on teaching pt. 1 by Haley Russell

I always imagined my twenties as years of successful relationships, a marriage, and maybe a kid or two. Sprinkle in a glamorous job in a glamorous city, and these were the dreams that propelled me through college. I was ready to embark on that journey, one where I was sure I’d feel even more secure in who I was—I’d done a lot of soul searching in college—and have an even firmer grasp on who my people were. Essentially, I’d assumed I’d live in a cool city, rent a cute little studio, and live like the Christian version of Friends.

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on numbers 12 + sin by Haley Russell

numbers 12

I’m notorious for reading the Old Testament with a desperate thirst to discover the application for today. It probably comes from a place of fear—the enemy consistently lies to me about the Old Testament's worthiness and legitimacy. I also tend to read for baby names, because let’s be honest, its chock full of some good ones. When I started reading Numbers 12, I immediately secretly hoped Miriam had a story of hope and honesty. Grit and beauty. Something along those lines. Instead, I found a story of incredible sin and redemption. 

Though I’ve been a Christian since I was 11 and grew up in the church, I found my biblical knowledge waning as I got older. Sure, I can tell you who Moses is—the basket baby!—and I can give you a rough idea of the Bible's narrative. But, passed that, I really have a limited understanding of the Scriptures. This really started bugging me a few years ago, and so I began reading the Bible from the beginning. I briefly considered reading it chronologically or following a study, but as I worked with international students who often began reading the Bible with Genesis, I wanted to do the same. I spent a year and a half on Genesis and Exodus and they remain two of my favorite books in the Bible. Then, I hit Leviticus and I was terribly concerned I’d hate it. This would be where it’d fall apart for me, I was sure. But, I was floored. Leviticus also became one of my favorites. It remains one of my answers when the question is asked: “How do we know God loves us?” or “How do we know God is faithful?” 

And so, now, I am on Numbers. Numbers 12, in fact. The first few chapters were tough for me—any time we get into genealogy, I tend to be overwhelmed with the amount of research I want to do and I start looking up anthropology programs and plane tickets to Ethiopia and Jerusalem. Soon, though, I started getting to the crux of the story of Moses leading his people to the land promised to Abraham. I saw parallels in Numbers and Genesis (God loves showing up as literal pillars of protection for his people) and was reminded of His steadfast and unchanging character. 

But, the Old Testament often reminds me of one harrowing fact: There will always be a consequence for sin. Miriam is an example. Numbers 12 opens with a simple fact: Moses has married a Cushite woman. Cush is located south of Ethiopia, so it is clear Moses has married a black woman with a culture different from his. Another topic for another day is the blatant disregard for race God has here. Miriam and Aaron question this choice and subsequently begin to question God’s movement in and through Moses, asking “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” The pride here is overwhelming; Miriam not only questions Moses’ leadership, but elevates herself by asking that the Lord has also spoken to them. We know Moses’ story and the way in which God continually met with him (think burning bush and Mount Sinai). Now, God truly does come to meet with Miriam and Aaron. No big deal. It’s like being called to the principal’s office, but worse because this is the God of the Universe and you've just messed up.

The Lord’s anger was kindled against them as He questioned Aaron and Miriam: “Hear my words: if there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord.” And, here’s the kicker: “Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” Could you imagine physically hearing that from the Lord? I think I’d die of embarrassment and shame where I stood. We’re not given Miriam’s reaction, but we are given her punishment: she is leprous. Not just a little leprosy, really leprous. She is leprous “like snow.” (John Piper wrote here that it's like God saying "you want white skin, Miriam? I'll give you white skin.)

In short, Miriam sinned. She put herself above her God-given leader. She questioned God’s faithfulness. She was steeped in pride. She was racist. And there was a consequence for her sin. This is true for us today. Maybe we won’t burst into snowy leprosy after the Lord physically appears at our camps, but I can assure you sin always carries consequence. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death. We see a physical representation of this in Miriam.

But, the narrative doesn’t stop there. Our God is not a God of punishment and captivity. He is a God of redemption. Just as Romans 6:23 ends with the understanding of the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, Miriam’s story hardly ends with an eternal life of leprosy. Instead, Moses pleads with God on her behalf and the punishment is lifted after seven days’ exile. After those seven days, she is welcomed back in the camp, and the Israelites continue on their journey to the land promised them.

Culture tells us—even dangerous contemporary Christian culture—the Old Testament is irrelevant and harsh. How could God do -insert terrible thing here- to the people He loved? I’m so sad when I hear these criticisms because the God of the Old Testament is the same God as the New Testament. The same God who sent Christ Jesus to give us a free gift of eternal life is the same God who saved Miriam from her leprosy and sin through Moses' leadership and plea. He is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever.

“Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.”
— Psalm 37:1-3

on doing all the things by Haley Russell

choosing creativity over business

I don't literally mean all the things. That's dangerous. If you're doing all the things, stop. Trust me, being a "yes man" is not good, regardless of what the world says. 

I've always been indecisive on things that matter. I can tell you definitively where I'd like to go to dinner, and what I'd like to wear. But when it comes to life decisions, I'm paralyzed. When I was younger, a teacher assigned a portfolio project designed to encourage us to think of our futures. We were to write several things about ourselves then -- in seventh grade -- and plan for our future. What, she wanted to know, did we want to be when we grew up? I labored over this question. An astronaut seemed exciting; not a lot of people were astronauts, and I've always had a love affair with the stars. Teaching seemed like a lot of fun, too, though. I loved writing on dry erase boards, and that's all teaching is, right? (And all the teachers said "Ha!" together.) Still mulling my decision over, I thought of the one thing I always wanted to do: A familiar itch crawled its way into my fingertips and stories raced around my brain. I wanted to be a writer most of all. 

After discovering I had no inclination or ability in sciences or math, we confidently crossed astronomy off my list. The stars and I would rendezvous every night, but I would never study them critically. Teaching became a legitimate and viable option. My desire to write still burned in my bones. But, new desires flooded my heart. I wanted to learn to paint, but thought I wasn't good at it (more on this later). In college, graphic design called to me. Web design made sense for my future. My dad -- always helpful and my forever business coach -- pushes me to learn to code, which sounds vaguely interesting. 

You get the point. 

I've always wanted to do all of the things. 

A few months ago, I launched Haley Danielle Creative, an outpour of my heart for storytelling. In that venture, I wanted to combine my love of writing with photography. My heart was for those who had a phenomenal story to tell. I wanted to walk alongside people and help them tell it. I believe in the power of a story -- big and small.

But, now, if you search for Haley Danielle Creative, the Internet directs you here. It's not an accident. I didn't publicly announce my switch to my old domain, nor do I plan to (although this may serve that purpose...hm). But, here's why I did. 

Though I still have a passion for storytelling, a business run excluding the rest of my life didn't make sense to me. 

When I began HDC, I shoved everything else out of my head. I worked on my Instagram grid and labored over my website. I sent dozens of emails to small companies and large businesses asking to help freelance. I took photos of friends, sisters, and flowers. I still have a heart for storytelling. But what I also have is a heart for authenticity. 

And so, I am back here. I chose creativity and self expression over business. I'm still open to working with you (if you're interested in that, click here and if you want to see some of my work, click here), but I'm okay with those relationships growing organically. I still think about my Instagram feed (because who doesn't?) and check my analytics (I unhealthily love analytics). But, what I want more than anything is to be myself. I want to sit down at the computer and write about my faith because Leviticus is rocking my world (for real, guys). And I want to do that without feeling like I'm sabotaging my "brand" or "business." I want to talk about the two jobs I have and the Sunday school class I teach. I want to tell you about a really exciting project my sisters and I are working on. I want to do all of those things, because they are me. 

I want to do all of it not because I want to hear myself talk, but because my fingertips itch and stories swirl in my soul. I want to hear from you, and consider hard things. I want to love loud, without feeling worried over an algorithm or upsetting some kind of Internet-established status quo someone has coined for their weekly webinar (that I'll probably watch because I love webinars). 

So, friend. Welcome to this new space. Make yourself at home and introduce yourself in the comments, will you? I'd love to know you! 

walking with you, 
hd

on makeup by Haley Russell

 me, very tired, in colorado. with altitude sickness. and approx 2 hours of sleep. 

me, very tired, in colorado. with altitude sickness. and approx 2 hours of sleep. 

I've gone almost a month only wearing make up about once a week. And even then, I hardly swipe mascara on my lashes. Guys, this is HUGE for me. 

In high school, I was on terrible acne medication which followed the "get worse before it gets better" method, which is the worst method for anything, ever. I hardly felt confident in the way I looked because of the whole 60-degree spinal curve thing, but the acne was just too much. I spent hours caking foundation on my poor pores trying to cover up my blemishes. 

As I got older, I cared less, but I still hardly ever left the house without makeup. And then one day, I got out of bed and the thought crossed my mind: No one is making you wear this, Haley. I stood, looking in the mirror for a while and thought about it. This was my face. My face. Nobody else has my face. So, I pulled my hair up in my usual bun and flew to school. After that, it just seemed natural. My skin needed a break. I needed a break. I don't even know what contouring means, you guys. But here's what I learned. 

People told me I looked pretty regardless of if I wore makeup. Of course, we should feel awesome regardless of if other people think we are. My point is, I didn't have to suddenly make a public service announcement to people that I was maybe giving my skin a makeup break. Even my students -- who are my harshest critics -- didn't once say, "Miss Russell, you look...tired" as they so often do when you least need to hear it. 

I found I didn't hate what I was looking at in the mirror. Of course, I feel super awesome when I have mascara on. It's my thing. I love a good lash. But, even without it, it was like rediscovering myself. I actually knew what I looked like without makeup on and felt okay about it. 

Life got a lot simpler. On Sundays, I still try and wear makeup to church. It doesn't always happen, and some days during the week I'll find that I have time or the inclination to slap some on before work. But on the mornings I'm not feeling it, I've got one less thing to stress about. And let me tell you, that is life changing for this night owl. 

Makeup had become such a part of my identity I wasn't quite sure where the real me really was anymore. It's kind of cool to see her staring back at me now and it's not too bad. What helps raise your confidence? 

on stretching by Haley Russell

KF3A4278.jpg

I have a bad back. 

When I was 11, my doctor diagnosed me with scoliosis, which is a pretty normal thing. You may remember the somewhat humiliating (or was that just me?) in-school screenings when weird doctors made you bend over to see if you had a hunch in your back. I failed that test, hard. No biggie, though, scoliosis, we were told, isn't a big deal. Basically, you either deal with it or you're thrown in a brace and then -- viola! -- you're healed. But, sometimes, you get thrown in a brace and STILL don't get healed. Enter 11-year-old Haley. Not only was my spine crooked (think of an "s"), it was rotated. So, that's cool. Anyway, I ended up having spinal fusion surgery when I was 18 because of it. 

I recently went back to the doctor -- the same doctor who put rods in my back and grinned beneath a surgical mask as I made terrible (and drug-induced) jokes in post-op -- and he told me I needed to ~stretch~. I'd been complaining about feeling stiff (and I'm only 25! ugh) and he had a pretty simple response. He delivered the information as he always does, super calm and with a smile because he can always tell when he's going to deliver information I'm going to turn my nose at. 

"You've got to stretch, Haley." 

Um, no. 

"Pilates would be helpful." 

Um, hard no. 

I thought of that conversation with my beloved, sweet doctor when I was in Colorado last weekend. I was shooting an elopement and a lot still felt largely unknown to me. I love my camera, and I was working with my sister (who is so talented), but there were times throughout the day I looked around -- because Colorado is bring-you-to-your-knees beautiful -- and wanted to stop. I wanted to sit down, to read a book, do something comfortable. I wanted to not be in Birkenstocks, and to not be out of breath. I wanted so badly to have remembered my hammock, even though I never would have had the time to use it. Because, shooting isn't always easy. It's sometimes messy and weird and I am such a perfectionist when it comes to anything creative. 

But then, I remembered stretching. 

Stretching is terrible. I hate doing it. It seems somewhat unhelpful and weird to just, like, bend. But it's so important. And as I was walking around Turquoise Lake with severe altitude sickness and about five hours of sleep under my belt for the last 48 hours, I learned so much. I learned that the stretching is good for you. I learned that flying out to a new city and driving in a compact car on Colorado mountains is not a good idea. I delved into manual mode more than I ever have before (I always shoot manual, but I'm often terrified by it). I worked on composition and stretched myself -- quite literally -- by learning to use a new, wide-angle lens. If I would have stopped, ignored the stretching and admonished the hard, I wouldn't have grown. As a person, a photographer, a creative. 

So, I guess my question for you is pretty simple: What makes you stretch? Do you need to pick up a new hobby? Maybe you should learn to paint or draw. Maybe you need to finally look into film making. Or, cook or something. Whatever it is, maybe today's your day to stretch. Have so much fun and let me know how it goes. 

And, if you're into that sort of thing: here's the gallery from the elopement a few days ago

walking with you,
hd

on thoughtfulness by Haley Russell

on thoughtfulness.jpg

I've been thinking a lot lately about thinking... Wow, what a statement. Let me explain. 

The last few months have been absolutely insane. For those of you who have followed my journey, you've seen me open and close a photography business, freelance, and quit my jobs to start working on my own creative pursuits. The problem was, I had no direction. I needed some stability. My heart has always yearned for the creative, the exciting, the beautiful, and the vulnerable. In January, instead of continuing working part time, I picked up two new classes and returned to full-time teaching. 

It wasn't a failure, but a giant learning experience. 

During my last semester of teaching, I struggled to stay present. Every day, for a different reason, felt like an absolute battle. I'd retreat home, bloodied, bruised, and licking my wounds. At 7 am the next day, I'd start again. There was no time to talk to kids going through crises -- I was barely standing up straight. To do lists completely killed my idea of community. 

And then, the summer came, as it often does. Illnesses have raged and surgeries abounded. I found rest, but in unexpected ways: I found it in my people. 

Instead of staying in bed, or reading (I mean, I have done quite a lot of that), I cleaned houses, made suppers, and booked trips. And instead of feeling burned out, I felt a strange mix of guilt and joy.

My priorities were so skewed, guys. It was so bad. My to do lists outweighed my people. I graded and graded, or I slept, or I just couldn't be around people anymore. Now that I've been less crazy, it's been apparent I've left friendships jilted and relationships undone. I haven't put in the work. 

And, the thing is, the people is what matters. That's why we teach -- for the kids. But, at the same time, we've got to translate that into our real lives. 

This week, I hope you hug your people's necks and tell them how awesome they are. A can of soup can go a long way. A trip to the grocery takes 10 minutes. Send some flowers and write a note. Let's do our parts this week. 

walking with you,
hd

on sitting down and slowing down by Haley Russell

haley danielle

Something caught me by surprise today. It was a nasty thing, a product of our broken world. It grabbed me around the neck and forced the air out of me and left me sad and unsure. You see, every day, I leave school around 4. I love talking to students, but some days, I'm just ready to zip out of there because, you know, I've been standing and talking to people for, like, twenty-five thousand hours. And so, when a student asked me to hang out for a bit after school a few days ago, I flew in and out of the classrooms, finishing things up, not really listening. I shrugged: Whatever it was, could wait. Today, though, I finally stopped. We sat together and I heard her loud and clear. Some terrible things had happened in her life. 

Her story is not mine to tell, but as she was speaking of families ripping apart, painful disappointments, and raw wounds, my voice caught in my throat. I hurt for her, and I felt guilt rise from the pit of my stomach: I'd been too busy to see her for a whole week and this had been going on. This was what was pressing. And she'd waited, patient, and kind. She'd still hugged me, told me she'd catch me another time. She still told me she loved me, and gave me more grace when I allowed my busyness to take the driver's seat. I'd been around, sure. I'd been scratching papers with red pens and clicking away at emails rather than slowing down.

I hadn't stopped to listen. 

I was (am) heartbroken. Instead of doing my job (because teachers sign up for our jobs to educate, sure, but everyone knows we're in it for the kids), I'd allowed other, small things to get in the way of a conversation I should've been having. Instead of sitting down and slowing down, I waved my hand and swore I'd have time later.

Sister, maybe today is your later. Maybe today is the day you need to sit down, slow down, grab a drink and really listen. One of the biggest things teaching has taught me is that we're all carrying a lot of junk. People (read: teenagers) often seem frustrating until you know their full story. Every time I'm annoyed a kid is acting out, I almost always find out something is always going on at home. Something is going on with their health, their parents, or their siblings. Every. Single. Time. And, for some reason, I continue to learn this lesson -- giving more grace and opening my ears a little more. All it takes is sitting down and slowing down. Invite that friend to coffee. Buy hers. Don't say a lot. Just listen. Just be.

You are not to busy, and nor am I. 

I hope you have the greatest weekend ever. 

walking with you,
hd