo, Michigan.  We used to love going to Lake Michigan, so it was a great feeling to be standing in the sand overlooking the lake in New Buffalo.  We saw some people climbing out to a watchtower over a long stretch of rocks and we decided to check it out.  Leaving our shoes and belongings behind, we made the trek over the rocks to the tower.  It was difficult and a bit scary at times, but we made it.  (For more on this trip, see my post titled Road Trip).

We conquered the rocks!
Once we got to the watchtower, I was a little disappointed.  Since I was 17, I have had four orthopedic surgeries on my hand to fix an injury I sustained during a softball game in high school.  The various surgeries have left me with a titanium plate, rod, and several screws in my hand (and a nasty scar).  I am not able to play softball anymore and some of my regular activities have changed because one of the joints in my hand is completely fused.  (For more on this, see my post titled What I Learned from Orthopedic Surgery).  As I looked up at the watchtower with its narrow ladder of very short pegs, I thought my journey out over the rocks was for nothing and that I wouldn't be able to get to the top.
The hardware that was placed during my latest surgery in July 2013.
This sums up the saga of my hand injury.
The infamous ladder.
I gave it a try anyway (I didn't want that long, treacherous hike to be for nothing) and surprised myself.  Not only did I make it up to the watchtower, but I also made it back down without slipping or hurting myself.  I had had to give up things in the years following my surgeries, but I made it up and down that ladder with ease.  I was so happy and proud of my body - I felt invincible.  Without even thinking, I told Justin we needed to get tattoos.  I wanted my "thrive" tattoo - God had brought me/us through a lot, and I/we had come out on the other side victorious.  The culmination of the last half of 2014 and the first half of 2015 brought me to the tattoo shop (the same one where Justin and I had gotten our marriage tattoos) and I finally got it done (and Justin got a tattoo, as well).  I added the arrow to the design to show that we always need to be looking forward and not to the past and that God will bring us through the trials we face.

Justin and I at the top of the watchtower overlooking Lake Michigan!
I got my final (and most recent) tattoo this past weekend.  This is by far the biggest tattoo I've gotten and the one I put the most planning and thought into.  For the past couple years, I've wanted to get a typewriter tattoo as a representation of my love of literature and writing (and antiques).  More recently, the typewriter would represent my work during my doctoral studies, my eventual PhD in English, and my goal to teach creative writing to college students.  After almost two years of thinking and looking through typewriter designs online, I finally had an image in mind.

I got this one at Broadwing Tattoo in Bowling Green, Ohio.
I set up an appointment, showed my artist my design during our consultation, she drew it up, and I sat for three-and-a-half hours as she tattooed my typewriter.  The typewriter in the tattoo is actually the same design as the first typewriter I ever got, a gift from my husband after I got out of grad school.  I chose to do the typewriter in blue because I recently visited the typewriter of one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, while in Indianapolis, Indiana.  His Smith-Corona typewriter was blue and it was what produced so many of his brilliant works, so I wanted the typewriter to be "Vonnegut blue."  I loved the design of the flowers, but I also see them as representing creativity and growth as a writer and an artist.  I absolutely love how this tattoo came out, but it was by far the most painful tattoo I've ever gotten (followed by my foot tattoo, then the one on the inside of my arm, and then the one on my shoulder/back)!

I love having these tattoos as reminders of where I came from and where I am now.  My tattoos remind me of faith, of commitment, and of God's great plan, provision, and grace.  Will I get any more tattoos?  We will just have to wait and see.