Studio Tour – Hannah Everly

Every now and then even I catch myself thinking, “Gosh, I just wanna be Hannah Everly when I grow up.” Which should strike me as weird, since Hannah is actually my younger sister, but she’s just so cool that I forgive myself for it.

I’ve been wanting to feature Hannah on my blog for a while. When she was little, we used to call her “Hannah Fabulous” and as she’s gotten older, she’s only grown into that title more. At seventeen, she’s successfully run an eponymous fashion line for over three years, converted our dining room into a personal studio, and started taking online design classes from a school in Milan. Fabulous, yes, but also hardworking, creative, savvy, and very self-aware. Hannah Everly is still a budding brand with an online shop and popular instagram feed, but I want you all to have a chance to get to know the girl behind the clothes. My little sister, Hannah.

Tell me the story of how your business got started.

When I was around 13 I started going to this ballroom dance class with a bunch of my friends, and it had a strict dress code. It was so hard to find CUTE skirts that were long enough, so I started making and designing my own! My fabulous sister Rachel had the idea of starting a little business selling these skirts on etsy and it took off from there!

Where did you come up with the name “Hannah Everly”?

It’s my first and middle name! I wanted something that was simple but personal, and that I could easily turn into a brand. So I started with “Hannah Everly Designs” but dropped the “designs” after a year.

What are the pros and cons of working for yourself?

Pros: No one tells you what to do. Cons: No one tells you what to do. I’ve had to learn basically everything the hard way, and as the most extraverted person ever… it KILLS me to spend all week in the studio alone. But that said… I firmly believe that working for yourself is the best way to go, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Have you had any “pinch yourself’ moments so far?

Probably when Sarah Vickers wore my skirt (photos here and here), or when she was emailing me and giving me advice on being a young entrepreneur. She’s basically the closest thing we have to Kate Middleton so I was pretty star struck.

How has social media helped or hindered you?

Well it has hindered me by distracting me while I should be working! I’m “that girl” that is constantly deleting and re installing apps. That said… I honestly don’t know if I could have my business without it. I firmly believe that social media is the BEST way to advertise your products! Create a brand and image for your brand and then instagram it.

Who are your style inspirations?

Oh there’s lots. I take a lot of inspiration from old Hollywood actresses such as Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, but then I also love taking inspiration from my friends and incorporating their unique styles into my designs. I always ask their opinion before launching a line.

Nowadays, so many girls are afraid to be feminine and fear that others will view their girliness as weakness. What do you think about that idea?

Thank you so much for asking this question because it’s something people ask or comment on a lot. I definitely used to feel a bit more self-conscious that I was always the girl wearing a skirt and heels when the rest of society was wearing jeans and hoodies. Was I not as thick skinned and tough? Did people think I was ditzy and materialistic? But since when did girls dressing like guys empower girls? Shouldn’t we be confident in our feminity and the way we were made? We don’t have to dress or act like guys to be as smart or privileged as they are. We can dress like girls and be respected for who we truly are.

Tell us about the studio renovation. How did you decorate your place?

The studio was a group effort of all of my friends and family to be honest. My guy friends volunteered to spend a whole day doing all the painting and hanging the chandelier and huge mirror, and other friends drew pictures or painted watercolors to hang on the walls. I honestly didn’t clean up the studio and take everything out of boxes until about a month ago, even though I started the project in June. I went for black and white with lots of pops of color, because I feel like that captures the essence of the brand. I have lots of modern mixed with vintage and different patterns and textures.

What’s the next step for Hannah Everly Designs?

Wouldn’t I love to know, ha ha! As type A as I am I hardly ever plan things and certainly don’t have a life plan document going. I just plan on working hard and hopefully growing my business! I’d love to hire more people and get my own website and start offering more products! We’ll see!

What would you like to say to all the girls who look up to you for successfully running a clothing line?

*breathes heavily* I would totally encourage everyone to explore their gifts and interests and (as dad says) find something you love to do and find a way to make money at it… and you’ll never work a day in your life. I never EVER thought that I would fall so in love with my job and that my business would take off like this! Just take it step by step and have fun! Rome wasn’t built in a day

And here’s where you can find Hannah!

Shop

Facebook

Instagram

-Rachel

 

A Celebratory Life: Molly Flanagan

 

I wish I could curl up on Molly Flanagan’s living room floor. Pressed up against her fireplace (if she has one) with fuzzy socks on my feet and a bowl of soup and crumbly crackers in my hands. I’d have a notebook in my lap for sure, and I would be jotting down every other word in between watching her golden haired kiddos running around the room.

Okay, let’s be honest though. I’ve never actually met Molly Flanagan. And there’s a pretty good chance she’d kick me to the curb if I showed up at her doorstep with fuzzy socks and soup in hand. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t email her with half a dozen questions and soak up the little truisms in her answers that reflect the deep shadows in my heart and the sunny corners of my life.

I can’t remember when I first stumbled across Molly’s blog, but I remember seeing a quote on one of the main pages that instantly captured my attention. I wanted to know who this woman was, and as I read through her “About” page, I was intrigued by the photographs and simple beautiful words describing her love of the home.

She saw the beauty in the little things. Beauty in crumbs. Beauty in dirty diapers. Beauty in smudged windowpanes. And the quote at the bottom of the page soaked into my soul in the same way that my tears have soaked into my mother’s sweater time after time again. “Material goods and self-glorifying domestic perfectionism are definitely not the heart of the home. The heart of the home is found in the relationships nurtured there and the comfort offered to one another—comfort we have first received from God, the Father of compassion, and then share with each other.” (Carolyn McCulley)

Slowly—photo by photo, word by word—the pieces of Molly’s identity began coming together. This was a strong, beautiful, extraordinarily simple woman who saw the world for what it was—a beautiful, precious, slightly smudged gift—and loved it.

*

Molly lives in Anderson, South Carolina with her husband of eleven years and their three sandy-haired kids. What I loved about hearing Molly’s story is that she didn’t start off as a storytelling photographer. You can almost hear the self-deprecating laugher in her voice as she writes about starting off as a newborn photographer who transitioned from obsessing over the floral headbands and fabric to noticing the overflowing diaper bins in the corners and the laughter of Dad and the kids in the other room. “I started to be more attracted to those simple moments than I was to the elaborate props and posing that I was doing with the babies,” Molly writes. “I realized that I wanted to take pictures of all of it, not just the sweet newborn.  I wanted to help parents remember the sleep deprived, overwhelming, amazing, heart-bursting joy of becoming a parent.”

After she made the transition from newborn to family photographer, Molly began to identify and develop her gift for visual storytelling. She became known for her candid and artistic portraits of everyday life. The good, the bad, and the usually unnoticed moments of the families around her.

As a young woman who longs to one day have her own sink of dirty dishes and car full of rumpled and grassy kids, I loved perusing Molly’s blog and seeing the ways she drew attention the beautiful details of life. “The home is often looked at as investment property or merely a place to hang your hat while not working,” Molly writes, “Yet, I believe the things that are most important in this life are the things that cannot be see with our eyes. There is life going on in our home that is deeper and more powerful than closet space, kitchen gadgets and digital cable packages.  Those unseen things should be recognized and celebrated.”

Her words convict and challenge me on so many levels. Especially now, as I’m thousands and thousands of miles away from home, I can see the truth in her simple words. I miss the jar of crunchy peanut butter our kitchen cabinet. I find myself sitting on my bed in Thailand thinking about the way the sun moves across our living room throughout the day, casting long shadows across the dusty piano and the faded painting from my parent’s wedding day. These are the details that matter. The small moments and imperfections that make a house a home. That make a group of people a family.

Once my eyes were open to the details of life, I wanted to know why. Why? Why do I have this tiny sadness in my chest that misses my mom’s Cuban rice and beans and my dad’s soft plaid shirts and the scattering of our dog’s nails sliding across the vinyl floors? Why were we created with this innate desire to miss and to love and to soak up the details of life?

Molly shared a beautiful quote with me as she attempted to answer the whys that were bubbling up in my throat. “There simply are not many grand moments of life, and we surely don’t live life in those moments.  No, we live in the utterly mundane.  We exist in the bathrooms, bedrooms, living rooms, and hallways of life.  This is where the character of our life is set.  This is where we live the life of faith.” -Paul Tripp.

Her words that followed were simple and beautiful. “We are drawn to the mountain top experiences of life.  The awe inspiring sunsets, newly fallen snow, the first kiss on a wedding day.  But those highlights are not where who we are is made.  Who we are, is made in the times we are tempted to overlook as not significant enough for our attention.  When the alarm clock goes off, writing a term paper, sitting at a traffic light.  It is important to notice the details in life, because those details become who we are.”

So who am I? What do the details of my life reveal about my heart? I sat and thought about this for a long time after reading her answer, struggling to put together the bits and pieces of details and moments and identity.

The helpless eighteen-year-old that I am, I reached out to Molly for advice. What sense could she make of all this? How does an eighteen-year-old girl take these beliefs and convictions and understand life more fully because of it?

“God has spent the last 18 years (and generations of parents and grandparents before you) to make you who you are today,” Molly responded.  “But He has not given you all of your gifts and talents to use selfishly.  This isn’t your story.  Your story is a part of HIS STORY.  Big or small, majestic or mundane, married or single, blonde or brunette… it is His story, not yours. You are the daughter of a king with cattle on a thousand hills.  He will care for all of your needs.”

A sweet contentedness seeps through the closing few answers of her interview. “Photography is a creative outlet that has helped me to acknowledge the complex, beautiful, and broken world that we live in.  I feel like every time I pick up my camera, I am trying (and failing) to tell His story.  With my lens, capturing some bit of heavenly truth mixed with light.”

I’ve interviewed many women for this blog and come across even more women in my lifetime who I would say have impacted and inspired me. But even I feel like this interview was different. Because now I’m not thinking about photography or writing or how to be a more creative person.

I’m thinking about the porcelain cracks in my mom’s coffee cup. I’m picturing mornings spent as a family with sausage sizzling in the kitchen while we sat around the fireplace singing “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”

If it took an angel appearing in bodily form to George Bailey to convince him that it really is a wonderful life, maybe it took a stranger through an email to remind me of that very fact. When I read about Molly’s life, I want a ticket to the same fairground. I want to ride the rollercoasters that thrill and tickle and hurt and comfort her and realize that those rollercoasters are gifts from God in my life too.

So let’s spin and laugh and spill milk and wipe it up with old washcloths and enjoy life together.

I asked Molly what simple pleasures she’s enjoying in life right now and do you know what she said? Her first cast iron skillet. It’s a wonderful life, you guys.

-Rachel

[All photos by Molly Flanagan]

Enjoying the Journey: Jessica Deagle

For the rest of my life, whenever I see a hot air balloon, I will think of Jessica Deagle. Simply because the first time I ever met Jessica, she was talking about hot air balloons. Her rich voice, brimming with Southern twang, was vibrating with words full of excitement and hope for the journey that lies before her. I was only one of two dozen girls in the room hanging on her every word. Jessica was teaching us an important lesson, and one that still sticks in my mind today. Enjoy life’s journey. Like a hot air balloon ride.

I’d been dying to talk with Jessica ever since the evening I first heard her speak. To be honest, I felt a little bit like a nervous fan-girl when I asked around for her contact information and first sent her an email address. When she responded a few weeks later graciously asking my forgiveness for her delay and explaining that she’d thrown a Nancy Drew themed sleepover for her daughter, I was smitten. This woman was amazing, and I had to learn her story.

The Deagles invited me into their home one evening a few weeks before Christmas for dinner and my much-longed-for interview. Upon arriving, I was greeted by three smiling little faces (one missing quite a few teeth) and the charm of Southern hospitality wrapped around me. The kids ran around and threw leaves and even danced for me while I snapped a few pictures. Then Jessica instructed them to go play at their grandparents’ house for a bit while we took the time to chat.

We sat on the floor in her living room, surrounded by family pictures and Bible verses lining the walls. Feeling a little nervous all over again that I was getting the chance to talk to this inspiring woman, I pull out my notebook and began asking a few preliminary questions about her life and childhood.

The sweet and thick accent came from a childhood spent in Dublin, Georgia, where she was born into a small Christian family and lived a sweet and simple life for eighteen years. Jessica shares that she came to Christ at a young age, and remembers what it was like to try to walk a pure life through the pressures of high school. “Praise the Lord for giving me such strong Christian parents,” she says with a small smile. “I always remember viewing the worldiness around me as something that I didn’t want to be a part of. There came a time when I definitely began making that distinction. Choosing to love and follow Christ and trying to keep myself off the throne. It’s all about dying to yourself every day, which I started to learn at a young age.”

One of the passions of Jessica’s heart, from a very young age, has always been global missions. “I grew up in a Baptist church and I remember sitting there as a child during the Lottie Moon Christmas offerings and my heart just feeling compelled to give. I would have taken off my earrings and put them in the offering plate if I could have!” She expresses the inner turmoil she faced, though, over choosing to pursue missions over the musical career she always wanted to have. Because she loved music, she longed to follow her talents and enroll in the music department of her college. But deep in her heart, Jessica describes the unique sense of calling she felt to missions. “I just knew that anything I would do in college would be missions related. I didn’t like nursing school, but that’s what I knew I had to do to prepare myself for life on the mission field.” She remembers one day, after her sister graduated, when she just sat on her bed and cried out to God, and feeling a confirmation in her heart that this was His plan for her. “I just had a call. A call to go. I wanted my life to count for the Kingdom of God. I didn’t like my nursing studies—in fact, I’d often look longingly at the students walking up to the music department every week—but it was worth it. I knew God wanted to use this in my life one day.”

Very shortly after Jessica graduated college, her world was rocked by an invitation to move to Honduras and open a medical clinic for a children’s orphanage. She laughs now at the challenges and joys she faced during her time in Honduras. “I was not a doctor!” Her eyes crinkle at the corners as she shakes her head. “But these kids had no one. They wanted a doctor, but they would settle for a nurse. God just put it all together! All these different companies sent me equipment and medicine.” She sits up and starts pointing to different body parts that she mended. “Oh, and one time a boy got a machete wound. I was really excited about that—It was something I’d never get to do as a nurse in the US! And I’d been practicing stitching on a banana. I definitely prayed a lot because everything I did was only by the grace of God! I was just a nurse! I didn’t know what I was doing!”

It was while she was in Honduras that she met her husband, William, the manager of another orphanage in the country. They married and eventually moved back to the United States, but Jessica still talks fondly about her time as a single young woman on the mission field. “It’s a season of your life that will never be like any other season. Don’t waste tears on being single. Love will come! You don’t have to position yourself. You are positioned already in the will of God!”

As a single young woman, I confess to her that this is already something I’m struggling with. How do you live out these years to the fullest, without worrying about marriage or discovering what God’s will for your life is?

Jessica laughs gently and squeezes my hand. By now, we’re in the kitchen, checking on the casserole in the oven and setting the table for dinner. “You have to find yourself in Christ, Rachel,” she says, her smile warm. “God cares about where you go to college and who you marry. He cares about what food you’re eating! But we get so caught up in the specific will that we forget about the general will of God. The general vision—to love him with all our soul, mind, and strength. Are you pursuing God? Are you loving people? Are you serving? Do you prefer others? Does the person beside you want the bigger piece of pie?”

I smile at that. She has no idea how close to home she hit with the pie comment.

“You always need to do a check-up on yourself first. Then, just start to daily inquire of the Lord. Go ask God for the vision. You won’t have to wait very long!”

Jessica shares with me the vision her and her husband have created for their family. “Proverbs 19:20 says that without vision, the people perish. Our vision for this time in life is to enjoy the journey. So often, we might be going through the motions, but we’re not really living!”

She says that when they first introduced the idea to their kids, they described it as a picture of living in a hot air balloon. They were on a journey to a destination, but they were going to enjoy it! They would work at casting away the heavy sandbags in their life and take time to appreciate the beauty surrounding them. It was such a lovely picture of the Christian life that I couldn’t help but wonder—How am I enjoying life’s journey?

Hearing Jessica talk about seasons in life reminded me of my own recent ponderings on the beauty of life’s seasons. Her words were full of encouragement and salt for me. The way she loved me was beautiful. The way she honestly cared about my struggles and wanted to build me up in Christ was an amazing testimony to a life that is lived selflessly, joyfully, and in complete fulfillment.

As I sat at the Deagle’s dinner table that night and listened to their playful bantering about books, gladiators, and food, I couldn’t help but pray that my life would always be able to express the same joy in Christ that Jessica’s does. May I experience that same call to go. To love. To serve others. And to keep my eye on the destination of this life, while never forgetting to enjoy the journey.

-Rachel

A Spirited Soul: Amanda Roose

There’s an old song by the Oak Ridge Boys that I absolutely hate called “Freckles.” It’s cheesy and completely reminiscent of the eighties and played at a speed slow enough to make you just sort of stand there and sway on the dance floor. I can’t stand those kind of songs. But there is one line in it that I always thought was kind of beautiful, and that completely makes me think of Amanda. “There’s a rainbow in your face.”

Amanda Roose is a rainbow-faced person. She’s beautiful and warm and independent and freckled–all of the things I love to see in a woman wrapped up in one. And she’s completely in love with Jesus and has a spirit of passion like few people I have ever had the chance to meet.

I met Amanda for a late lunch last Saturday at one of her favorite spots in Richmond. I liked her right off the bat because she ordered pancakes (my favorite) and didn’t seem to give a whit about eating breakfast at one-thirty in the afternoon. “I never ate breakfast,” she laughed, “I’m entitled to breakfast, no matter what time it is!”

We stumbled through the initial startings of an interview–me scribbling down notes in a fabric covered notebook and her laughing about how awkward it felt to have someone recording her every word. I asked her to tell me about her family, and found out that the story of her childhood was a lot like mine! She grew up as the oldest of three girls, and because her parents didn’t come to Christ until she was a few years old, she jokingly calls herself the “guinea pig” in a lot of areas. She admits that as a teenager she struggled with rebellion and a desire for independence. “I just wanted to choose things myself, you know?” Um, yes. I do actually. I told her that I think we all do, to some degree, and she made a funny face. “I got saved at church camp when I was a teenager. I know it sound so cheesy and clichéd but don’t laugh: It can happen!”

I wanted to hear about how Amanda’s life changed after she got saved, but I was completely unprepared to hear her share about everything that went on in her life over the next few years. When she was only eighteen, her best friend since kindergarten was killed in a car crash. As the interviewer, I wasn’t sure what to say or ask. How do you request that someone describes what had to be some of the most terrible, painful, and bitter moments of their life? “It was just unbelievable,” Amanda shrugs. “You just think to yourself, ‘This is not real life’.” She describes the storm of emotions that marked both her physical and spiritual life at the time. “When you’re trying to work through grief and process it in a healthy manner, you find that it just doesn’t happen. It’s just too hard to see both the reality of the situation and the reality of God at the same time. But you have to figure out how to do that.”

Amanda praises God for the beautiful little blessings He gifted her with at the time, such as newfound friendships and the ability to share the Gospel at her friend’s funeral, where there was a predominately Jewish audience, but she admits that she struggled all over again when her own mother was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor only two short years later, and soon after passed away.

“Do you ever ‘get good’ at grieving?” I asked her. “Do you learn how to better process it each time something terrible happens?”

Amanda pauses and slowly shakes her head, poking at the now-cold hashbrowns on her plate. “You’re changing every day. I was a different person at the time of my mom’s death, and I had to work through the whole thing in a completely different way.” She presses her lips together and I know that it’s hard to talk about, but I can also see that expressing what she felt in that time is almost surreal for Amanda. Even she admits that it feels like it happened so long ago. Like she’s looking back through a warped concept of time and emotions.

“You have to learn that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes.” She explains how, at only twenty years old, she found herself as the oldest female in her family and desperately tried to help and comfort her younger siblings. “I know that anytime someone dies, people are looking for a source of peace. And I want to be that for them! But I don’t have to. I can be afraid sometimes. It’s okay to not be okay.”

I think about the loved ones that I have lost in my own life, and how that sense of pain and grief has pushed me to draw closer to the Lord and to follow His leading in my life. And it seems like Amanda has felt the same sense of calling, too. She has an amazing passion for missions work, and her eyes fill with light and joy when she talks about her experiences serving the needy, both in the US and in nations like Nicaragua, Ukraine, and Ukraine. She was blessed with the opportunity to spend a whole year in California at a missions-based school and she admits that it was a humbling experience for her to learn that she wasn’t the only passionate, ambitious young person in the world. “Whoop! Not on a pedestal anymore,” she laughs. “The world is full of young emerging leaders. It’s not just me.”

But these days, her primary focus is on helping in her local community, and reaching out to touch the hearts and lives around her. “I love the fellowship–hearing people’s stories. That’s what I’m here for.” She doesn’t have a ”special country” or a “favorite people group”. And she confesses that she used to struggle with that, until she realized that she didn’t have to fall in love with one specific place in order to have a love for God’s people. ”I used to pray–God give me a country!” she laughs. “But He didn’t. And that’s okay. He’s taught me how to love people I didn’t have a love for, and that’s way more powerful in my eyes.”

I thought love sounded like an interesting topic, especially in the light of everything I’ve seen on Amanda’s facebook page in the last couple weeks. How does Amanda feel about *cough cough* loooooove?

She’s head over heels. His name is Peter, and she thinks he’s the one. Her eyes get all sparkly when she talks about him and she even pulls out her phone to show me pictures and to read old Facebook messages. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is a perfect match, and her face turns really pretty shades of pink when she goes through the story of how they met. Apparently they’d known each other for six or seven years before they started dating, and she never in a million years thought she’d ever give him a chance.

“He messaged my sister and asked how he could become my friend!” she laughed. “No one had ever done that before! We were totally freaking out. I felt so awkward around him. I was not interested back.” She can’t stop laughing as she recalls their first few conversations and the awkward beginnings of their friendship. “He kept Facebook messaging me, and he was like, ‘What are your views on gun control?’ I mean, are you serious??? I’m not going to talk about gun control with you over Facebook!”

She rolls her eyes and smiles. “I was so put-offish. He got discouraged and finally backed off. But then, I realized… I kind of wanted to get to know him better.” She claims they bonded over a similar taste in music, and that once he got her phone number, they talked every single day. “It’s funny how quickly the tables can turn, once you give somebody a chance.”

As a single young woman who very clearly needs relationship advice, I asked Amanda what she’s learned through her experiences with Peter. She pauses and then says, “I learned that the guy doesn’t have to initiate everything. I knew how Peter felt about me, but he was shy and didn’t want to make me feel uncomfortable. And so I would text him and ask him out to coffee. It didn’t make me feel any less loved or less pursued. It just worked better that way for us.”

Amanda is a young woman who is absolutely glowing with love, happiness, and the kind of peace that can only be found when you’re completely wrapped up in Christ. I kept sitting back and thinking, “Wow,” the whole time I was talking with her. Wow, this is a woman who loves Jesus. Wow, this is a woman who is passionate about working in her community. Wow, this is a woman who is going to make some lucky man a very beautiful and godly wife one day.

I asked her what simple pleasures she’s enjoying in her life right now. “Penny’s laugh when I tickle her. French press in the morning. Warm blankets and fuzzy socks.” She laughs, her nose crinkling up. “When I feel warm, I feel Jesus!”

A waitress comes to take the check and bring Amanda a Styrofoam box for the remainders of her pancakes and hashbrowns. She smiles, half to herself, and tucks her wildly curly hair behind her ear. “I feel like I’m at a stage in life where so many things are close to happening. But God is teaching me about contentedness. Some of my best days haven’t happened yet, but today is a best day. I’m alive and breathing and God’s love is pursuing me.”

“And that makes it one of the best days of my life.”

-Rachel

 

{If you want to hear more about Amanda in her own words, check out her blog! She’s an amazing writer. I assure you, you will be blessed!}

An Iconic Individual: Christa Taylor

Christa Taylor Gutschenritter (yes, that’s her real last name) has the biggest smile you will ever see. It’s absolutely beautiful. She’s known for it, too. She comes from a big family of cheerful, smiley people who will make you laugh and roll your eyes and snort rather ungracefully. We knew about each other before we ever met, because she has been like a sister to my dear friend Elaini from way back when they were in elementary school. I met Christa when I was in Portland this past summer, and I remember our first conversation as going something like this.

Me: “Hi, I’m Rachel. I’m Elaini’s friend.”

Christa: “Hi, I’m Christa. I’m also Elaini’s friend. I absolutely love your dress. I saw it across the room and was like, ‘Wow, I want that yellow dress.’”

A few days later, she was sitting cross-legged on the sofa and calling me “Rach” (“That’s okay, right? That I call you Rach?”) and babbling about the skit she had planned with her husband for the big church campout and how absolutely hilarious her husby is. And if you think she has a big, beautiful smile when you meet her, you should see it when she talks about her husband. The woman practically glows.

I asked Christa where she grew up. I was under the impression she was a Portland native, like Elaini. But she said she was raised in Vancouver, Washington, the more “sedate suburb” of hipster Portland. As one of the oldest in a family of eight kids, Christa said her childhood home was a “child’s paradise, perfect for wild-ramblings, tree-climbing, and mud-fights in the creek.” (I tried swimming in that creek. It was not warm enough for mud fights, even in July)

When she was a teenager, Christa started her own eponymous clothing line, designing cute but modest clothing inspired by retro designs. “Before Shabby Apple existed and Modcloth conceived,” Christa shared, “There was a gross lack of cute, modest clothing available. We were shopping at Chadwicks, frustrated at looking like mid-aged women or stuck eternally in denim skirts.” While I’m sure that every teenage girl, especially in the homeschool world, has quaked at the thought of looking like a twenty-first century Amish woman, few have been brave enough to take their passion for style and turn it into a brand or product like Christa did.

“It was my resolution to start a clothing line that would fix all those ills in one fell swoop.”

When hearing her share about her life and accomplishments throughout the years, I couldn’t help but feel slightly overwhelmed by it all. Did she ever feel ostracized or singled out as a teenager for being so “different” and innovative? I’m pretty sure Christa laughs at the idea. “When you grow up with Harris twins as your buddies, and the expectations that you’re going to “change the world” I didn’t feel all that different. My friends were extra-ordinary, and as the saying goes- ‘you are who your friends are’. Perhaps this is a rarity, but all the same, it was true for me. Perhaps I’m so ‘different’ I never realized it, like a fish knowing it’s wet.” She’s humble, though, and she admits that there were struggles and moments of difficulty through it all. “Don’t let your worth or identity be found in your business,” she advises me, “But Christ alone! Solo Deo Gloria.” I’m quickly learning that is her motto.

Even if Christa isn’t still designing dresses for a living (although I’d love to find out if she’s still doing that as a favor for special friends… I’d also love to figure out how to be a special friend), she’s still as passionate and innovative as ever.

These days, the newlywed is busy running her own photography business. If you’ve ever checked out her website or stalked her on Facebook, then you probably already know just how brilliant and talented this woman is.

“Being a photographer is like having a secret ability to expose who a person really is,” Christa shares. “The experience of photographing someone is like unraveling the façade they put up on a daily basis and revealing the inner diamond. The best part is seeing it happen before your eyes…”

I asked her if she thought photography was something she could use to glorify God in her life and her answer was bubbly and excited. “Photography is what I was made to do–at least one of them. It’s creative, dynamic, and completely exhilarating. Yahweh was the ultimate creative genius. When I capture an epic moment, it’s like we enjoy and reflect who He made us as ‘mini’ creators.”

I think about the Christa I met in Portland and how sparkly her eyes are and her voice vibrates with laughter as she talks about photography, her husband, and her love of yellow dresses. And I realize that she’s absolutely right. We are all made to create something. God created this world as a beautiful place, and He expects us to continue sharing, crafting, and documenting that beauty. These moments, and these people, that He has placed around us are to be enjoyed and celebrated!

Christa gets this. Christa laughs with joy in her eyes. She makes crazy faces and kisses her husband in public and isn’t afraid to lug around a heavy camera bag and coax shy couples into getting even closer.

She also appreciates the little things in life. I asked her what makes her happy and she answered, “A clean bathroom. Fuzzy socks. The gentle nuzzle of my husband on my neck. Leaf stomping. Whip cream. Riding my bike without handles. Dreaming of our new house. Edison bulbs. ”

Christa reminds me that smiling is important. That passion is key. And that love–for our families, our spouses, and the people God placed around us–is the necessary ingredient that we really all do need in life.

-Rachel

A Beautiful Heart: Miss Elaini

Meet my best friend. Wow, it feels so strange to say that but it’s true in so many ways! I first had the pleasure of meeting this lovely lady back in January of this year, when a hastily-planned meet up in Seattle brought us together for the first time. East Coast girl met West Coast girl and an instant friendship was formed. Since then, Elaini has become my number one source of encouragement, humor, and advice. Every Skype date, handwritten note, funny or sweet text, and Facebook message makes my mouth positively burst from smiling so big.

Elaini graciously agreed to be the first woman interviewed for this new segment on my blog. For those of you who don’t know, Elaini runs the blog www.misselainious.com, where she has raised over $70,000 for orphans in India through Warm Blankets International. Her “100 Days” Project, where she re-styled and wore the same dress one hundred days in a row to raise awareness of these orphans was when I first heard of the darling Miss Elaini. But beyond her pretty face and keen fashion sense, her beautiful heart is more than inspiring for anyone who has a love for God’s orphans all over the world.

Elaini is from the small, but vibrant city of Portland, Oregon! I’ve only visited once, but Oregon is definitely one of those places that make you want to open your eyes as wide as you possibly can to soak in all of the beauty that God created. “And,” Elaini adds, “all the tasty food options don’t hurt either.”

Finding tasty food that’s also organic and gluten-free is very important to Elaini, who has suffered from health problems ever since she was a young girl. “I can be very weak,” she admits. “Some days as I wake up I know that I really need Jesus to get through each moment of the day. It’s a constant reminder that His power is made perfect in weakness. Recognizing my physical need for Christ has led me to a deep understanding of my spiritual need of Him as well.”

Her hunger to serve Christ in every area of her life spilled out in the form of a very special project, involving a certain little black dress, that Elaini started in May 2011. “1 Dress, 100 Days” was created out of a desire to help care for the Indian orphans that had captured Elaini’s heart. Because health issues kept her from going to India to help the little kiddos herself, she dreamed up a project that has enabled her to raise over $76,000 for Warm Blankets International so far! Combining her loves of fashion and fundraising, she styled and wore the same little black dress for 100 Days, encouraging readers who were interested in her project to donate money to Warm Blankets so that more supplies could be sent to her little “kiddos”!

Although some might think it strange to set up a fundraiser through a fashion blog, Elaini sees only positive aspects of her unique approach. “Fashion is extremely tantalizing but it can be frivolous so by combining style and a cause that I’m passionate about I feel like you get the best of both worlds.” She enjoys having fun with her naturally feminine characteristics, like her long eyelashes and tiny waist, and sees fashion as a way to combine creativity and heart. Her blog is able to speak to an entire audience of fashion-savvy young ladies with a heart for seeing God’s Kingdom won throughout the earth.

And yet, despite running a successful blog, seeking to raise $100K for orphans, and working hard at the business venture she started with her father this year, dande (where you can buy absolutely beautiful minimalistic wood wallets!), Elaini insists that she’s just another carefree twenty-five year old girl at heart. “I’m definitely twenty-five years young,” she laughs. ”Life is already going fast enough. I think one of the best things about this age is knowing who I am and where my identity rests.  I’m far more comfortable just being me.  At this point in my life I’ve had a tiny bit of experience and lots to still learn but I also have crazy dreams and I actually think I can accomplish them!”

There really is no way to describe what an impact Elaini has had on my life, or what joy she has brought to it! I asked her what her definition of a good friend is, and she answered, “Someone I can trust. A person who is loyal as well as genuine and real. When it comes down to it, I think we all want someone who cares and takes the time to show that.”

Elaini is one of my few but great true friends. She is the girl who will text me at three in the morning to tell me that I’m loved by God or at two in the afternoon to tell me that she misses me. She sends me verses, photos, and little tidbits that make her giggle. When I’m sad, she can tell just by the tone of my text. She prays for me, encourages me, and brings so much happiness to my soul.

And yet, the most beautiful way that my friendship with Elaini has encouraged me is the way that she points others toward Christ with her words, actions, and life. “I’ve really been meditating on Psalm 23,” she told me recently. “I’ve heard it countless times, but in the last few months I think I finally heard what it was saying. It’s so beautiful and encouraging. The Lord IS my Shepherd and I shall NOT want.” You can just hear the passion and joy in her voice as she continues, “In the last part of the Psalm it states ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.’ When you look up the Hebrew meaning of the phrase ‘will follow’ it literally means pursue, chase, or run after. Now that is a beautiful promise!”

There are some people that the Lord brings into your life to just encourage and strengthen you. Elaini is one of those people to me. And whether or not you ever get a chance to meet her yourself, I hope that you are just encouraged by her absolutely beautiful heart for Christ!

Elaini’s blog: www.misselanious.com. Read here to see how you can get involved in helping raise $100K for the orphans in India by Christmas! Also, be sure to check out dande, the company that Elaini started with her father this summer!

-Rachel

[NOTE: This is part of a new segment on my blog featuring interviews of inspiring women from all over the world. A few times a month, I'd like to share interviews and photos of women who have touched my life, both from up close and far away. So if you have any suggestions of women you'd like to see interviewed--famous or unknown--just let me know and I'll do my best to get them on the blog!]