For the Heart
Love will set you FREE | Rustington, England 2016
What makes your heart come alive?
For me, it’s traveling, friendships that are vulnerable and share all parts of life, meaningful conversations around the table, standing on the shore – feet in the sand – looking out to the ocean, stargazing (stars make me cry), being in the quite of the mountains with it’s fresh + crisp morning air. It’s time spent with family, making memories and laughing together. It’s dancing, worshiping, creating, and expressing myself from a deep place with no limitations or fear. It’s when I am immersed in love and sense a place of belonging. A place of “enough”. A place of confidence & assurance.
As we traveled, through Ireland – across the sea – and through Europe, it was like my heart was hooked up to an IV of all that makes my heart come alive. All that awakens me to the richness of life – love – and to the deep parts of myself.
Rustington was the final chapter of our adventure. A small town on the east coast of England, that waves at France from the English channel. We had NO IDEA what was waiting for us when we got there, but I can honestly say it will forever hold a special place in my heart. A landmark of the Lord’s goodness.
We drove with our team from London, to Rustington/Little Hampton, and when we arrived, we met a group of people that so graciously volunteered to host individual team members from Lubbock, TX in their English homes. Unbeknownst to us, our host home couldn’t host us at the last minute. A lovely couple by the name of Paul & Pippa Smith stepped up and welcomed us into their warm & humble home.
The moment we stepped into their home, it was as if my heart knew – you can breath deep here. You can belong here. You can rest here. Just as a home should feel – welcoming & cozy- a place to just “be”.
Paul & Pippa are DELIGHTFUL. One of my favorite & most impacting experiences of the entire journey was being in their company, and in their home. As we talked with them over lunch, over a walk along the pier + delicious ice cream, and a warm cup of afternoon English tea, my husband Dusty and I were wide-eyed at how much we resonated with their life story. It was like writing in the sky saying, “This connection is not by accident, or coincidence. Indeed, the Lord had planned this all along.”
I’m eternally grateful for Paul & Pippa. Their open home, their joy, & Pippa’s open & vulnerable heart created space for the Lord to do an incredible work in my heart specifically.
The tide takes the water out really far each afternoon. By later in the day, the tide will quickly come back in & the water will be back up to the shoreline.
Picture with Pippa & Paul the first afternoon we met them!
Paige & Josh Allen were our leaders for the time we were in Rustington. They would pick each member up from their host home and drop us off each day. After spending the afternoon with our host homes, they gathered the troops and took us out for Fish & Chips by the pier.
Our team!! There were 15 of us from Church on the Rock in Lubbock, TX who went on a mission trip to Rustington. This was our first trip ever to serve in Rustington, so we didn’t really know what to expect. We knew we would be working with Arun Church & helping with their outreach week, but didn’t know any specifics. I can say for all of us, it was nothing we expected as it looked way different than what we all think “mission” trips have to look like (serving in hard areas, poverty, going 100mph all day, etc.). This mission trip was even more than we could have ever expected and the Lord rocked all of our hearts, minds, and world views. It was incredibly slow paced, which opened up a lot of opportunity to connect, rest, listen to the Lord, and to give and receive at the same time. Dusty and I unfortunately could only do 4 full days of the trip (I had to get back home for a wedding), but in those 4 short days my heart was healed and changed. I prayed to bring “joy” into this trip, to serve the church of England with a freshness, with hope, and encouragement; however, I’m not sure that I offered anything… Instead, I was the one that was encouraged, tasted joy, and left with a freshness & new faith & hope!!
This is Harvey. The PRETTIEST PUP I’VE EVER SEEN.
Did you know that the swans are protected by the Queen? She owns all of the swans in England!!
Our team’s time in England was to serve the Arun Community Church, and help them with their big outreach week. The church put’s on a kid’s camp from 9-noon for 5 days that includes a lot of FUN: games, dance, crafts, and songs about Jesus & his joy that many of the kids have not heard of..
(cue the tears… watching kids sing about letting their light shine, and being loving and kind WRECKED this girl).
The camp was held at the the church’s gathering location – Little Hampton Community – A primary school building. Inside the school, there is a chapel for students to come and “be” no matter what religion they identify with or if they don’t identify to one at all. — This is from the school’s website about their chapel…
Paul Sanderson, our Chaplain, writes: Our Chapel has been created as a place for students and staff to come and ‘be’. There is a lot to do when we are working and learning and that is good but sometimes we just need to ‘be’. Its part of us as human beings that sometimes gets forgotten. So if you are suffering or celebrating, feeling great or in a state, come and make time to ‘be’ in the Chapel.
I felt this was a really neat and beneficial thing for the school. It was so moving to see all of these precious kid’s prayers. Some were heartbreaking, some were hope-filled, but they all lead to a similar desire — love.
& God.. IS LOVE.
Dusty got “Gunged” at camp on our last day with the team. A slimy concoction that gets dumped on the leader who’s name has been entered the most by all of the kids at the camp. On our third afternoon in Rustington, we were invited to have proper cream tea in a lovely couple’s home. Norman & Grace Barne’s are Kingdom mover’s and shakers in the Faith, & being in their home was such an honor. Grace had an amazing spread for us complete with biscuits, cakes, sandwiches, and English tea served in her best china.
Norman & Grace have been pastors + traveling missionaries + founder’s of LINKS International + and have influence MANY around the world through the Lord’s love and gospel. I sat on this seat in their home that is from Ghana, Africa. It’s an African Ashanti promise seat. As I was sitting here, in my heart, Iasked Jesus to remind me of a promise He’s made to me, & to let me know that He see’s me. Unknown to Norman, he prayed over our team, and as he prayed of Dusty and I he told me that the Lord wanted to remind me of a promise that He has made to me. The promise was that In Him (Christ) NOTHING is IMPOSSIBLE, that HE CAN do ALL things.
The Lord knew that the promise I needed to be reminded of, was the promise that He is God. He is Good. That his character never changes. HE can do the impossible. My faith rose as tears fell down my face, as Jesus spoke to the deep parts of my hear that were suffering, dying due to doubt, fear, and disappointment. Shackles began to fall off.
Then this nugget of wisdom came out of Norman’s mouth, “The issue is NOT the issue. The ISSUE is WHAT DOES GOD SAY?” — This will now replay in my mind every time an issue that’s “impossible” arises, or a place that seems hopeless is on my journey. I will have FAITH for what I hope for, assurance of what I do not see… “It is what it is, but it’s not what it seems.” – “The issue is not the issue, the issue is: What does God say?”
Then Norman said to me, “Jesus wants you to know that He see’s you and is near, that He’s never left you… even in your heartache, even in your brokenness, He has always been there.
It was in that moment that I dropped the chains that I had been holding onto. I dropped the grave clothes I had chosen to wear. I dropped the doubt, fear, and disappointment. My Jesus gently wrapped his hands around my heart, and breathed life & light back into all the places that were dark, dead, and distant.
The last day we were in England, after our time singing with Kids and serving the church at the camp, they had us over to one of the member’s homes for a big “Texas size” cookout!!! WOW. Delicious. They had a full spread and we all felt so spoiled as we ate, enjoyed conversation, played soccer, and grew in friendship with our brothers & sisters from England… I think at this point we were all feeling a connection with this community of believers like no other. It was as if these people, their hearts, the church’s vision & dreams, was but a mirror reflection of who we are at COTR back home. We connected so quickly, and were deeply encouraged & honored by all that they did to serve us, when WE were there to SERVE THEM!! Oh, the beauty of the gospel. Oh, the beauty of unity.
Oh, the beauty of love that transcends time, places, backgrounds, races, etc..
A love that can unify hearts from one tiny town to another from across the world.
We were so sad to have to leave early. My heart is already hurting to go back. To see the familiar faces, and talk with friends that have forever left an imprint on my heart. The church we worked with is planning on sending a group to Texas, and I cannot wait to show them the same hospitality that was shown to us. We left so free. So loved. So encouraged. So FULL.
Thank you Jesus, for taking me on an adventure that created space for you to speak, set my heart free, and awaken deep desire in my heart. Thank you Jesus for your love.
My precious cousin & this cool cat named Braden took turns taking care of our home & pup’s while we were gone. They were so well taken care of they didn’t even miss us when we got home ;).
The Balooba’s Take Ireland 2016
On July 21st, Dusty (my husband) and two of our couple friends (Kyla & Randall Osborne + Vanessa & Jason Brandiger) took an adventure to Dublin, Ireland! This was the first portion of a two week long trip that took us over West Ireland, across the Irish Sea, through Wales into England, and ended with a few days in London, and a few final days in Rustington England. This is Part 1 of 3 posts, so be on the lookout for following posts. If you have any questions about our travels in Ireland, comment on this post! These pictures are a mixture of Iphone Images + my Canon 5D Mk3 with the 35mm 1.4 lens. Enjoy!
Landing in Dublin!!
We rented a precious renovated Airbnb in the Stoneybatter area of Dublin. It was a PERFECT location, walking distance to all of the sites, and a great way to experience the city like a local. We all loved being able to hang out in the kitchen until the wee hours, and being able to walk up to our room's whenever we wanted. It's so much better doing vacations this way, in my opinion. 🙂 Our hosts were Simon & Alexandra! They were great hosts, were very helpful and friendly. We loved staying in their home!
We arrived to Dublin early in the morning, so we stopped at Cowtown Cafe for some breakfast before heading to see Trinity College!
JET = LAG
These signs on the street were SO HELPFUL. YIKEss..
After hearing how amazing Trinity College was, we decided to see it for ourselves!! It was truly magnificent.
Vanessa watched a documentary that said Mulligans had the best pint of Guinness in Ireland. I have to agree, they were right. Who knew Guinness could actually taste good?
We took a tour of the Guinness factory! It was a 5 story tour showing the process of how they make their beer, the history of the brand, how to pour the beer correctly, and it ended with a full 360 view of the city! It was a really neat tour full of history and information! I would recommend it.
After the tour we stopped into Arthur's for some lunch!! Delicious fish & chips & seafood chowder.
St. Patrick's Cathedral was absolutely stunning & full of history.
At the end of the day, we did a tour at the only operating whisky distillery in Dublin! Teeling has been around for years, but just opened their distillery a year ago in Dublin. The first new distillery in Dublin in 125 years.
For dinner, we tried out Mulligan's restaurant that was right down the street from our Airbnb. The first mulligan's we went to was just a pup. This was a gastropub and probably all of our favorite meal/dinner experiences of the trip!! It was such a cool atmosphere, and had DELICIOUS food!
On Sunday, we did a day tour to see the Cliffs of Moher. The bus took us on a 3 hour journey to the West coast of Ireland & made a stop in a quaint little town, then to some "mini cliffs" that were still very large, then to another quaint town for lunch, and finally to the cliffs that are a mere 700FOOT drop!!! Have you ever seen Princess Bride? Remember the "cliffs of Insanity" ... yep.. it was those.. and yes... they were INSANE! Pictures don't do them justice.
Although the miles of stone walls you see through the countryside of Ireland look quite charming, there is a sad story behind them. These walls were made during the potato famine in the mid 1800's to earn food.
Our last day in Ireland, we couldn't stay at our lovely Airbnb due to another family coming in. This sent us on a search of where to stay! Randall's mom had suggested the Ritz Carlton in Ireland. It's known to be pretty affordable for what it is, and she said it was a must so obviously we said... DUH!! Of course we will go stay a night at the Powerscourt for a great price. It was such a fun experience. We got to see the beauty of Ireland outside of the city, it was only about 40min from Dublin, and it contains the 3rd best garden in the world on it's grounds!! It was the perfect way to relax & finish our time in Ireland.
The roses in the garden were so dreamy and smelt SO heavenly!!!
In the Powerscourt Gardens you will find the largest private pet cemetery in Ireland, which is the resting place of the much loved pets of the Wingfield and Slazenger families.
Our last day in Ireland was the perfect way to end a wonderful time in the Irish country!! The next day we would catch a ferry & boat over to Holyhead in Wales to continue our journey onto London, England! Stay tuned for part 2 :).
The Story of the Bee
ALLEEJ is not just a photography business. It’s more than a business.. it’s a story created to tell your stories.
You and I.. we all have stories. We all have moments of defining. Moments that are life changing and heart molding.
You may have wondered, what’s the purpose behind the bee? If I can take a moment of your time, this is a story that I believe will bless you as it has me.
I love symbolism and the mystery it holds. Here is a story filled with the intentionality of Christ . A story where the evidence of Jesus’ love is unmistakable. So sit back, grab a snack, and enjoy a read that I believe will truly touch you, as it continues to touch lives around the world.
I attended Lubbock-Cooper ISD all of my childhood. My mother was (and still is) a kindergarten teacher at the school. Her career provided me with some of my favorite memories. Playing with friends who’s parents also taught at the school was sometimes better than recess. We had the whole school to ourselves. The whole playground to do whatever we wanted. As a fourth grader, my friend and I had a ritual of going to a specific teacher’s classroom. We would go to this classroom for my friend to exchange letters with our teacher’s daughter. It was a sweet pen pal friendship between a high school girl, and her greatest 4th grade admirer, who happened to share the same name. The young high school girl always had lady bugs on her letters to my friend. My friend’s signature back.. a bee.
Fast forward 7 years.
Kelsey and I are about to enter into our senior year of High School. Out of all of my friends, Kelsey was the most sensitive, compassionate, goofy, and child-like. She was your go-to if you needed someone to understand, to listen, to make you laugh, give you a positive outlook, or to make you feel like $100 bucks. She loved photography, and took her camera everywhere. You could always count on Kelsey to capture the fun at baseball games, shear ridiculousness at the pool, and the memories you know you’ll want to hang onto. She lived a life building up others. She also lived a life of searching.. searching for the greater purpose.. for the greater love.. for the greater meaning. Growing up, she often asked me questions, needing me to provide wisdom or an answer. Summer of senior year, I realized it all clicked for her. She would ask questions, and be able to answer them with hope and faith in the Lords plan for her life. She had discovered the well that never runs dry. The source of wisdom that you could trust without having to understand.
Throughout the summer, Kelsey prayed every night for her dad to experience the love that she had experienced in Jesus. For a lot of Kelsey’s childhood, her father was not a believer. In 2006 the Lord met him, but there was still much he did not understand and areas he struggled with doubt. That summer, Kelsey also prayed for our High School. She believed the Lord had big things in store for the Cooper community.
Little did she know.
She was right.
September 1st, Kelsey discovered a verse in the bible that she really favored. She shared it with excitement to her boyfriend, a man that always pointed her to Jesus.
“Do not be afraid; just believe” – Mark 5:36
These would be words for her family and loved ones. The passage is about a family who loses their daughter. These would be words to cling to and “Just believe”.
September 2nd, 2008, Kelsey came to school with a brand new outfit (that, of course, she offered for me to borrow), a camera, and a smile that never left her face. In student council that morning, Kelsey asked me to take a picture with her to remember our senior year. Little did I know, that would be our last picture together.
That afternoon, in our senior seminar class, Kelsey was the “first five leader”. She lead the class in roll call, and finished with a quote for the day. She had picked a bible verse in preparation for this day, and shared it with the class.
“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own.”
– Matthew 6:35.
This would be the words of Christ that we, as a school, would cling to for hope in the days to come.
On her way home from school, Kelsey and her twin sister, Kayla were struck by a dump truck in oncoming traffic. Kelsey was killed on impact, and Kayla walked away with a hurt foot and some scratches.
This heart-wrenching reality absolutely shook the Lubbock-Cooper community. When the Lord had put a stirring in Kelsey’s heart that big things were going to happen at Cooper that year, she had no idea that it would be through her life and her death.
Through the course of the year, Thom, her father, sought out the Lord in a way he never had before. He grieved. He questioned. He doubted. & He discovered. What he found was hope. What he found was truth, healing, love. He found the love & faith she prayed he would experience.
“Oh death, where is your sting!!”
The truth & love of Christ, even in the midst of terrible pain & hopelessness, has the power to spring hope and life back into what was lost.
Thom began writing a book in 2007 about his spiritual journey. To my understanding, Thom always wanted to write and dreamed of publishing a book. He planned to have Kelsey read it one day to understand his past doubts. Her life, even in her death, encouraged the destiny and purpose the Lord created within Thom. The way I see it, her life lead him to his destiny.
In 2011, Thom published his first book: “Tragedy and Trust: Can you still TRUST God after losing a child?”
“This story is the journey of a family and a boyfriend – how they struggled with the issue of trust; how they individually and collectively resolved it. The answer did not come easily, nor did it come quickly. But with faith in God, come it did.”
Since then, Thom has released two more books, one in 2012, and the most recent in 2013.
Tragedy & Trust is being re-released through Tate Publishing in June! Thom is going to have a signing at Barns & Noble in Lubbock, TX on May 10th if you’d like a personalized copy! 🙂
Thom now lives a life full of joy regardless of the circumstance. It’s evident in the new smile he wears. It’s a smile of hope.. a hope that only Jesus can give.. and the truth that his earth is temporary. The truth that there will be a joyous reunion one day, and we will all see Kelsey again.
Kelsey’s life was lived simply.
Kelsey didn’t live exalting herself. She truly lived out her days for the good of others. She always made sure you felt loved, and you knew you were loved.
Which made me think… “To live for yourself is to not live at all. However, to live with a heart set for others, is a life lived to the full.”
Kelsey was my biggest cheerleader. She taught me the richness in being a bigger cheerleader for others than for yourself.
She taught me the sweetness in friendship that had no selfish ambitions. The richness and sweetness of a simple mind. Simple faith. Complete trust.
The message version of Matthew 6:34 says “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Life is about people. It’s about loving. It’s so easy to get caught up with the stresses, anxiety, and worries of the future that sometimes we miss out on the present day.
The last picture we took together was on September 2nd, the morning of the day she passed away. This picture is priceless to me, and is a constant reminder to live in the moment. This picture instills the powerful reminder of what I have the opportunity to do on a daily basis. Why is photography so important? Because it captures life in a frame. It preserves a memory, takes you back to loved ones, celebrates life, and so much more… I approach photography with the legacy Kelsey left in mind. She is my inspiration, and a big part of “my why.” I believe in photography because of the treasure I have in that last picture of us together. I believe in photography, because I believe life is worth celebrating, and your story is worth capturing.
FEBRUARY 22nd, 2012
As I mentioned in my blog yesterday, I was on a plane when the Lord gave me the idea of ALLEEJ. I was asking the Lord “why”… “why do I do photography… what’s the point.. what’s the purpose?” and what I saw was a bee. A hand drawn bee on a letter addressed to a pen-pal. Within the bee is an incredible story. A story of love, grief, hope, purpose, and restoration. A story that has defined me, molded me, and encouraged me to seek Christ and know Him more. A story that lead me to my destiny, that made me pick up a camera, and created a passion in me to preserve moments. Most of all, the bee is a story that has consistently shown me faithfulness of God, and the beauty of living for HIM & not for myself.
PEN-PALS & JESUS
7 years before our Senior year, Kelsi Cook passed away due to a single vehicle car accident. 7 years after Kelsi’s passing, Kelsey Vines met Jesus just a few feet on the other side of the road. I like to picture the bee & the lady bug having a sweet reunion in the company of the one who loves them most.
To me, the bee is symbolic of preserving the sweetness of life through photographs. It is symbolic of the Lords promises, love, and faithfulness.
If you took the time to read through this, thank you. Thank you for letting me share with you. I hope you benefited in some way from Kelsey’s story. I know it has forever changed me.
To Honor Kelsey’s legacy, and all of our after school math tutorial frustrations, I will be donating $15.00 to the KRV scholarship in the name of every Lubbock-Cooper High School Senior who has their pictures taken with me. Live a life that leaves a legacy in your schools. Love people, work hard, and be your classmates biggest cheerleader. I promise, it’s worth it.