New Year, New Name

Memories & Photographs:

Thank you so much for allowing us to capture your memories over the years! Every single photograph, every smile, bride and groom, every joyful baby and every sweet baby lost too soon,  expectant mom and mom, grandparent and dad, we want to say Thank You! Thank you for letting us be apart of your love stories and memories. We are excited for 2018 and all of the changes that a new year brings. As we reflect on 2017 we are both grateful for the successes and failures. We have learned, refined, and grown in many ways as a family and company this year.

Simply Encourage was birthed out of the hope of encouraging others while growing our family in the process. Since the foundation of Simply Encourage we have added two children, three photo-booths, several cameras, many partnerships with photographers, videographers and other creative friends. We are a family of six and our business has served the purpose of making people laugh and capturing memories in the process.

As we step  into a new year we have decided to separate Simply Encourage and the Photo-Booth company!  Simply Encourage will now be my (Stephanie’s) way of documenting the joys and heartbreaks of life in written form and photographically and the Photobooth will now take on the new name of Photo-booth Abilene (!  We are transitioning a lot this year with the purpose of seeking a life of financial freedom and solitude.  We want to invest in the future and in our children this year in a way that we have yet to be able to do.

As some of you know, we sold and gave away MOST of our stuff and moved into a tiny home (300 square feet) that we built this past year and have been trying hard to change our way of living.  We make meals at home, cut up credit cards, hired an AMAZING financial service to help put things in the proper order, here is his website if you need a patient and kind financial service—> (Schmidt Financial Services). We are working towards a debt free life.  This is scary because we have gone against the grain of life and let someone see us in our most vulnerable spot.  Everything surrounding us says more more more but the Lord is knocking on my heart saying Less is More!  Freedom is better than chains!  We are going on a 10 year anniversary trip this month but other than that it is Family & Work.

I am telling you all this because I want to encourage others to seek out a life of freedom.  Be Vulnerable!  Get help in areas where you need help.  Look at your own heart and figure out who you really are and where you are shackled.  I also would LOVE for anyone who has been here and has tips for us to please share.  A little encouragement goes a long, long way!  Please pray for us as we journey into another welcomed unknown.

Love Steph & Dan


My reflections. Today is Mother’s Day and I have a lot to be thankful for…




They held hands through the overwhelming news that the once pulsing red line was now a tiny little dash separating the dream that was into the unwelcome reality that now is. Her little life was short-lived but her tiny dash had made an impressive mark on the hearts of so many, including mine!

Those precious little pink lines of hope transferred into thin red lines of life as her heart beat its little way into the lives of her beautiful mother, father, brother and sisters. This precious life, each day growing inside of her mother, and each day impacting the lives of those who share the same vital fluid that kept her little heart beating. Life, her little life was growing faster than what was realized.  Hope, hopes of so many milestones yet to be accomplished. Time, seconds, days, weeks, and months of deep love, gratitude, wonder and planning.  Love, oh this deep love that cannot be matched by anything in the natural realm.

I had the honor of meeting this little girl who was planted as a seed of hope in her family.  Before I walked in with my camera to capture these very sacred moments, I said a prayer as I always do.  I prayed that the family I was about to meet would be able to see Jesus during this most difficult time in their lives.  As I walked into the room and observed this sweet family, there was one thing that was very clear to me; peace.  Peace, the kind that is unexplainable, covered them. Although there were tears of grief I could see their HOPE, hope of restoration and hope that somehow beauty would be made out of the ashes.  They held their baby girl’s lifeless body as she carried a piece of their hearts with her to heaven that day.

I can’t help but think of the heart beats that surrounded her.  The impact they will have on the world around them!  ‘Hope to the hopeless’ is what God is going to bring with her little story, her little life, her little tiny feet as they left their imprints on the hearts that held her that day.  God is going to use her story! I know many who need it.  Many whom I have not written about due to confidentiality.  I can assure you that there are many who need this HOPE and Peace! Thank you Hannah and Clay for being open with your grief and healing process.  So many will be touched with HOPE and will see the light of Jesus through you and your sweet baby girl.  Happy Mother’s Day Hannah!


If you would like, please view sweet Selah’s service here. It is very powerful:

Selah’s Service

Selah’s Obituary


My friend Stephanie (Baylee’s Momma):

We had never met before, but when I found out that her son had died from heart complications I had to connect with her.  I had written her a few times after he had passed because the grief that she must have been feeling overwhelmed me.  I could not imagine the pain losing my child.  She was pregnant with her sweet Baylee Faith around the same time I was pregnant with my Molly so if nothing else, I was so excited for her and her family.  I was a stranger at her baby shower but I had to go and celebrate her sweet baby girl!

We shared the same name, we were both due in May and were both expecting girls!  Over the next couple of years, we would both become mommas to girls and life as we knew it was full of glitter and PINK, all things PINK and Purple and bows and lots of tutus!!!   This past year was devastating for my friend Stephanie as she found out that her little girl would face neuroblastoma head on!  Watching her little body battle such a BIG disease was heartbreaking.  One thing I have always been thankful was the openness to share.  Stephanie was so open with her grief.  She never hesitated to share her anger, pain, love, hopelessness, strength, fear, and confusion with all who came in contact with her.  She has always been REAL and that is one thing that I have always admired about her.  I believe too many times people are afraid to share their real grief in fear of what others might say or think.  NOT STEPH!!! She has walked through this as a CHAMPION just like Baylee was a CHAMPION…that sweet girl got that gift of strength from her momma and of course she got it from Jesus!

Now my friend Stephanie is using what she has gone through to raise awareness of the very thing that is killing many children.  She wants a cure!  She wants to help others as they face their darkest days.  She wants to spread hope and healing.   The fire that I have seen in her during this time of losing not one but two babies is a miracle in itself.  Although a part of her was also released to heaven with her children I can say that she brings a piece of heaven to earth as she champions for LOVE and support for the hopeless.   Happy Mother’s Day Stephanie!

Stephanie, thank you for being who you are and thank you for loving so deep!  Thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus after the STORM.  You are going to bring so much peace to so many lives through Baylee’s house.

Please support this precious family by attending their yearly events, and giving to the Baylee House mission of helping others who have to walk through childhood cancer.


Baylee’s Legacy

Baylee Faith Foundation News

Baylee’s Obituary

Shannon Robinson (Landry’s Momma)

Recently I attended the service of a little girl named Landry!  Landry was diagnosed with brain cancer at such a young age.   She was so brave and fought an amazing fight for many years until she was laid to rest in the arms of Jesus this year surrounded by her loving family.

This precious momma is so sweet and really carries the peace of God as well!  She is a teacher by trade and that most certainly fits her because she teaches the fruits of the spirit to many by simply existing.  Her grace and tenderness create a place of warmth to those around her.  Here are her words this past Mother’s Day “I want to thank all of you who’ve sent me a special message or texted me today. I do want to say, though, that I am thankful that God made me a mom 18 years ago, and I am grateful today as I am every Mother’s Day (and EVERY day, for that matter!) for both of my children no matter where they are, in Heaven or here on this earth!”

WOW!  She is shining and making a difference!  I know she and every momma listed here wish their babies were here to experience life with them.  I know that she also desires to do something good with Landry’s story! Landry taught everyone a new word in the quote that she became famous for and that is “God is Fablious”!  He sure is!  So is this momma!  My prayer is that she knows how much she and her family have touched so many lives during this long journey.  My prayer is that she continues to carry the spirit of sweet Landry in her own legacy.  What a precious, precious family. Happy Mother’s Day Shannon.

Landry’s battle

Landry’s Obituary

Beth Copelin (Kaitlin’s Momma):

She worked with my children at our church in the summer club program.  She was so fun and amazing and the girls loved her so much.  She was only 16 years old when she became ill.  It was sudden and devastated her sweet family so quickly.  At her service there were countless stories of how she jumped, loved and hugged her way into the hearts of everyone she met.  She was so young and had so much life to live.  There was not a dry eye in the service that day as memories were counted and goodbyes were shared.  This precious girl really did have a contagious spirit and could light up an entire room with her smile!  I watched as this mother and father buried their only child that day.  Their strength amazed me and there were so many things I wanted to say but couldn’t find the right words.  As my pastor says there are never any words that are right during the time of such great loss!  Just comfort in the HOPE of Jesus! It was evident that Kaitlin was dancing with her father in heaven that day.

I am grateful that her sweet momma and daddy taught her serve.  Her heart towards my children “and many others” was so sweet.  They told me about her hugs.  I did not know her on a personal level but I knew her through the halls and through my children.  My sweet girls wanted to attend her service because they wanted to say goodbye to a sweet touch of kindness in their lives.  When we walked into the service my daughter,  just 7 years old at the time,  asked me if we would get to see Miss. Kaitlin again.  During those moments I struggled to tell her that we would not see her in the physical but that we could allow her memory to live on in us and through us and also through her parents.  I told her that we can remember Miss Kaitlin when we see a sweet smile or when we walk the halls of church.  My heart ached not only for my children and their loss of a mentor but also for her parents Beth and Bobby and their loss of a life with their only child.  It is just not fair!  We are not supposed to go before our children.

I ran into these sweet parents one day while at lunch and gave them a hug.  I was so grateful to run into them because they reminded me that God is in control and they also reminded me of what true peace and hope really looks like.  God is using them to encourage others through their journey of loss as well. Happy Mother’s Day Beth!


Jumping into our hearts (minute 10:30)

Kaitlin’s Obituary


I have walked with countless parents as they have lost their children or loved ones!  One of the most heart-breaking things is the way the enemy tries to steal the heart of a mother by robbing her of her child/children.  I have found myself being grateful that each one of these mommas were able to feel the LOVE of motherhood because so many do not know that love.  I know all of them want their babies back and that they each I am so happy that the LORD heals and restores!  I am also thankful that through these little girls I have been reminded that life is but a vapor.  One day we are here and the next we are gone.  There are no guarantees to how long we have here on earth.  One thing that I do know is that life is too short to be bitter.  Even if death comes, we can still find joy and HOPE.

With all of that being said I would like to say a few things to our girls:


Dear Beloved Daughters,

I cannot believe how fast you are growing up!  Today I have decided to write something that has been stirring in my heart for quite some time.  I have a deep desire to see each of you grow into beautiful young women with love, peace, confidence, and joy in your hearts!  I am not always the best with words and am sure to fail you at times, but that does not mean that my love for you is absent, it simply means I am human and make mistakes.  I also realize that you are human and will make mistakes along this beaten path as well.  At times, I am aware that I will be forced to reevaluate how I parent you over and over (there is no rule book for this parenting gig so please forgive me as I practice).  None the less I need you to know a few key things so that you can understand my view in life and have a little grace with me too.

One thing I need you to understand is that my number one goal in this motherhood thing has been to love you and to guard your hearts while keeping you safe.  I am pretty tough and if something comes in my home or our lives that threatens your innocence I will challenge it and I will not back down unless I know that you are safe.  Oh, sweet girls I need you to understand that I know this will probably be the characteristic that you least like about me.  I am okay with that.  I know I will not be able to keep you “grounded” forever but please understand that you will fly soon enough.  My hope for you is that you will be ready to fly and face the storms of life as each storm threatens your safety and causes you to reevaluate which direction you will fly.

It is no surprise to me that we will face hard things in life like heartache, disappointments, failure, difficult decisions, more heartache, questions regarding faith, death, and even anger and fear.  You will be faced with a decision to allow yourself to become bitter and angry at the world or choose to persevere and try to see something good derive from it or better yet, do something good with the circumstances.

I am also very excited for your journey because, given the gift of time, you will have the amazing opportunity to experience beautiful things in life like faith, hope, best friends, fun trips, grandparents, more best friends, boyfriends (can this really be beautiful? YES), pets, camps, sleep overs, birthday parties, swimming, skating, mission trips, movies, fun family nights, sunrises and sunsets, art galleries, rain showers (dancing in the rain), daddy daughter dates, having new electronics, shopping, going to three different restaurants in one night, and laughter…LOTS OF LAUGHTER!  You will be so happy that you cry at times in your lives!  You will also be filled with so much joy at other times!

I so badly want to be there for each moment, to hold you and to laugh with you, whatever the time calls for.  I had a rough childhood and have struggled to learn trust and love.  You dear ones have taught me that these things are rooted in relationship.  Despite my shortcomings in the past I desire to simply live life with you to the fullest. I want you to know that I am here for you.  I am so proud of you and love you so deeply.

I want to thank you simply for being you and for loving me through the tough lessons that we both must learn from in life.  Thank you for loving me even when I do not always deserve it.  Thank you for loving each other and choosing forgiveness for any failures.  Thank you for the pounds of glitter over the years and the PINK, for all things PINK and Purple and bows and thank you for all of the tutus!  Thank you for laughing with me and for being silly with me.  Thank you for being messy and limitless.  Thank you for daring to be brave and full of adventure.  I do not know what I would ever do without any of you.  I love you so deep!

I know you have heard this song for many years but I wrote it for you and want to share it with you now in case you need it!  I love you so much sweet girls.  Please know that you are my always and forever.  There is nothing that could EVER steal my love for you. My biggest prayer for you as your mom is that you would love like Jesus!

Always Forever  

Love Always -Mom

P.S. I will probably add more to this as time goes by!  Until then, I love you.

Kati Jo + Rickey

Oh Joy!  Relaxed and Fun!  Elegant & Beautiful! Country & Chic! We had so much fun celebrating a sweet and memorable first with you and you family!  We hope this was the first of many fun and memorable moments for you.  Thank you so much for allowing us to be a part of such a sweet day.  May you find fun ways to celebrate each milestone together and may your bond grow deeper and richer into eternity! Never forget your promises made from this day forward!  Walk side by side and cherish each moment together.  Blessings as you watch your family and life grow.


Words cannot express what a joy it is to capture the beauty of two becoming one!  Amanda & Cameron you two were truly beautiful and we wish you the best on this marriage journey!  The patience and kindness you represented on your special day was truly amazing.  I hope your marriage journey is fun and adventurous and that you two will continue to find joy in one another and the family and friends surrounding you.  May the Lord continue to bless you and your commitment to one another.


Venue: The Grove at Denton Valley


Chaos in my rearview mirror…


I was there.  In Dallas.  The night that we lost 5 officers.  I wasn’t in the midst of the chaos but I did see it on my drive home.  I witnessed the helicopters shining their big spotlights.  I witnessed the Police cars. I witnessed what looked like something big.  It wasn’t until I turned on social media that I realized what the RED, WHITE & BLUES were flashing for.  I knew there had to be an emergency but I had no idea the depths of this dark and sorrowful tragedy.

As we were driving home we were all in denial about the reports coming through.  I was glued to the phone as I tried to put the puzzle pieces together and I sat in disbelief as I realized that there are some things that may never fit just right in our minds.  At one point in our drive all I could think about was how to love others during this time of grief.  I had decided that I wanted to reach out and give a hug to someone.  I know this may seem weird but during my time in graduate school at HSU one thing that I was intrigued by was the positive impact a hug can have on a person.  I was even able to test this concept by attending an event at Beltway in Abilene, TX and received a hug by a woman named Shampa Rice.  This woman is from India and she came to share her story and then she reached out her arms and hugged people.  The line of people who wanted to receive a hug was AMAZING, POWERFUL, and BEAUTIFUL and I wish deeply that everyone could have been there to experience this!!!  I stood in line for an hour to be influenced by her gift and I am thankful even now that she graciously allowed herself to be used as a positive example of LOVE.

As we stopped at a gas station to get a drink of water I knew I was going to hug a few strangers.  I can still feel the trembling that I felt from my hands to my feet as I opened the door to the gas station.  I had a few doubts because of fear but thought about how perfect love cast out fear and a hug is an act of love.  I stood by the water and looked around as I asked God to send someone to hug.  I looked down at my hands and feet and trembled more as I was just as uncomfortable as anyone else would be.  I walked slowly to the register as my husband had our items to check out.  I looked around and there they were, two men,  walked up behind us, one after the other.  One man was an average height Hispanic man with dark hair and warm eyes.  He was holding his drinks and standing behind us. The man behind him was a tall black man in a dark blue shirt.  He was bald and also had warm dark eyes.  Both men were quiet and were minding their own business.  I took a few moments to build my courage and I turned around and said “with everything going on in our world I have something to say, you do not have to know someone to love them.  I love you and would like to give you a hug.”  I did not give them time to respond I just reached out my arms and one at a time they hugged me. The Hispanic man gave me a soft and gentle hug and the Black man gave me a big bear hug.  The Hispanic man kindly said “thank you ma’am and bless you ma’am and I pray blessings for your life.  I hope you have a good night and safe time getting home.”  The black man said “thank you” and he also said “I can tell you are emotional right now.” He was so right.  I was definitely feeling many deep emotions.  They both smiled and looked me in the eyes with kindness.  They both were kind.  Neither one of them were upset at my asking to hug them.  I so deeply hope they will remember their weird and random hug that night. I have no idea if they had already heard the news of what had happened in Dallas and I didn’t even bring it up.   I do hope when they got that news that they will remember there is good in this country and world.

As I have thought back on that day and as I have really tried to make sense of the terrible actions that do not make sense, I have found solace in a few simple things.  First, there is power in a HUG or two…or four…make that twelve…there is great power in receiving and giving at least twelve hugs a day! If you do not believe me and need scientific proof just do a little research on the topic of hugs and the profound difference they make in our health both mentally and physically.  It is said that on average a human needs at least 4-12 hugs a day to truly survive…so please do not wait any longer…HUG someone!  Another thing that I find comfort in is knowing that there is good in the world.  I have read story after story of great things coming from the dark days.  Our Abilene Chief of Police stood in uniform and shared a few very profound words with our community.  Our friend TIM PALMER uses his voice to influence people to LOVE one another!  His music is so powerful!  A Dallas Police officer named Bryan Woodard is making a positive impact in the world as well!  My sweet friend Chelsea Umberger paints beautiful skylines and encouraging words in script with beautiful watercolors and uses them to inspire others! I have another artist friend name CAL who uses her gifts to paint beautiful, pure and uniting murals on the walls of our buildings and this brings our community together!  I have a friend name Stephanie Mott who is a teacher in an urban area that has challenged people to see her side of the story in a peaceful and beautiful way…she challenges us to build REAL relationships.  I also have a friend name Chad Mitchell who started an amazing movement that is ALL about mobilizing love (Stop The Violence)!  One of our own amazing officers Tim Pipes uses his influence to teach self defense so that others can feel secure in tough situations!  I would love to hear about more positive things so feel free to share!  There is still hope for unity and it shines in the midst of tragedy! USE YOUR GIFTS FOR GOOD!

Friends…I have one final thought.  Hate breeds hate.  Fear breeds fear.  If you are spending so much of the short time you have on earth pointing out the misdeeds of others, you are failing to see the lack of justice in your actions.  I am not saying that the wrongs that have been done are right…I am simply saying that hatred isn’t the answer.  I am going to quote something that a great man once said.  This man is one who understands the destruction that the hatred of others can bring and he can also understand the power of love and loving others.  Even if you don’t believe in him, there is no need to disregard his statement because it is a valid point.  This statement speaks exactly to what we are dealing with here in our own country.  This man was in the process of protecting a woman who had made some bad choices.  He knew she had done some wrong things in her life and did not overlook them.  He simply wanted to show the power of GRACE and HUMILITY. As people were trying to murder her and persecute her he said:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

I ask you to examine your heart and life.  Are you not much like this woman?  Have you not been guilty of any sin?  Is your record spotless?  I am not asking you to live with the shame of your misdeeds, I am simply asking for grace to be given by you and for those whom you feel great hatred towards to receive the same grace given to you.

Some are casting stones at our own country for the sins of her past.  She is asking for grace.  Her people are pleading for peace.  Her people are dying for unity.  She is our home.  She sees her mistakes.  She can one day be restored to the place of freedom but will never be perfect.  It is in her imperfections that she tries to shine HOPE for a better tomorrow.  She can shine RED, WHITE, AND BLUE with humility from her past and she can shine RED, WHITE, AND BLUE with hope for her future.

Do something extravagant today…HUG SOMEONE you love…and HUG someone you do not know.  It’s a free gift that could help someone survive this madness.  Share a meal with someone new.  Sit at a table and brainstorm ways to make your community a better place.  Find someone different than you and start a conversation…ask them how they are, what do they enjoy doing in the community, do they live near family or miles away or even seas away from them?  We tell our kiddos be responsible with yourself, respectful to others and most importantly…be fun because life is too short to be grumpy all the dang time!  Sometimes it only takes overcoming the fear of the unknown to be richly blessed by others!


To the men in the gas station…I don’t know you but I love you.  Thank you for hugging me too.  I needed it.  To Shampa Rice, thank you for hugging me and thousands of others throughout the years.  To our Chief of Police…thank you for standing in unity and speaking with forgiveness, love and peace.  To Tim Palmer, Thank you so much for using your voice to influence love in our community and world!  To Tim Pipes, thank you for teaching others to defend themselves rather than having to live in fear.  To our officers sworn to serve and protect thank you for your bravery and sacrifice.  Bryan Woodard…thank you for sharing your life and work with us openly so that we may be able to understand your life on a deeper level. To Stephanie Mott…THANK YOU FOR SPEAKING LOVE and for challenging us to be uncomfortable.  Chelsea and CAL thank you for using your gifts to encourage and inspire others.  To our News Stations…thank you for sharing good stories…please keep sharing positive things about our community, state and world!  To Chad Mitchell, thank you for being an amazing foot forward in a difficult walk.

To EVERYONE reading this, let’s leave chaos in our rearview mirrors.  Remember that Love breeds Love and I LOVE YOU ALL! Love Steph

Friends Huddle Cheerful Union Summer Concept

Friends Huddle Cheerful Union Summer Concept







Beauty in Diversity

Hey you!!! Although what has happened in the world recently is part of the foundation for this blog, I do not want to discuss my political views, my religion or my views on recent tragedies. I just want to learn people and love them well. I do not want to debate on what is right or wrong. I do not hate anything but hatred itself. I hurt deeply for those who are hurting. I do want to learn why people do what they do, and  why they enjoy what they enjoy in life. I have learned from a hard past and interesting present that life is what you make of it. Rich or poor… white, Asian, black, Indian or a melting pot of all…we are all here for such a time as this! The heart of gratitude shines through people just as the heart of deep pain…and I am grateful for our differences. Do you see “Beauty in Diversity?” I believe there is, or at least there can be! Who are you? Really? I want to know! I’ll go first!
Different ME!

I see you.  I know you and I look different from one another.  I know we have different hair and different skin.  I know we sometimes listen to different music.  I know we are from different parts of town…and sometimes we are even from different parts of the world.  I know we have different struggles and different ways of handling pain.  I know we sometimes wear different clothes and we even cook differently.  I know that we are different.

Can I tell you something.  To me…You have a beauty that I cannot put into words.  I love you…yep…even if I don’t know you!  I love your hair and your skin…because it is part of you.  I love that I learn something new in every song you share with me. I love visiting your neighborhood and learning from your strength.  I love your style and I love your food because it is part of you.  I love that we are different.

Here I am a white…female adventurer…a mother of 4 girls but I have only given birth twice…this means I am a “step”mom, okay sometimes I like to think of myself as a bonus so I will stick with Bonus Mom!  I am a wife of an amazing bluegrass musician/music teacher!


I have straight brown hair and brown eyes.  I wish my hair had beautiful curls and I also wish it didn’t tangle so much.  My eyes have a hint of green but not near as much green as I wish they had.  I like music that feeds my soul and encourages me to love deeply.  I have an album on iTunes called Save Me Grace and my husband has one called Crossing Boundaries!  Check it out if you want. I am a lower-middle class person (depending on the year). I grew up in poverty and now I live in a part of town that some consider privileged…at least that is what I keep hearing about it…I just see all different types of people…some white, some latin, some black, some asian, some desire bigger homes, some desire bigger families, some desire bigger careers etc. and some desire all of the above and you know what…some people desire none of the above.

You want to know a secret…when I am struggling emotionally…I see a counselor.  I also pray, write (remember my album that I just told you about… I wrote those songs out of the pain of my life events like abuse, suicide, loneliness and apathy).  I also cope with life by listening to music with no words at all (instrumentals), riding a bicycle and talking to friends.  Okay sometimes I scream in a pillow, so what.  I love baggy t-shirts and jeans because often times I do not like the way I look or feel in anything else (comfort is sometimes key…this fact alone makes me question my womanhood at times).  I know nothing of name brand anything unless it is a camera.  I never cook the same thing twice because I make up recipes as I go depending on what we have in the pantry…for example the other day I made “naked enchiladas” because we didn’t have sauce!  Most of the time I get my hair cut at the School of Cosmetology because it is the only option I can afford and guess what…I am okay with that…I have met so many beautiful people there like these two beauties…yes she is hugging my daughter…no we did not know her prior to that day:

Want to know something else about me?  If not you can stop reading…if so…read on…I was emancipated at 16.  As a child I was afraid of the police because some of the people raising me were afraid of them (meth users, alcoholics, drug distributers & abusers).  I remember officers being called “popo’s and pigs”.  I now have friends who are officers and my heart aches as the fact that I was ever afraid of them (they are human like me). I also feel frustrated that it is so easy to make all suffer for the sins of some.  Once I had a black boyfriend in school (this was not okay with all of biological family members).  I know what sweet rice, spam, the salvation army, section 8,  TANF, and food stamps are and have been thankful for those resources in my life thanks to surviving my childhood.  I have also walked with shame because of needing those resources in the first place…like I somehow had control and should have changed my socioeconomic status.  I have been in foster care and had case workers.  I have been a case worker.   I have been homeless and poor…for example…I have lived in a car more than once.  With a very grateful heart, I have accepted handouts and have learned the value of asking for help when I need it…see, I am still asking for help and I am still working hard everyday to help earn a living for our family and be a good mom (the good mom thing is my deep desire).  I am sometimes too stubborn to ask for help even when I know I need it.  I am afraid of lightening…like irrationally afraid…no kidding…when I see it I feel like I am going to have a heart attack…can you say crazy?  I also feel the same fear when I look up at the stars at night…it’s just too big.  I sunburn too easily.  I now have a Masters Degree and have no idea where to make this HUGE paragraph a new paragraph (to be fair, my degree isn’t in english).  I overuse commas and use dots when I do not know what punctuation mark to use… (I should probably ask for help).  I have been writing a book but am too afraid to let anyone read it because of the things just mentioned (help?).

Here is  a cultural thing I have learned over the past several years and I truly love it…I own a Photo-booth business and have celebrated many quinceanera events and have always been fascinated with how my Latin friends celebrate their young girls so extravagantly as they “enter woman-hood” it is seriously a beautiful experience to see so many family members and friends work together to sponsor this celebration of life!   I have friends from America, China, Pakistan, Israel, Africa, Malaysia, Germany, France, Brazil, Nepal, Mexico, Panama, Belarus and Japan to name a few.  All of these people (whom I have met face to face) are amazing to me. I have shared meals with them, talked with them over coffee, played board games with them, shared a house with some of them, gone to school with others.  I have met others at random life events like a doctors appointment or a grocery trip and sparked conversation with them!   Each one of them have taught me something different about their culture and their life.  I cannot tell you how beautiful it is for me to see our differences and celebrate life.  I LOVE LEARNING NEW THINGS about PEOPLE!

I have traveled to Israel, Mexico, New York (very cultural experience), New Mexico, Arizona, Las Vegas (also a cultural experience) and Tennessee!  I desire to go to Africa, Ireland, France, China, Japan, New Zealand, India and Brazil. I would really love to wear something from India, the Middle East and Africa…simply because I have some great friends who have shown me the beauty in their colorful garments.  My favorite food is Steak and Potatoes…so that is pretty much Texan I guess.  Oh and I love salad with a german vinegar thanks to Mrs. Ellen Pressley!  I also love Hummus and Pita bread!  I love authentic asian food…wait…is orange chicken a real thing or is that something we do in the US or Texas? I like it either way!  I love Chinese food made by my friend Molly!  I love Turnips!  I love salsa anything.  I love Italian Cream Soda.  What else should I love or try to love!  I am not afraid to try new things so…tell me something new to try!

SO…I simply wanted to write and tell you a little about myself and I wanted to ask you to tell me a little about yourself?  I do understand that some of the things I listed about myself and my life are not a “cultural” experience…but…my thought is, maybe someone can connect because of our common stories, likes, or dislikes.  I want to know you & the people you call family. What makes you unique?  What do you love most about your culture?  Why do you believe what you believe about life?  This may be an idealistic stretch but I do want “world peace”.  Not the kind of peace where “if only everyone believed what I believe, life would be peaceful”…but the kind where love is present and people understand that different is not ALL bad.

Share with me…Is there a drink you would like me to try, a dish, do you have fears you want to share, or a song you would love for me to hear, a poem that you wrote, a picture, a favorite childhood memory, a word that you want me to learn from your language?  Teach me…I am ready to go on an adventure with you all and I am ready to learn!  I want to see the beauty in our diversity!

Please take the time to share with someone who has taught you something beautiful about their culture or their life!




10 years after Suicide…


Today marks ten years since my brother lost his battle with depression as he took his last breath. He was smart, funny, loving, protective, strong and brave. He loved rap music and loved all people! He never met a stranger! He had freckles and dark hair! He was an accomplished realtor and he loved sports specifically “North Carolina”.

He struggled for many years with trying to be strong. He wrote a few letters during his times of trouble expressing his desire to end his life but I would not allow myself to believe that he would ever really allow it to get that bad…I mean…he was the strong one. He had a beautiful wife and three beautiful girls and even that didn’t stop the deep pain from catching up to him.

I will never understand why he chose to part from this world in such a violent manner. I will never understand why he didn’t reach out for professional help. I do know that I choose to grieve his death by reaching out.

If you have ever had battles with depression both situational or biological please reach out and call for help. Put this number in your phone and label it something that you will remember. 1-800-273-8255 (FYI) I have it in my phone, so do not be embarrassed because you are not alone! Depression is serious and must be dealt with because it could be fatal.

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts I also wanted to tell you that I believe you! Big or small I believe that there is a part of every one of us that wants to die. I also believe that there is a part of each person that wants to live. My challenge for you is that since we will all pass from this earth one day (guaranteed), I want you to grab ahold, with all that is in you, grab the part of you that wants to live! Grab it and don’t let go!

If you are walking in shame be ashamed no more! If you have guilt, let it go! If you have been hurt deeply by someone, forgive them and walk on! Do not visit the past and allow it to hurt your future! Do not let the past define you! You have been made for a purpose and you can make it no matter what has happened! There is always a way to see life as half full rather than half empty!

Please if not for you…please seek help for those who LOVE you deeply! You are LOVED! Say it with me…I AM LOVED! Say it again!!! I AM LOVED!!!

The last words my brother ever told me were words of  wisdom and love. I am thankful for that. My heart just can’t get over what I may have missed! I missed the pain that day. He was strong yet found himself walking with weakened and fragile spirit. To Daniel my Beloved big Bubba! I loved you so and miss your terribly deep!  I wish I could just hug you one last time…I wish you understood how truly amazing you were!

Love, Steph

I loved her first…


Several months ago I was a mess and when I say mess I mean the kind where you self loathe a little and ask why me…why my life?  I all started when I watched a video that was taking the web by storm of a dad dancing in the kitchen while holding his daughter…guys and gals…it was the most beautiful thing.  That little girl looked up at her daddy with glitter in her eyes and trust in her spirit.  She knew that he would not drop her and that he loved her deep.  It was also obvious that he was going to LOVE her until his last breath! 

fast forward to “bedtime”… 

One of my most favorite moments in life is watching my husband help get the kiddos in bed.  I often take the opportunity to eavesdrop on him and I could not help but drink it in tonight as he laughed, giggled, tickled,  and ran around with our daughters so beautifully! They are absolutely in love with him and one day I hope they realize how blessed they are to have such a great, involved and present daddy!  I was watched in wonder as  he helped Molly get ready for bed.  I watched them play and was overtaken by both deep grief and overwhelming JOY.  I felt my eyes burn as the tears found the exit and trickled down my cheeks.  My sweet husband said “are you okay?” I replied “yes,  just so working through some conflicting feelings right now.  I continued to watch them and the pain was oh so real and incredibly deep.  I hugged and kissed my little girls, told them goodnight and left the room as daddy took over bedtime snuggles, giggles and a few songs of joy and peace.

I went to the living room where I was filled with the most gut wrenching grief and jealousy.  I was not jealous that my daughters have a wonderful dad, or that the girl mentioned in the video above does either.  I was hurting because I beginning to truly understanding what I missed out on.  I missed out…  The most heartbreaking thing is I know I am not the only girl who has to suffer this same terrible void and I cannot keep from grieving this as well.  I am grieving the loss of a first love!  When I see how our daughters love their dad I realize that I missed that very important beautiful blessing in life.

My husband came to me after he tucked them in and and hugged me and told me he loves me!  I am thankful. I apologized for allowing it to get to me. He didn’t judge me or tell me to get over it.  He just quietly hugged me and said he was sorry.  I am thankful that he does not judge my grief.  I thanked God that night for giving me such a wonderful husband and for giving our girls such an amazing daddy.  I also asked God to piece it all together and fill the void!

Fast forward to today!

I have learned so much about life over the years but this is an area where I have had to realize a few things.  Knowing that there are many girls out there with this same pain and burden I felt I needed to share.

  1. Dads do not have to be biological in order for you to bond with them.
    • I am now in my thirties and recently started calling Bill (Dad)!  I have known him since high school and although it has been a journey of healing for me to be able to call someone by that precious name I chose him because he chose me.  He invested in my life as much as I would allow.  He never pressured me to be his daughter but always made me feel like I was.  Due to my struggle with the orphan spirit I often wondered when he would change his mind and not love and accept me anymore.  My healing began the day I met him and it continued when my sweet husband came into my life.
  2.  Choose wisely!
    • Do not settle.  Be patient for someone who will work hard with you for your family and someone who will consider it an honor and joy to have children!  Wait for someone who will love your kids and work with you as a team to raise them.  I know my struggle with being fatherless was simply wishing I had some guidance.  Someone who can offer protection of your heart. Someone who will hug you through the hurt.  I know as a Christian that God is the protector of my heart but the spiritual role and guidance of an earthly daddy is so valuable.  (Men NEVER underestimate your influence in the little ladies around you.)
    • FINALLY I feel like the brick walls that I have built around my life are being broken down to the point where I can see over them!  I remember feeling like I could never heal from this hardened heart and void but I am here to say that it is possible to heal!  Most of my healing has come from watching my husband be a daddy to our girls.  I believe this is why God gave us all girls!  (I know that may sound selfish but I truly feel healing every day from watching them develop this bond together)!


Now in the spirit of Father’s Day:

IMG_2051Danny I LOVE you so much!  Thank you for being the most amazing dad to our girls.  Thank you for being patient with me as I have had to work through this part of my life.  I love the joy that you bring to our daughters eyes.  Every Daddy daughter date has restored hope.  Every moment you have kissed our girls and told them that you loved them has restored brokenness.  Every time you allowed them to paint your nails and brush your hair has restored joy!  Thank you for working hard for them, for teaching them music, hugging them, kissing them, putting bandaids on them, teaching them to ride their bikes, thank you for every time you have cooked meals for them, given them baths, taught them to see the beauty of nature, watched documentaries about the world, held their hands when they were scared, held them close, read to them and for teaching them that their hand belongs to you until you give it away.  Thank you for letting me see those things.  I hope you know how valuable you are.  I hope you understand how LOVED you are!

I also hope they know how blessed they are to have someone who has LOVED them FIRST!

Love, This Thankful Mom & Wife


Encouraging Gift Project


I pulled up to my home after a long day of work. I was completely exhausted and a bit disappointed because I had not received the answer I had been hoping for after months of hard work on an assignment very close to my heart!  As I sat there and looked at my home with a big beautiful tree out front, full of rich green life, I quickly grabbed my phone and snapped a photo as it hit me in my moment of disappointment to choose JOY. The tears began to pour from my eyes!  I went from being disappointed to being sentimental as I looked at the blessings before me.FullSizeRender 2

I know what it is like to be homeless and live in cars, tents, motels, shelters, children homes, foster homes, rat infested trailers and couch surfing because people would open their doors at times!  As a child I often would wonder why this was my plight.  Why does it seem that everyone around me has stability and provision and I am left wondering and worrying about each day!  I remember many nights living in fear of this being my whole life!

When I was 15 years old I made a decision to leave home and stay on a friend’s couch for a few months until I was granted emancipation by a judge.  I will never forget that day!  It was both liberating and disheartening at the same time!  This was the day I became an orphan by choice because the life my biological parents were providing was not conducive to the life I had dreamed of.  I did not want to end up in prison.  I did not want to be a prostitute or a drug addict or dealer.  I wanted something more in life.   At that time I had no clue what was to come for my future but I had only two choices; I could sink or swim.

Fast forward to today I must say that I am in awe, even in the midst of small setbacks.  I look around and see the work that still needs to be done, but I also bask in the goodness of all that has been overcome.  I have never wanted the fanciest cars or the biggest house. I have never wanted the flashy clothes or the shiniest jewelry.  I have only desired one thing in life, and it is BIG to me.  I desire to walk in complete freedom and share my story so that I can touch the lives of those around me.  My greatest desire is to make a positive impact on my family, my community, my state and country, and in the world!  I deeply desire to use my gifts to bring JOY and Meaningful Moments to those around me.

A few years ago I was working for an amazing company filled with people who poured their lives into helping the at risk children and families in our community.  Throughout my time there I had the opportunity to serve some amazing kiddos as they walked through some tough times.  I was so proud of my kids and it was amazing watching some of them break through their cocoons and gain a new perspective as they realized that they can fly.  I was so proud of them. When I had to leave my job so that I could fulfill my desire to raise my own little ones, I kept them all in mind.  Not only did I feel I could relate to many of my kids on a personal level but I also felt the grief from realizing that many of them may never realize how proud someone was of them.  I am so sad to think that their are so many youth in our community and world who believe that they are failures, or that they are not “worth” anything.  I felt I needed to give back somehow, so my official photography business was born and named after my desire to pour into these kids and all of the families I have the honor of serving! Simply Encourage: “Making Memories out of Moments.”

Owning a business is not a walk in the park and can be quite difficult.  Don’t get me wrong I love it, but it is often times very difficult to build a business from the ground up and keep it going.  I have used the past few years to grow as a person, wife, mom and business owner.  I have learned a few life lessons the hard way and I have found myself humbled more times than one would want to admit. There were also moments where I have felt brave and ready to succeed.  I believe the balance of those things have kept me grounded.

During this time of growth I have realized that I desire so deeply to show the young ones who are trying so hard to succeed that they matter.  Recently I developed a new business plan that would include a new way of giving. I am calling it the “The Encouraging Gift Project.”  I have partnered with educators and counselors in our community to help select students and families deserving of this gift and am ready to share it with you.

“The Encouraging Gift Project” is designed to offer the gift of a senior portrait session to a graduating senior who may need to see the value of who they are, but are not able to invest in photography at this point in their lives.  My hope is that I can use my testimony and passion in photography to encourage others who need to understand that they matter.  I also LOVE capturing families, because Family Matters!  There are so many families who would never be able to afford photography because of hardship in life.  Single mom/dad families, immigrant families, foster families, blended families. The list goes on and on!  All of you matter! I desire so deeply to work with you!

Here’s how the Encouraging Gift Project works. For EVERY SINGLE photo-booth rental or photography package purchased through us, Simply Encourage will give a gift certificate to an educator or counselor to give to their selected senior student, foster child or family!  For the students, there are no academic requirements, because I believe a grade does not determine value and I know many educators who feel the same way!  I believe some students (much like myself growing up) are simply trying to make it through one day at a time rather than prove themselves academically.  I am not saying that academics do not matter. I am simply saying our students are more valuable than the numbers attached to a report card!  There is more to life than this. I have seen many successful people rise above their circumstances despite their grades.

With the help of our community my hope is to reach at least 100 students and families this year!  This will make for a memorable and meaningful summer.  I do not believe my story is completely unique or that I am anything special, I just believe that my story has potential to help others see that they too can overcome hardship.  I believe that some people just need to see that they are not alone and that they matter deeply.

I want to conclude this message by saying THANK YOU ABILENE!  Thank you for pouring into our small family business and for helping us grow.  I am so excited about giving back to you and with you.  I have listed many businesses who invest in our family business and to you I want to say we are forever grateful.  I also want to say thank you to all of the individuals who have rented our Photo Booth and used us for photography.  Here’s to many more years of partnership and giving back together!Simply Encourage A


With a grateful heart,

Stephanie Ellison

To Book Photography or Photobooth Click:  My Booking Matters



The Importance of…

Understanding fear and our own blindness…

My husband calls me a humanitarian and while that is true I believe my desire to love humankind comes from my desire to love others towards Christ.  I also have a desire that all people feel the gift of Freedom that God offers.  I am writing today because I have a deep rooted struggle with fear.

I have been hiding behind the comfort of my own safe bubble for a while now due to this fear!  Today that fear was understood on a deeper level and I realized the importance of educating myself!  Education does not happen by reading the news or following trends on social media…in some ways this causes more fear because you never know if the source is biased.  Years ago I believed the term educated only meant acquiring a degree in a certain field of study.  Sure we can become educated by reading scholarly articles and books and achieve the highest honors and be experts in certain fields and that is great but it does not equate to much if you do not understand humanity.

This is hard for me to tell but here you go anyway…

I was sitting in a Doctors office with my children and a sweet lady chose the seat next to me.  We strike up a conversation with one another and I found out that she had just moved here to my town and had no family here.  She had only been living in the United States for a handful of years and her husband works at our local hospital.  When I asked where she was originally from she said Pakistan and my heart sank.  I suddenly felt fear and discomfort but I refused to let it completely control me.  We continued to talk and we even shared our information with one another because I had a sincere desire to show her love but after we left I was not intentional because I was afraid to get close.  Why? Because the fear I had felt that day was stemming from ignorance.  She shared that she was Muslim…that is all it took to keep me from pursuing relationship with her.  I did not mean to do this but I judged her.   If I were being completely candid…I felt a great connection with her when I met her but I had not really pursued an authentic friendship with her due to the aftermath of 9/11 and my lack of trust in those who share her religious upbringing and also because of the geographical location in which she calls home.  I also feared she would not accept me due to my being a Christian either. I went on a mission trip to Israel years ago with a focus to love the people there! I do love the Jewish and am very sad to say that I was just as afraid of Muslim people there as well. I was afraid of the extremists but since I had no clue who was extreme I found myself afraid of the Muslim population as a whole. 

Now…here we are…the world is looking at another ISIS massacre and we are fixated on France as they lay to rest several souls in their country and try to figure out what to do to pick up the pieces and move forward.  As I was praying for France and for the world I suddenly felt overcome with compassion for the sweet lady who chose to sit next to me a few years ago.  The question that kept going through my mind was “I wonder how she feels”?  I thought about her family and I wondered if she still lived here.  I thought about her family in Pakistan and asked God to watch over them and protect all of them. I was suppose to be working and all I could do was think about the most recent attack in Paris and all of the families hurting, her and her family.

I prayed for her and seriously felt compelled to be intentional and connect with her rather than just pray and move along.  I got on Facebook and looked her up and decided to write her a private message.  I did not want to bring up religion or anything about the attacks by ISIS…I did not feel comfortable talking about it at that time.  I simply wanted to share love so I asked “How are you and your family?”.  I was excited when she wrote me immediately.  She said she was struggling because of the recent attacks in Paris.  She told me she was so sad and that she feels she needs to apologize to EVERYONE because of what ISIS is doing in the name of the muslim faith.  She feels the eyes of onlookers when she is shopping in the store and can feel the fear. She shared a story about a school in Pakistan where ISIS attacked in December claiming the lives of 140 innocent Pakistani children! She said, “We want the same things as all of the other nations. Peace, freedom, easy and affordable pleasures of a good life…. we like to have fun too. I urge you to take a look at my family pictures that we took in Pakistan. Explore the profile of my sister. You will see average Pakistani/Muslim family who loves life. No hate for anyone there… but I feel like these scum bags have painted my peaceful religion with their big bloody brush.”

Oh.My!  My heart sank! I allowed this evil to paint a picture of hatred that I did not realize was even taking root in my heart.  I was overcome with shame for a moment but the LORD demolished that with LOVE and understanding of what needs to happen.  I wrote and told her that I was at our local coffee shop if she wanted to meet me there.  She showed up within 15 minutes.  I started by apologizing to her for not being intentional and told her I was so glad she came to meet with me.  We talked about her family and she showed me photos of all of her beloved relatives.  She talked about her childhood home.  She talked about her arranged marriage and how much she loves her husband.  (side note: the most beautiful thing about her marriage story was that her father asked her if she would accept her husband in marriage and she trusted her father with her life and it was such a blessing because he chose well for her. She talked about how she loves her husband and children so much!)  She shared her love for cooking and teaching!  We talked about our education and have very similar personalities and desires!  She also educated me on her faith and interestingly enough the word jihad has a different meaning than I thought.  She is just beautiful inside and out!  I cannot believe I was afraid.  I do not believe I am the only one who has been afraid.

I am sharing this story with you because I do not want fear to win.  I do not want the enemy to win and for fear to take root in your heart as well! It is time to break through the barricade of fear and allow LOVE to take over!  I realize this may seem too idealistic but what would happen if we would stand together and say ENOUGH!  ENOUGH fear…Enough power…Enough hatred…Enough negativity…Enough innocent blood shed.  We will stand UNITED in LOVE…The kind that is unconditional and has no borders!  I will love you no matter where you are from…no matter what your skin color is…no matter what people from your region of the world have done to people in my region of the world…no matter what happened in the past and even the evil that is still to come…no matter what…UNITED WE STAND against evil!

Take time today to write someone from a different place on the planet…even if they now live in your town and tell them you love them by being intentional!  Take time to cook for one another some of your favorite foods.  Share stories about different parts of the world.  Laugh about arranged marriages and laugh about love marriages (as my friend called it)!  Laugh about the differences in cultures and enjoy one another!  Enjoy life together!  Apologize for pride and for judgement and even ignorance! 

Sweet Bushra, I love you and am so sorry for the judgment you and your sweet family feel from those around you and for the judgment that I had. I am so sorry for the blood shed that has caused the tension in your chest.  As a Christian I am called to Love God and to Love you and I am sorry if I have failed to do so in the past due to ignorance and fear.  I thank God for using you to help me see and I thank you for being willing to share your heart with me!  I cannot wait to try the traditional Pakistani meal that you told me you want to make me!  I cannot wait to “try and make your husband smile in your family photos” lol!  I cannot wait to see your son learn music!!!  I cannot wait to see what path your daughter will take in school!!!  I cannot wait to see what the future holds for our families and our friendship as it grows!  I am praying for you and your family both here in the US, in Canada, in Pakistan, and anywhere else in the world. You are so beautiful!

I am Christian…She is Muslim…We are human…We are friends!


The song below is a beautiful declaration of what we should strive for!  I love you friends!  Thank you Timothy Palmer for giving me permission to use your amazing song!

By: Timothy Palmer

CD: The Half-Boy

Song Title: March On

We will not be given to violence

We will not be given to war

We will not be given to silence

Like others who came before

But we will march on

We will march on

We will march on

Toward the shore

We will not be given to anger

We will not be given to might

We will not be given to anguish

For the new day will drown out the night

And we will march on

We will march on

We will march on

Toward the light

Another way is possible

A new reality

If we could learn to live as one

The new humanity

Then we would march on

We will march on

We will march on

We will march on

We will not be given to pleading

We will not be shoved to the side

We will not be given to fleeing

We refuse to continue to hide

So we will march on

We will march on

We will march on

We will march on…

Get the whole CD here IT IS AMAZING!!!

Connect with Timothy Palmer here!!!