On Sunday, I drove home around 4:30 with tears streaming down my face. I wouldn’t say they were exactly “sad” or “happy” tears. Honestly it was just kind of an overwhelming cry. You see, I got to spend the day with the most amazing women. So let’s backtrack to last month when this all started.
I swear anytime Crystal Pickett calls me I could not guess what she’s going to say. Sometimes it might be, “I just called to tell you I farted on my boss today. It was awkward..” Sometimes she just needs to vent, because like me, she wants to blog about every emotion, and sometimes you can’t because emotions are fleeting. You don’t want to say something online and then feel a different way tomorrow. If that even makes sense. So she calls me and says, “I have a little challenge for you, if you’re up to it..” DUH, I’m always up for it! She mentioned how a Valentine’s day photo shoot of 14 women would be a cool idea. I agreed and the ball got rolling, we probably called each other more in the last month than we have in the last six months. We talked about the details, the venue, the food, and of course the women. She would call me and say, “I think you should put so and so on the list.” And I would say, “I already have her on it!” I do want to point out that I am extremely proud, and inspired by Crystal and would have loved to have her be one of the 14, but we both decided that none of my family members should be picked.
So I chose 14 women, and we reached out. I was so nervous even asking because not everyone likes to have their photo taken! It wasn’t just the photos though. I decided to call this The Warrior Project and I sent each of them a list of questions that pretty much forced them to open up a little, but they all did in the best way! So Crystal worked her magic and Edg Clif winery donated us the perfect venue, and Emily Morgan donated us some yummy desserts! Frank Kramer and April Barton supplied the food! Andrea Griffin donated her time and talent and did some fabulous hair, while the talented Kacee Fitzgerald did the make up! Thanks to Katelynn Scott for ruNning errands and helping with SO MUCH! THANK YOU to each and every one of for making these women feel comfortable, beautiful, loved and supported! Your kindness will not be forgotten, and my heart is so full that you would do such a wonderful thing for people you do not know. I applaud you!
Now let me introduce the ladies or as I like to call them the WARRIORS!
Lisa was an easy choice for me. The paths our lives have taken are very similar, and she is someone I go to very often for advice. Like me, Lisa found herself single while pregnant. She wasn’t carrying just one baby, but TWO! She was very young and also already had a toddler! She not only lost the man she married, but her home, her car, everything. I cannot imagine. Actually, I can imagine the pain because I have felt it first hand, but I can’t imagine the obstacles she had to overcome. This woman is super woman to me. She raised some amazing kids who also look at her like she is super woman. She also did something that I have yet to do. She met a man who showed her what it means to be truly loved, and he loved her kids like they were his own. Going through such a traumatic experience, Lisa still deals with fears that came along with it almost 30 years later. Greater than the fear though, is the love that her family shares. She now has three beautiful grandchildren, and when I asked her about her goals and aspirations she said she hopes to celebrate 50 years with her hubby (they just celebrated 20!!) and she hopes to meet her great grand babies one day! When I asked what she was most proud of she said,
“The way my kids are helping out people in the world. I realize I did a pretty good job raising my kids despite the hurdles and circumstances we faced!”
Lisa, has shown me that I can absolutely be a good single mom and that maybe one day I will meet someone who completes me. I am truly grateful to have this woman in my life!
I adore this girl. Her mom jokes that we are the same person because we have so much in common! Her list of “favorites” are also mine!! She loves Jesus, coffee, makeup, naps, and New Girl. If I’m like Sarah at all, I must be doing something right! Sarah has always been a well known athlete in our small town, and I know we were all proud to see her go off to Mizzou on a running scholarship! Unfortunately, she was struck by a vehicle not once, but TWICE. She had two hip surgeries in two years! She thought she was defined as “Sarah the runner”. She told me that she thought that was all she was and all she had to offer. Once running was taken away from her she didn’t feel like herself. She struggled with feeling like she no longer had worth and questioned herself and her path. Luckily, in summer of 2015 Sarah realized that God had been writing her story all along. She was so much more than just an athlete. Sarah ran one race at Mizzou. Here is what she had to say about her “best day”-
“I had finally gotten to a place where I could try to race after having one hip surgery. The weeks leading up to the race my other hip had begun to hurt and surgery was in my future so I knew that that race would be my first and last. I went into that day with the mindset of knowing that I wanted my race to be a display of God’s faithfulness. I wanted it to be a day of praise and joy. I had prayed for this day for so long and when it was finally there I couldn’t be more excited to show off what God’s work had done. My friends, family, and mentors were all there and the whole track had an energy like nothing I had seen before. Everyone was cheering and screaming my name and excited to finally see me perform. I toed the line with a smile on my face and ran one of the slowest races of my life. I didn’t even care that it was slow. That race gave me more joy than any other race in my life. The race wasn’t about the time or place it was about praising God giving thanks for what He had done in my life.”
Having so much going for her with her further career plans and being almost done with college, I wanted to know what she was most proud of too.
“I am most proud of a few things, I am proud to be Joni and Mike’s daughter. They are the best parents and I couldn’t imagine getting through life without them. I am proud to be Luke and Noah’s sister. They will never know the love I have for them. I am so incredibly proud of the men that they are and will become. I am proud of my Mizzou letterman jacket, it’s something I thought I would never receive and when I was told I would be getting one I had to pinch myself. And I am proud to be from a small town in Missouri. I think most don’t expect success from a town with only 4 stop lights and nothing to do. With determination, hard work and an opportunity it doesn’t matter where you come from to have success.”
Sarah, you are a brave and admirable young woman. I can’t wait to see where your life takes you!
I am so glad Alicia was apart of this. Her family has had a tough couple a months so I am so grateful she got to have a nice relaxing day with us! Alicia is a wife, mother, daughter, teacher, and so many other things. She has a heart of pure gold, and if you know her at all you know there is no questioning that. She spoke so highly of her students, friends and family. When she spoke about her mom, Verna, it really resonated with me. Alicia recently lost her father, and while she was undoubtably a “daddy’s girl” she told me about what a devoted wife her mother was.
“She is the most dedicated, loving and compassionate human being that I know, and I am honored to be one of her daughters. I love her so much, and I strive to be like her every day.”
It is so clear that Alicia has a great mother. It is also clear that she is a great mother herself. Her son, Tate was diagnosed with Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome when he was around 7 months old. It is an extremely rare chromosomal disorder. His diagnosis was tough to swallow, but since attending a Wolf-Hirschhorn conference in L.A. Alicia says her eyes were opened to what she was facing as a mother to a special needs child.
“I realized that God had given this child, because He knew that I could take care of him and love him like no one else could.”
Alicia is a beautiful person, inside and out. Tate, and the rest of her family are lucky to have her.
I really look up to Lori. I look up to all small business owners, because it’s scary and hard to venture out and try to succeed!! Crystal and I call her a “goal digger”. Once Lori answered my questions I realized just how much of a goal digger she really is! She has been a waitress, cashier, Mary Kay consultant, candle maker, hair stylist, daycare worker, vet tech, legal secretary, and now she is a local boutique owner! She says her kids and husband are what drive her to be a success.
“Andy has shown me that taking risks is good…stressful sometimes, but in the end I have no regrets because at least I tried.”
Every time you walk into her store, you are greeted with the brightest, friendliest smile! I know all too well though that sometimes the warmest smiles can still hide the scars of grief. I was sad to learn that like 25% of women, Lori has had a miscarriage.
“Andy and I went to a baby dr appointment and were told we needed to go to another location for more tests. Then we were informed our baby’s heart had stopped so I ended up in surgery the next day.”
Many people try to discredit that pain and the emotions that women feel. I have never known that pain, but my heart goes out to anyone affected by a loss like that. I have no doubt that Lori will get to meet that baby again someday. Lori’s goals include opening another business and taking her current store online! Lord help my bank account if she does!!
I am so glad to have gotten to get to know this girl more. I have known her awhile, and I have only seen the bubbly and hilarious side of her. She loves to make people laugh. I’m not sure if she won class clown, but she should have if not! In the past year she has lost 75 pounds! That alone is amazing and makes her an inspiration! She says she could not have done it without the support of her husband! Getting to know Haley on a more personal level I learned that she was raised by her father do to her mothers poor life choices.
“My Dad has been a big inspiration in my life. He stepped up as a father and became someone who worked three jobs at times just to provide food on the table and to give me everything I needed when my mom could no longer be there for me at a young age. He took on every struggle and raised me the best he could. He has shown me how to be the best parent I can be and that even though life isn’t always easy we have the ability to make it the best life don’t let someone else decide your happiness and your ability to succeed.”
Haley has 12 siblings! Four of which she has never even met,
“I love them all and wish them all the happiness in the world. Even though we are all far apart we all look at the same moon.”
She is a fantastic mother to her son, and she is setting a good example for him every day. I am lucky to know her.
Casey is one of my single mom friends. I knew we had things in common, but I didn’t realize how much I related to this girl and nearly ever thing she said or thought. I chose her because I admire her for being a strong, independent, beautiful, brave person for her little girl to look up to. Casey is not the type of single mom you find out at bars or constantly trying to date or find a boyfriend. I LOVE that she is like me in the way that she doesn’t mind being single. She doesn’t bring guy after guy into her daughter’s life, and it is so evident that her daughter comes first, always.
“Being a good role model and mother to her (Claire) is something that is very important to me. Her happiness is something that makes my heart happy and full, so I work hard daily to give her the best life I can. She is already so smart, spunky, and full of life being a good woman to set an example for her is something that pushes me daily. Knowing that little girl will look up to me the rest of her life is something that I take pride in and is what keeps me going. She gives my life meaning.”
Casey didn’t grow up with a mom around, she didn’t have that example so she is making sure she is a great one for Claire. When your life revolves around your child, you want to give them everything. Including a family. I know that Casey’s break up with her daughter’s dad was hard. Another thing I can relate to.
“Not only because it was tough for me emotionally for myself, but because I had my 8 month old daughter who I knew from then on would never know what it was like to have her parents together. That broke my heart. When you have this tiny human that you love more than life itself knowing that YOU already have given her a broken home is very tough pill to swallow. A lot of tears were cried at that point in my life. I was hurting in so many different ways.”
I am so glad to see her in a better place now. She and Claire have just moved into a new place, and she gets along well with Claire’s dad and his girlfriend. Her long term goal is just that when Claire is older she is proud to call Casey her momma. I have no doubt she will be.
Honestly, I think Kim is a badass. She is a veteran, an air force wife, and a wonderful mother. Plus she slings weights around like it’s nothing in her free time! I knew I wanted her to be apart of this, but she currently lives in Texas. Well she is so wonderful that she drove to Missouri after working all night, and I could not have been more thrilled! When she was young, one of her parents was sentenced to three years incarceration, and she and her siblings were put into foster care.
“People gossip and stories were told. I was only 13 at the time, and I knew my teenage years wouldn’t be what I ever expected them to be. I had to grow up fast, not only for myself but for Monica as well.”
Monica is Kim’s younger sister, who I also chose as one of the 14 women. She told me how much she admires Kim, calling her her hero. I think the title fits her well! Kim says her “defining moment” was when she decided to join the military.
“I knew it would’t be easy, but I also knew it was the only way I was going to start a life of my of my OWN ON MY OWN. I have never had the extra help with bills, buying new clothes, paying my car or insurance payments, paying for my cell phone etc. I am an independent woman because I had no choice, but joining the military was something I got to CHOOSE for myself. It was a huge stepping stone for me and honestly helped me build the life I always hoped for, especially for my girls.”
Kim’s “best day” was when her daughter’s got to watch her graduate college. She works as a Respiratory Therapist, but says she would love to get her masters in social work. She has her heart set on working with foster children. I know she will shine at whatever she does, and I know two little girls who watch her and adore her! What lucky girls they are to have her as a mom!
I don’t know if I have ever met a sweeter person. She is beautiful of course, but her soul is beautiful too. I have known Monica for years, and never knew about her and her siblings time in the foster care system. It never would have changed my view of her, but it opens your eyes to the bigger picture and how you don’t really know what people are going through.
“I remember being 13 years old and sitting on the top bunk of a bed in a foster home. I was at one of my lowest points. I read through the entire New Testament of the Bible during the 2 months I was there. My faith and God is what has really gotten me through the dark times.”
Aside from being an incredible mother of three, Monica volunteers at a homeless shelter and says she loves working with families and children. I asked about her goals and again learned something new about my old friend.
“A long term goal I’d love to achieve is to write a book. I want to reach out to others. I want others to know my story. I want them to know that if i can make it through difficult situations and still be able to make it out okay, that they can too.”
See what I mean, by “beautiful soul”?!
Joni is a pure joy to be around. I am so glad she was there making everyone smile on Sunday. I am also so thankful to have her in my life. She has seen me cry so many tears and she lets me get them out without judgement. She puts others first, and she lives and breathes for her family.
“I’m most proud of my kids. I know they are not perfect, but they are my heart. They are the reason I breathe. I could have all the treasures in the world, but nothing means more to me than them. I’m so proud of them. If I ever leave this world I hope they know how much I love them. Being their mom has been my greatest joy, job, adventure and love I have ever had.”
Her faith in God is something to be admired as well. I wish that Joni could look in the mirror and see what I see.
“I have a real problem finding things I love about myself. I don’t think I can say anything. I do think I truly love others and I’m loyal to a fault if we are friends.”
So many of these 14 women had a difficult time finding things they loved about themselves. It makes me sad. I wish each of you knew that even your scars make you beautiful!
“I have faced many things that have been hard. Many during my childhood. I look at them now and see them as the things that made me, me.”
Before I ever met Brandy, I was inspired by her through social media. I only knew her as a grieving mother. She was involved in a car accident back in 2012 that claimed the life of her 14 year old daughter Natalee. I remember reading her posts and my heart aching for her. It’s been five years and my heart still aches. Even more now that I’m a mother myself.
“Daily I struggle with knowing my family is incomplete. What’s even harder is knowing that I won’t ever have the power to that or fill the void. It’s a hole that I wake up to every morning & go to bed with every night. To wonder what could have been, what should have been.“
Brandy is surrounded by love and support, her husband Aaron has been a rock for her. She described her best day as when she married her best friend.
“I never felt so complete. I had previously had a failed relationship/marriage and a broken family. There have been a lot of time I felt like a failure to my kids. That day just felt as if the family I always loved and wanted was right there becoming one. One of our last family photos was taken then. Every time I look at that photo I think to myself ‘that’s when everything was whole and good’”.
She says that she could be angry at life without Natalee, but that she would rather have had her, and known her, and been her mother than to never have been a part of her life.
“I am simply blessed just having what short time I have had with her here on Earth. I am so thankful and proud for not only Natalee being in my life but the family He has blessed me with as well.”
What a beautiful way to look at it. That is what makes Brandy an inspiration. I know Natalee would be incredibly proud of her!
A fellow photographer who is as kind as she is pretty. I admire Sarah for so many reasons. She is genuine. She is hilarious. She is unapologetically herself. She is BRAVE. I say this because she had a very difficult childhood and rose above it. She is brave for telling her story and speaking her truth. You wouldn’t know it by looking at her, but Sarah is the victim of molestation. There is no way to sugarcoat it and make it sound less appalling. When Sarah first told me I wanted to break down and cry. It’s so sad, and it’s so sad how common this is, how many people this happens to.
“I never used to know what my point here on earth really was for. With my past history I’ve never been able to fully be myself and share who I am, I’ve had friendships but I’ve never let myself fully invest my heart into them. I honestly always felt like I had been a burden and in the way of other people’s happy lives and lives that seemed perfect to me compared to mine. I never wanted my life growing up. Ever. I always wanted to be someone else and was always angry at the world for giving me the awful life that I had… BUT.. Then I heard this perfect little first scream of life- and so many things changed. Becoming a mom was such a turning point for me and when I found my path. Being a mom was meant just for me. Not only was I overwhelmed with love for this little person that I just met and gave my entire heart to in seconds, but I also realized just how much people in my life loved me. Yes, I was dealt a fucking terrible and shitty hand during one decade of my life- but at the same time it lead me to be the person that I am today. Which I honestly think is a pretty damn good person, who is still learning to love herself along the way. My kids not only helped me become me again, but a better me along the way.”
I am so insanely proud to call her my friend. I wish I were half as brave as her.
Amanda labels herself a “mompreneur” (Mom + Entrepreneur) which I love! She believes everyone’s purpose is to help others, which I also love! She is doing something monumentally cool right now. In 2013 she co-invented and patented a product that eventually turned into a company and brand now known as Harold’s Famous Bee Cream. That product is quickly turning into a line, possibly several lines. She also co-founded a Research and Development Laboratory where they are able to be creative with their ideas.
“In June of 2016, my business partner and I flew to Tegulicapala, Honduras to study their honey bee culture. In the van riding from the airport to our destination we had a conversation with our tour guide, Rene about the idea behind our bee cream. We explained that for centuries people have been using bee stings as a treatment for certain ailments, sometimes up to 40 stings a day, on purpose! Harold explained that we invented a way to receive the benefits of the bee sting, without the actual sting and without killing the bee in the process. Once Harold was finished explaining our product, Rene told us that his mom (Lillian) was a current user of bee sting therapy for arthritis, and that this therapy is very common in his part of the world. He said although the stings were very painful, Lillian found immense relief from arthritis. On the way out of Tegulicapala, Rene made a quick stop at Lillian’s house, and we offered her a bottle of our bee cream. I can’t explain the feeling as I watched Harold apply the cream to her crippled hands and the immense amount of joy on her face. That is a moment I will never forget as long as I live. Life altering.”
I love her passion for helping others, it is so genuine and pure. She is honestly one of the sweetest people! She says a big inspiration to her is her Grandpa Juliette.
“Some of my favorite childhood memories involve me walking barefoot behind him as he tilled the garden. I specifically remember one day I was skipping along behind him as he tilled, and on that particular day some bees kept circling around me. I guess my swatting caught his attention because he turned around and yelled, “leave them alone, they won’t hurt you – they’re good for you!” It’s funny how life turns out, here I am 30 years later telling the world the same thing.”
“The defining moment for me was when I had laid down for bed one Saturday night, inconsolable. I hugged the lion a friend made for me that dressed in Brandon’s clothing. I cried and I begged Brandon to help me because I was drowning then I fell into a drug induced sleep. (I cannot sleep at all without medication) The next morning I was getting a pair of socks from my drawer and I found a letter he had sent to me when he was a kid. It said he wanted to thank me for keeping our family strong and that he wanted me to know he loved me. It was so strange that a young boy would right such a mature note to his mother. It was like he’d come & left it for me to find that day. To help push me forward and keep my family ‘strong'”.
I don’t think Janet feels strong. I don’t think she thinks of herself as an inspiration. But she is. She is strong everyday that she gets out of bed. She is strong while she cries in the shower, or while she cries driving home. She is strong in every moment of every day. Tears don’t make you weak. Hurting inside doesn’t make you weak. Janet is strong because she is Brandon Bourbon’s mother. She will always be strong. Janet told me she would like to start a scholarship in her late son’s honor and eventually be able to talk to parents who have troubled children or just parents in general.
“To share my experience so other people know what to look for. I was completely oblivious and there were signs everywhere. I just didn’t know what to look for or dreamed he was capable of such a thing. If it could happen to him it could happen to anyone.”
I am so glad she brought a few his things to be pictured with. When she pulled his jacket out of the bag my eyes instantly filled with tears and hers were already falling. The smell of him was everywhere, so powerful and familiar it was overwhelming. So we cried, and I hugged her, and I took the most real and raw photos I’ve ever taken.
Kelly is more than a cancer fighter. She is a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a cousin, a friend. Everyone loves this girl, and we all hate what she is facing. Kelly wants to continue building her families dreams they have together. She explained some of the difficulties she’s faced with lately such as not being able to do as much as used to.
“I like to be on the go and spend time with my friends and family. I have to take each day as a blessing. It’s truly so hard for me to slow down, I am used to helping others so it’s hard for me to receive it.”
Kelly has to wear a new TPN bag every night for 12 hours to get her nutrition through IV in her pic line. Clear liquid diet only. She says it’s really hard for a girl who likes her food! We talked about a defining moment for her and she shared an amazing story!
“In September I received the devastating news, that I would probably only live six to nine more months and not make it to next Christmas. I attended a revival/Christian retreat in Colorado. We created “identity cards”when we were there and I want to share mine with you. It’s very personal but funny how this was named The Warrior Project all in the same.. They gave us the meaning of our names; KELLY (War, lively, aggressive) GRIFFIN (strong grip, chief, Lord). This is what I wrote back in December of 2016 for God’s purpose for my life and who I am supposed to be; ‘I am a warrior. I am passionate for what I love. I am an educator and learner. I am a mother to a very independent, bold, energetic, and brilliant Ella Kate. I am a wife to the most amazing best friend, lover, and warrior Caleb Matthew. I am a cancer killer. I am a positive powerful impact. I am His!”
Kelly wants to see all of Ella’s milestones, and be there for the rest of her friends and family. She says if it wasn’t for God and His hand on her she could not be this strong. Kelly, a warrior is exactly what you are.
This has been amazing. Getting to know each and every one of you. You have touched my life in a way that I can’t explain. Kelly happened to say something during the photo shoot that I loved so I’m going to wrap this up with that….
“It’s really cool how we all have a story, it makes you feel like you aren’t alone.”
THANK YOU ALL!! I am touched by each and every one of you!