This Is Who I Am | Danyelle Part 2

Note to Reader

This is a twelve month project which aims to bring to light the individual pain experienced by young women and to show how their unique stories make them who they are. We ask you to feel with an open heart and respect their stories.

To read part one of Danyelle's story, click here.

I still remember the specific day where a lot of my siblings were dealing with their own problems and I felt like the problems were all side effects. I really kept struggling with the feelings of “I should be there,” but at the same time, I did feel a certain peace for where I was and why I needed to be there. I remember a night in my second year of school. My mom had started seeing some different neurological therapists, different counselors, and I got a call from her one night. I still remember her calling me and telling me, “I just want to tell you that something has changed. I want to say I’m sorry to you and I want to tell you that I have met Jesus, and I know Him.” It was clarity of focus and hope that I hadn’t heard from her since I was very young. And I knew something had truly changed. So hearing that and that she was taking small steps, going back to church, letting people in who could help her, and making a change, was big for me. You know there is only so much that you can believe after so long because she would get better, then get worse, then get better, then get worse. But I knew there was something in her voice and the way she was speaking, and it told me that it was going to be different.

From that point our relationship has been fully restored. And in a way, it’s been like a new gift. As an adult, I can now rely on her and relate to her in so many ways that I never thought possible. We’ve talked through a lot of things and I had even come to the point where I told her I didn’t feel like she was my mother. But also coming to the point where I realized the depth of what she struggled with. I’ll never know the full depth, but I really believe that God healed her and allowed all of this to happen so we could see the full scope of His healing and His power in that. Because I think if those things had not happened and if the emotional abuse, spiritual struggles, and darkness had not taken place, I wouldn’t have been able to see what He was capable of in my life, her life, and in our family’s life. There will always be struggles and sometimes I’m afraid that darkness will take hold of me as well, and that’s something I struggle with also.

I’ve seen Him recreate my family from the ground up...

But having been through that loss of my mother, family structure, myself, I would never have known who He is, who He was, especially as the Creator. I’ve seen Him recreate my family from the ground up and recreate my mother as a person, and myself in that same scope of time. So being able to see that and have that back, and being able to see that restored is a huge part of who God is to me. I now can also look back at my father’s role in our family and realize that he is the truest example of God’s love and compassion that I could ever have known on this earth. I couldn’t see it at the time, because I was so blinded by my own pain, but his continual love and support of my mother, even when I didn’t feel like loving and supporting, and she wasn’t able to accept it… that is what God does with us at our lowest. He is never not there to pick us up and take us back. And because of this, I’ve come to realize I can communicate with people who don’t know God on another level and communicate how I know He is real with absolute certainty. I’m certain He is able to transform, change, and totally flip reality into something that is beautiful, deeper, truer, than it could have been.

In the past three years, my grandfather and one of my best childhood friends passed away pretty suddenly as well. In that period of time, I also had the temptation to feel slighted and like I had lost something that would never be replaced. But being able to realize their lives as such strong believers and their steadfast faith that they just lived out, to me it was a huge encouragement. And even though I still wish I had them here, knowing that there is restoration, even if I don’t have it yet, is on it’s way. They are fully restored themselves. They are no longer in pain but knowing that I also will be able to be with them is a huge encouragement. And it has shaped the way I view and feel loss in my life.

I think that one of the biggest aspects of learning from these experiences has been seeing how God shapes reality in my life and how He does that as the Creator. I really believe that each of us, as creations and creators, we come to know one aspect of God probably more than others and there’s a calling for that in our lives. One of the biggest things for me has been realizing how my creativity can link to that and how I can communicate to other people, not just in little projects but helping people to see the beauty not only around them but also in themselves. I think that’s been one of the biggest things, especially as we’ve traveled and taught classes. Like when we were in Costa Rica last year, we taught at a center with a lot of terminally ill patients and residents. We didn’t speak the same language but we showed them how to draw a person in front of them, which allowed us to show them the beauty in them in a way they can’t even see themselves. So helping other people to help other people realize the beauty in themselves is a big deal.

Art can be such a transformative process and act of ministering to other people and healing. I would say not specifically on a spiritual level, but I do think that there is something inherently spiritual about creating visual works because it is such a deep aspect of who God is and who He has created us to be. So seeing one of the residents, a man who was losing his eyesight, start crying as he was describing a drawing, he said, “I can see the beauty that God has created and I feel that I can see that more clearly now.” He was able to see why, why things were even made, and how they relate to each other. That has really shaped my way of communicating to other people and it is so easy to focus on the technical aspects of art, but it’s so much more meaningful the simple things and the failed projects. Using a lot of found and used items in a lot of my sculptural works have come from that desire to use things that people would throw away, to tell a story that people can relate to on a deeper level. Because you see an object that someone might not use but that’s what we all are. We are flawed in our own ways but we are able to be a piece of a bigger picture.

A bad situation or experience may not always be bad.

A lot of the time there is not a clear delineation between good and bad, but most of the time it’s about your perspective. So having had experiences and growing past the pain has helped me realize the worth of going through all of that. A bad situation or experience may not always be bad. I’ll be able to look at it as something that transformed me or had a step in transforming me and coming to something better. Pain sucks when it happens and it may make me want to give up in that moment, but coming to realize that everything has a purpose is important. So to acknowledge pain, and not to just sweep it under the carpet, is one of the most important things. Especially as Christians, people like everybody else who deal with emotions, depression, anxiety, things like that, it’s really important to give that it’s proper place and recognition. Rather than trying to hide it or belittle it as something that doesn’t matter, because it does, and sometimes it matters more than the good things because it makes us who we are.

There are two sides in our society right now. There is the side that recognizes commercial beauty as the standard but at the same time, I do think there are enough real, genuine people who have stood up and communicated within the last several years that unconventional beauty is appreciated. From my own experiences, I tend to appreciate the layers of things and not just the service level, appearance of something but what is involved in it’s making. Learning how something is made, how it was crafted, seeing the time and effort the artist put into things, I think can be said for humans as well, and especially for women. We are vessels that hold other beings and we are created to create, just even as the sex, we have an inherent desire to nurture.

Knowing the passions that people have, why they have those passions, and the experiences they have felt, are things that lie beneath the surface and are beautiful when seen. For myself I do struggle to see beauty and worth at times because I do tend to hold myself to a standard that is unattainable. But I think the times that I feel most beautiful are the times when I am creating. Not necessarily something beautiful but when I am using my hands, investigating, feeling, molding something into it’s own creation, that’s when I feel the most beautiful. Our worth isn’t based on what we create, but our worth can be realized through what we create and the process of creation. Even if you aren’t a creative person, just how you go about living your life loving other people and realizing beauty around you, is something that is beautiful.

As a physical scar, with a wound, if you were to allow it to stay open and get all kinds of things shoved into it and to keep bothering it yourself, I think they have the potential to make you unhealthy and ugly. If you allow it to take over the way you live your life, then scars definitely have the potential to become something ugly and horrifying. It’s not that healing is an easy process, but allowing recognition of pain to play its part in healing and to revisit it but to not reopen it, is so important. It’s important to see your scars and to acknowledge them, but to not let them define you. Obviously they change who you are and it’s important to let them change who you are. But at the same time, you have to realize that you are not destroyed, you are not incapable, you are not damaged to the point of no return, there is always hope and a form of renewal. So it’s important to acknowledge your scars and relate to each other in those scars because we all have them. They are all different but some of them are similar. I think a really important part of achieving true relationships with other people is to be able to relate to someone else’s pain because that’s why we have each other, to help each other.

I would say that I am a lot more thoughtful about things. I feel like I have a different approach to things and that I do see beauty differently because I’m able to see that potential in people. Especially in my mom and the change that took place.

To those reading this, I would say you should acknowledge your pain and give it it’s worth, place, and time, because we will all encounter pain. Also, acknowledge the pain’s ability to make you more resilient. Pain can add to who you are rather than take away from who you are. Because sometimes pain will feel like a loss, but there is that chance for something fuller to take it’s place if you let it. Allow yourself to experience pain, don’t try to shut it out, allow it to change you, but don’t let it completely shape you as a person.

Pain can add to who you are...

It has definitely been a good experience to be a part of this project because it’s helped me to think through a lot of the things that have to do with who I am and why I’ve doing what I’m doing. I do still struggle with feelings of self worth, if I’m doing the right things, if it’s significant enough, what is the meaning of what I’m doing. But to realize the power of communicating with other people and to collaborate with other people, is a good thing. Your strengths as a photographer and creative, and being able to then inquire about someone else’s life I think is really important. It’s important to realize how we can tell the stories of other people and hopefully that will help someone who’s reading or struggling with these same things. Yeah, this has helped me to process through my own story and I think that’s something we don’t take enough time to step back and think about.