Unless you live in Alabama, seasons change. Like people, they change...and yet they stay the same. They come around, year after year, consistent as the sun. Dependent on the sun.
Autumn is my favorite season. The changing leaves that come to us like the sunset - typical but miraculous. I love seeing the complexity and simplicity of everyday occurrences. We watch the sun set everyday, so serene and gentle, we almost forget the fire behind it.
I met Sarah Grace in college, through a mutual friend. She has one of the gentlest spirits you will ever meet. She is kind and compassionate and nurturing, and has that kind of beauty you can feel. She's the kind of friend that makes you feel at home no matter where you are, always acting hostess, offering hot tea and a warm hug to you after running through the rain.
She had candles burning and a pizza in the oven when I got to her beautiful home in Birmingham, Alabama: a woman after my own heart. After hugs and "How have you been's" were exchanged, I was greeted with kisses from her furbaby, Denna. Not sure if you know this about me, but I LOVE dogs, so I welcomed her sloppy kisses gleefully.
It would be difficult to fully explain the love I saw between these two using words alone. I'm so glad, especially in this particular instance, that I have photographic proof to go alongside my sure-to-be-inadequate description of their relationship. Because Denna is not just her dog. She is her child, her best friend, her hiking partner, partner in crime, snuggle buddy, roommate and confidant. They love each other, and it truly goes both ways.
After pizza, tea, and plenty of puppy cuddles, Sarah Grace and I finally got to chat. I hadn't seen her in over eight years, but we got on as if no time had passed. Friendship can be like that sometimes. Time doesn't really do much if you don't let it.
What time had done, however, was give us a few more stories to tell, and a few more ways to tell them. For all of my talk of becoming a writer, Sarah Grace had actually gone and done the damn thing. After her year-and-a-half travels through the Western U.S., looking for home but never quite finding it, she returned back to where she grew up in Central Alabama. She learned a lot about herself and about life out there, and though she had so much to share, no one really asked her about the many stories and truths that she encountered. You know how that is...you travel to a beautiful place and when you get back everyone wants to know how the weather was and how big the mountains were; they don't seem to care about how big the life lessons were, or how stormy they may have been.
An unheard story can be a lonely feeling, especially if that story has helped to shape who you are. To abate that feeling, Sarah Grace decided to make her story into a novel, and after prayer, felt led to make it into a trilogy. So it was that The Highlands Trilogy was born, under the pen name of Samantha Myers, with Peponi as the first of the three.
In this beautiful allegory, the main character, Sarah, is running from a life of pain and a rule-rich religion, until she is led through a mystical door to the hidden world of Peponi. There she finds her heart both challenged and restored by its inhabitants, and most of all their King. As Chris Blackeby describes, "In the tradition of CS Lewis, and a life redeeming message reminiscent of "The Shack", Peponi will open your heart, even through the worst of life's pain, to the truth of His unquenchable love and your true identity in Him."
Walking through life is not easy, but as Julie Wright once said, "What doesn't kill us gives us something new to write about." And sometimes the only comfort is knowing that we're not in it alone. Writers are so special to me because they tend to be the gut-wrenching honest ones. The ones you can say anything to. The ones that shout the silent secrets no one is supposed to talk about.
One of the hardest things a girl can do is love the girl she is. Or be the girl she is. Or accept the girl she is. One thing Sarah Grace has taught me is that loving yourself, and accepting yourself exactly as you are, is one of the greatest favors you can do, not just for yourself, but for everyone around you. You are who you are for a reason. We need you to be that way. I mean, if you don't do it, who else will?
Misty Copeland, the principal ballerina for American Ballet Theatre (and the first ever African American Female Principle in said company) said, "The best piece of advice that I remember probably on a daily basis is to accept everything about me that is different. That is what makes me special." If she had said "I'm too short to be a ballerina" or "I'm too old" or "I'm too muscular" or "I don't look like everyone else," where would she be right now? Not where she is, I'll tell you that. And where she is, is clearly where she is meant to be. Even though it didn't look "the same" didn't mean it wasn't "right."
Sarah Grace is also a ballerina. It makes sense for her to love a sport that so eloquently combines strength with tenderness. I sometimes hate that as women we think we have to choose between being strong or being gentle, as if those two things are mutually exclusive. We tend to forget you can be both a Warrior and a Princess. Moreover, we forget that you don't have to be the stereotype of either. You can be a Gentle Warrior. And you can be a Strong Princess.
After catching up with Sarah Grace, I continued my trek through North Alabama towards Nashville to see some other good friends I hadn't seen in a while. One is a mom, one's a social worker, one's a scientist, another an actress. We are all so different, but so integral in the part we play to each other.
I started this portrait series because the more people I have the honor of knowing, the more I realize how important it is to be who you are. The world is better for knowing Sarah Grace, for knowing the way she walks through her life with the kind of simple elegance befitting her name. For telling the secrets others are too ashamed, or too scared, to tell. Because as different as we may be, we all have a story to tell, and the greatest gift you can give is to share it. It may have taken a lifetime to get here, but it's never too late to give yourself a chance, and let others in on the secret that is you. Do that, and just maybe, your life too can be "La Vie en Rose."
To see more from my session with Sarah Grace, click here.
And don't forget to show her some love! Please leave some encouraging words for Sarah Grace in the comment section below. If she gets 20+ comments, I am going to gift her with a free 8x10 of her choice. If she gets 40+ comments, I will not only gift her with an 8x10, but I will also gift one lucky commenter with their own complimentary "I Am Me" Session*. So spread the love y'all!
*All photos copyright Jessi Casara Photography. Gifted sessions 35+ miles from the Silverhill, AL area may be subject to travel fees.