I’m off to Q Nashville this week – I’m so excited to hear from the diverse voices and to explore Nashville for the first time! As I finished up last month’s series, Expand, I mentioned that I intended to set aside one post a month to continue making space for women to tell their stories. Well, today kicks off the first in the series, Expand Monthly. Each month, I’ll have a guest writer share her story. And what a story you’ll read today. Christine Lee Smith did something incredibly brave last fall. She started a Kickstarter campaign (Kickstarter is a crowd funding site for creative projects, that gives you 1 month to hit your funding goal – all or nothing). She is a graduate from my seminary and our paths crossed over the last few years. When I heard about her funding project I was excited and intrigued. I loved seeing the updates along the way and kept checking on her Kickstarter page. What an amazing day it was when she hit her goals – with time to spare! Recently we connected over email and I found myself again wondering about the story behind this fundraising project. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
As a veteran wedding photographer I entered seminary for a second time (that’s another story) in the fall of 2010. My husband and I just had a DTR with our church of nearly 10-years and decided it was time to end the relationship due to some unhealthy patterns, habits and relational dynamics in the ministry. In one fell swoop we lost our jobs, ministries, and our community. More than a little disillusioned and shell shocked, I was searching for answers and thought the ivory tower could help. Thankfully it became a safe place for all my questions and anger and confusion – in the process it helped me sort through what happened and helped my heart heal.
While I was in school, chiseling away at my questions, I was also working shooting weddings and portraits. A few years prior I left the exciting world of supervising at a mystery shopping company to pursue photography, my passion, as a profession. It was a delightful change, with its own challenges, and allowed me the freedom to pursue ministry opportunities and a part-time staff role with our church. Much like my analytic/creative mind, my photography was on one side of my life while my ministry was on the other—each enjoyable but separate.
When I entered seminary my school-life and my art-life continued to feel like two distinct and distant lands from one another. For some reason it didn’t occur to me to introduce them. I suppose I didn’t think they’d fit or get along, which is likely why I hadn’t attempted it sooner. They simply continued to coexist separately.
Fast forward three years, and one thesis on pastoral health later, I had so processed my feelings about the church and all its familial dysfunction I no longer felt compelled to go back and fix it – I had wrestled with God like Jacob and it was finally morning. But now my post-graduation master plan of saving the church from itself was out of a job (unpacking the grandiose-idealism in that statement is for another post), and I had no idea what to do next. I toyed with the idea of doctoral work in psychology or theology, but neither felt like it quite fit – something was just a bit off, and it was terribly frustrating. I learned here to empathize a bit with Goldilocks. I saw no path out of graduate school, and I had no concrete answer to what I was going to do with all this education.
As I was meeting with my spiritual director a couple of months before graduation last May he suggested perhaps my theology-self and my art-self should meet and see what happened. More specifically he suggested doing something with Visio Divina (Latin for “divine seeing”), which uses imagery to help people pray and process what God may be doing internally in their hearts. All of a sudden something in me came alive. It felt like an “ah-ha” moment, mixed with a wink and a nudge from Jesus.
You mean all those years of training how to photograph intimacy, emotion, and tension had a purpose?
I was amazed. All of a sudden my photography started to make sense in connection with my seminary degree in soul care. Jesus made a bridge between my two worlds—like red and blue paint mixing to become purple—and gifted me an idea so fitted to each significant piece of the person he created me to be that instantly I knew it was a perfect connection. In that conversation Epiphany:Visio was conceived in my heart.
I knew from the start I didn’t want to start this project like I had my wedding photography business – on my own and without funding (I don’t recommend it). Thanks to my husband’s relentless awesomeness we already knew about Kickstarter, an online crowdsourcing site with a “raise your entire goal in 30-days or get nothing” structure—so off I went. I started pulling images from my travels over the years to show people I knew what I was doing and I could pull this off – as I combed through the thousands of images I realized: I knew what I was doing and I could pull this off. My confidence built, and though I didn’t know if I’d get the funding I needed, I knew I needed to move forward. As I did pieces began to come together.
For years prior in my professional life I knocked on door after door, which often didn’t open or shut in my face. But this time was different – doors I wasn’t looking for opened wide. A few of these doors included a professional videographer offering his services – for free – to help me make a great plea on Kickstarter. Another door included a contact who gave her time to help me network beyond my natural capacity. Yet another is an invitation to lead a visio divina session at a Christian camp retreat this fall. I was floored by the opportunities opening, and that are still opening, before me.
My 30-days on Kickstarter were some of the most intense and difficult days I’ve experienced. Waking up each morning and asking people to believe in what I was doing, enough to support me financially, was painstaking for this independent introvert. Those closest to me traveled the ups and downs of getting a large donation followed by days of nothing. And yet I knew I needed to press on, and I knew Jesus and my communities were in it with me. So I pressed on – sometimes with courage beyond myself, other mornings with tears. And then on day 29, sometime just after Thanksgiving, something miraculous happened: I passed my fundraising goal, and funding continued to pour in during the final 24-hours. Relief came like a wave, then excitement. The roller coaster finished its climb and now it was time to drop into the journey in a new way. Weeks later my travel was booked and I was off shooting from Montreal, Canada to Pasadena, California. I would have never known to ask for such a gift just one-year ago.
For so long it feels like I was banging and wailing at the door next door – then Jesus whispered, “Try this one,” and the walls of my Jericho fell to the ground.
As a seasoned professional photographer Christine tends to see “between the lines,” to feel the truth underneath the surface, and to hold moments of tension to discover their beauty. She appreciates the metaphor photography reveals about life and the rich ways God works through our pain to reveal his beauty and love to us in their midst. In 2013 she completed her spiritual direction training from Talbot School of Theology’s Institute for Spiritual Formation and started Epiphany:Visio, where she creates tools to help people connect more deeply with God and others through visualization in prayer. She often uses Ignation imaginative prayer and visualization in spiritual direction, and enjoys working with people who desire and are open to exploring the rough edges of beauty on their journey with Jesus.
Connect with Christine at: