Ariel Miller // The Community Spotlight

Can’t go back to the beginning
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring
But I know, here in the middle
Is the place where you promise to be.
[Here Again — Elevation Worship]

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There’s a little twinge in all of us that longs to find our niche. What’s the one thing I’m supposed to do? We want to know that we have something to offer, something meaningful to contribute to this world. Where’s the destination? Where am I going? Where’s my place? Our place of belonging, our space of thriving. This search for meaning is the oldest story ever told. We’re all out here just looking for our sweet spot: Where the jumble of our passions and giftings and dreams and abilities mesh into a beautiful symphony, producing the most melodic chord, the sweetest sound—and giving life to all who hear it.

***

Like many young people, Ariel wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do with her life after high school. She knew she liked working with kids and had a solid supply of patience, so early childhood education seemed like a perfect fit. She settled into her freshman year at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, began classes, and made new friends. Change was never one of her favorite things, however, and her love for home and familiarity kept drawing her back to Holmes County.

She wrapped up her freshman year with a practicum observation of an elementary classroom, where she spent four hours each week. She was surprised to feel unsettled and regularly exhausted after her time spent in the classroom. After thinking this was the perfect niche, her unexpected lack of excitement began to brew some doubt. Is this really what I’m supposed to do? she began to wonder.

Ariel moved home for the summer and decided to let the feelings settle for a few months. After all, she had a plan, and would be graduating in less than three years from now. I might as well stick to the plan.

One July night, Ariel was spending an evening with two close friends. Tammy was at home, working, and loved her job. Charity was away at school at the time, making many new friends, and loving her college experiences. Both friends were thrilled with where God had placed them for the season and were confident and content—the opposite of what Ariel had experienced over the past several months. The girls spent the night, and after the others had fallen asleep, Ariel laid still and pondered their conversation from earlier. What am I supposed to do? Everyone else seemed to have found their place.

God, I seriously need help, she prayed. I need guidance. If this is not what you want me to do, I need You to make it clear. And if it’s not, what am I supposed to be doing? I’m lost. She laid there in silence, and listened in the stillness. Suddenly, her eyes closed, she saw a vision—a picture of a full, bushy tree turned upside down, its roots stretching to the sky. And in the quiet spaces of her mind she heard a clear whisper that said, “Your world’s about to be turned upside down.”

Her eyes opened big. Was that me? Was that God? What was that?

In the morning, Ariel, Tammy, and Charity gathered in the kitchen for breakfast. She considered sharing her vision with them, despite the fact she still wasn’t sure where exactly it came from or what it meant. But she knew she had to tell them.

“What was it?!” they asked, eagerly drawn in.

“It was this picture of an upside down tree—a big, full tree—with its roots stretching up to the sky.”

Charity listened as she opened the cupboard to get a glass to pour some milk.

“And there was a small voice that whispered, “Your world is about to be turned upside—”

“Oh my gosh!” Charity pointed to the cupboard shelf. Staring at them was a glass, with a picture of Disney’s Tree of Life printed on it. All the glasses in the cabinet were turned open-side down, as they always were. So right in front of them, a picture of a full, bushy upside down tree looked them square in the face.

The girls jumped and screamed and celebrated like they’d just won the Super Bowl.

“That is not a coincidence. . .” Ariel said.

“I did not put that there! I did not do that!” Charity squealed.

This is real, Ariel thought. This is what He showed me.

While the answers didn’t come immediately, Ariel now had something to hold on to, a hopeful picture of things to come. But would anyone believe there’s significance to a vision of an upside down tree? What does that even mean? What change was ahead?

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She tried to process the vision for the rest of the summer. At first, she thought it was a clear sign about taking a different direction at school. But then fears arose: Am I going to lose someone important to me? Is something going to happen with my family? Is something with Caleb going to go wrong? The thought of anything happening to her high school sweetheart and long time best friend was enough to make her shudder at the thought.

She began to think of every possible scenario, and it was overwhelming.

Summer came to an end, and it was time for Ariel to move back into school. However, she still had no answers. So she kept those questions on hold and decided to just keep doing the next thing that was in front of her. So she moved into her campus apartment with a few other girls, and began classes. The semester didn’t start off as planned. Within the first three weeks of classes, she had to spend a week at home with the flu bug. Once she was healthy enough to return, every time she pulled into campus, there was an unsettled feeling in the pit of her stomach, this nagging sense that she wasn’t supposed to be there.

The confusion turned to frustration. If I’m not supposed to be here, why didn’t God give me a clear direction to do something else?

She met with guidance counselors and considered switching majors—graphic design? photography? do I even need a degree?—but no major felt right.

After praying and weighing her options, Ariel realized she needed to move home. So three weeks into a new semester, she dropped out of college and moved back home. The Lord confirmed her decision by working out all the details for her to do so. A policy had just been changed before the start of the new school year; previously, if you started a semester, you had to pay for the whole thing, whether you went to classes or not. But the policy had just been changed, now stating that you only have to pay for what you attend. This change allowed her to drop out without a high cost to worry about.

She immediately knew she made the right choice. But to a lot of people, it didn’t make sense. Many questioned her decision, and her own family and Caleb wanted to be supportive, but even they were a bit skeptical. Are you sure? they’d ask.

She couldn’t quite explain it, except for that she had a deep, sure peace about quitting school. It was tough starting over—back to square one and feeling labeled as a quitter. Having just surrendered her one sure plan, she began looking for temporary jobs to keep her busy while she worked to figure out a Plan B. She worked at a seasonal Christmas shop for a few months and then, after much hesitation, she began working at a local bank. She soon realized she enjoyed her time at the bank more than she originally thought, but still, that familiar feeling told her it wouldn’t be a forever kind of job.

One evening that fall, she attended a night of worship and prayer at a local church. An out-of-state ministry was visiting and leading the worship night, and to support a friend who was a part of the ministry, she decided to go with some friends and check it out. Her ministry friend greeted them and told the group they should individually meet the ministry’s leader, who was known for his prophetic giftings, to have him pray specifically for them and hear what’s on their hearts. One by one, Ariel watched her friends go up and meet the leader; from a distance, she saw a brief conversation take place before the next friend stepped up.

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When it was Ariel’s turn to visit with the leader, they talked briefly, but then he asked to pray for her. As they were praying, he sensed that God had a man in her life whom He was working on and equipping to be the man she needed him to be. Um, is that Caleb? Hopefully that’s Caleb. It better be Caleb. After concluding his prayer, he gave her some encouragement with her career situation.

“You can do well at this bank job, just as you could do well with teaching. These are things you could be good at. God knows we have many gifts and many talents we can do well with, but I feel like there’s going to be something that suddenly stops you in your tracks and you’re gonna be like, ‘This is what God made me to do. This is what I’m going to do to glorify God.’”

Ariel walked away from that night a little skeptical, but with a renewed sense of hope. Maybe God really laid that on his heart to share with me, to give me confidence. But couldn’t he have shared more with me? I just want to know

That winter, she continued at the bank, while beginning to roll around the idea she’d dreamed of for a long time—photography. For every good reason to try, there were five not to pursue it.

There are so many good photographers out there.

I don’t know if I have a good eye for it.

There’s so much to learn.

I don’t have what it takes, I’m not good enough.

That’s a huge investment, getting a nice camera. . .

But one day, as she discussed the possibility with Caleb once more, he finally put her in her place.

“Ariel, you need to stop questioning yourself and just go forward with photography. I’m tired of hearing you think you’re not good enough. Just do it.”dwellhouse_itskendradawn_collaboration-61

And that was the kick she needed.

She began to look into photography. She knew she wanted to do the research, invest the time, and come out a professional—if she was going to do this, she was going to do this well. For the next six to eight months, she researched and prepared. Finally, in the spring of 2015, she was ready. She launched Ariel Lynn Photography. She did it; she was now a photographer.

That first year, she set out planning only to do portraits, families, and babies—no weddings. But God began to show her that we don’t have to limit ourselves or put ourselves in a box. Several weddings popped up that year, and as she got her feet wet in this arena, she fell in love with wedding photography. In her first year of going full time, she booked 18 of her own weddings, and felt continued affirmation from God that she was beginning to find her niche. Okay, God. As long as You keep giving me this affirmation, this work, I’ll keep doing this. I’m leaving it up to You.

Over time, as 2018 rolled around, Ariel entered into an unexpected season of transition. A called-off wedding. A last-minute ghosting by a bride. Only ten weddings. A shifting style of editing. Changing vision.

Self-expectations weren’t met and fewer weddings led to self-doubt. Why is this year different than last? Is my style not what people want? Am I not good enough?

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Again, Caleb shed light and truth into those moments of doubt. “Ariel, there’s a reason that you’re not super busy. God brought you this far,” he would say. “He’s going to do something for you and you’re gonna look back at some point and be like, ‘Okay, I understand now.’”

She knew this to be true, yet she didn’t want to wait and find out. Why is this happening? Everyone around me can just pick up a camera and instantly be booked. I put in so much effort. . . Why is this not working?

In the midst of frustration, Ariel learned more about herself and the value of patience. When answers are few, the only thing to do is obey in the little things. There was a new recognition of her commitment to Christ. She realized the Lord was teaching her patience, testing in various ways if they’d be willing to jump when He says jump and go when He says go. If He could trust them to be faithful with simple, small steps of obedience, they would be well-equipped to take on whatever challenges He chose to entrust them with.

Once again, in a foggy space where answers are few, Ariel found herself zoning in on God’s presence. He is present, here in the middle—where the clarity of the past melts away and the road ahead is clouded over. This resting in the presence of the One who had given her her desires and gifts and creativity brought with it the freedom to reassess her passions and direction. In this slower season, she came to realize what she truly loves about her creative soul as a photographer: The small, intimate weddings where creativity is valued and carefree vibes fill the air; editorial and branding photography; styled shoots with creative freedom; the liberty to make art in any way she could dream up.

In these moments, the structured, formulaic expectations she’d previously carried seemed to shatter like glass. It’s alright to dig into a bunch of creative outlets, she realized. There’s not one specific answer; she doesn’t need to have only one area of specialty. There’s no need to categorize herself. Not only in photography, but in life, as well. She’s more than just a student, a bank teller, a photographer, a wife. Whatever I’m doing, I want to do to the best of my ability, and make sure I’m glorifying God. While that didn’t bring instant answers, this new anthem of living brought with it freedom that broke through the glass walls of the imaginary box in which she’d trapped herself. And with a hint of new direction on the horizon comes much excitement. I’m not holding back anymore where I have to fit this mold. I can’t fear changing too much because of others’ expectations. Whether I realize it or not, I’m changing, and that’s normal. And it’s okay. 

 ***

Ariel’s journey to her sweet spot has taken her through the forest, over some mountains, around many twists and turns, and likely isn’t even close to being over. But that’s the beauty of passion. Through any season, God equips us with dreams and the freedom to dig in our roots and bloom in a variety of directions. Much like wildflowers, we’re able to take off and spread endlessly, wherever He leads—which makes the journey that much more of an adventure.

Here’s to the journey, and having the ultimate Adventure Guide right here in the middle.

Ariel Lynn Photography

Instagram: @aaarielynn @iamariellynn

Photos by Kendra Dawn. [insta: @itskendradawn]

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