friendsgiving 2018 by Haley Russell

You guys, this year, I made a turkey. For someone who has seen flames while making spaghetti and opts to bring ice cream to potlucks, I went big this Thanksgiving. I mean, 18 pounds of big. After my first apartment, I was determined to make this one feel like home and be more intentional about hospitality. I tend to be a bit of a hermit and really just would rather be at home on my couch by myself (or with, like, one friend) watching Parks and Rec (the best, honestly). But, this year, I’ve been working really hard about opening my home. I have a sweet little welcome mat that says “all are welcome here” that reminds me we’re all in this together.

So this year, I decided to host Friendsgiving. When my sisters and I all lived at home, we really just ordered pizza and called it a day, so we’ve been hosting for years. But, this year I wanted to do a more traditional Thanksgiving meal, potluck style!

friendsgiving 2018

Some things on Friends + Thanksgiving

There’s always something to be thankful for.

Keeping this mindset has been really tough for me over the last few years. I’ve been in a weird limbo in several areas of my life, and so it’s been difficult to remember thankfulness. This year, though, so many things seem to be changing in my life and my friends’ lives. We didn’t play any games, nor did we sign a sheet that said what we’re thankful for, but I was glad to just be near them all. Simplicity in the madness. It was beautiful, guys. At first, I was really nervous to host almost eighteen people in my one-bedroom apartment, but we made it work. We covered the coffee table with a tablecloth and ate on the floor. And we loved it.

Carry your traditions.

On my mom’s side, my grandma has always been the one to make the turkey. She preps it, while we stand in the corner cowering and gagging at the sight of turkey insides. When I told her I wanted to make a turkey, she was so excited. We talked for DAYS about this plan. She walked me through every. single. step. of the process. And when I finally got the dang bird made, we FaceTimed. These traditions are so fun and becoming even sweeter as my sisters and I are all getting older and able to participate even more.

Less is more - and better.

I love to plan a good party. I’ve done so much event planning in my professional life, that the details and pretty things make my heart pitter patter. When planning, I had grandiose ideas of buying tables and chairs, updating my sliding glass door, and buying all kinds of extras we didn’t really, well, need. Finally, I just decided I wasn’t going to buy anything I wouldn’t continue to use. No pillar candles, no new curtains. We spent a few dollars on a table runner I knew I wanted for everyday, cloth napkins we’ll use forever, some eucalyptus from Trader Joes that’s currently hanging in my shower, and dug in our party boxes for tea lights. It was literally perfect. It’s also amazing what you can do with a good charcuterie. Inspo from Gathered Living + Pinterest (pinned allll the party ideas here). Everything on the board was from Trader Joes except the apple butter my uncle makes. :)

Friendsgiving 2018

Love the planet.

I’m slowly but surely trying to eliminate plastic in my life. Literally, it’s so dang hard. But, these sweet little bamboo plates, forks, and knives are 100% biodegradable and compostable. Hellooooo.

There’s a lot coming up in my life - I just got butterflies thinking about it. It’s so easy to forget to love on your people. But I’m super glad we didn’t this year.

friendsgiving inspiration
friendsgiving 2018

This is also one of my favorite photos from the night. Summer suggested taking the photo from another angle so we didn’t show the rings on the table, but I loved it. This table was my grandmothers, who later gave it to my mom, who later gave it to me. It’s been in our family for more than fifty years. These circles represent use, family meetings, laughter, and memories. I wouldn’t trade it.

I hope you guys had the best Thanksgiving ever. :)

PS - I relied heavily on A Beautiful Mess for inspo and recipes (here is their Friendsgiving archive - they’ve been hosting for something like seven years). I’ve followed them for so, so many years and their Friendsgivings are always swoon-worthy. I also fell on Rebekah Lyons’s Friendsgiving guide (free download here!), which was a literal lifesaver and so. dang. cute. I used her turkey recipe, and it turned out SO well!

PPS - Summer took all of these photos, which makes me love them even more.

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.


Then, I graduated with my master’s with no set plans.

I’d wanted to write and had seriously considered the PhD route with a professorship in close view. It wasn’t the teaching that encouraged me; in fact, I was more interested in the research and would’ve rather stayed away from teaching. So, I did what many confused post grads do—I came home.

on teaching pt 1.JPG

That first year home was difficult. My hometown was nothing like I’d left it. I’d sped away five years prior with terrible high school memories and very few surviving friends. During the time I’d been away, my family had severed all ties with the church in which we grew up, loading pain on top of the confusion. I spent my days crying. My sisters, precious as they are, held me up (both physically and emotionally) while my parents encouraged me professionally and practically. I took trips and desperately tried to meet new people. I worked a terrible job in higher education government and my PhD track seemed to fork completely; I was no longer interested.

And then, I met a headmaster of a private school in what his wife and one of my dear friends named a “divine appointment.” I was sobbing, as per my usual. We were all grieving over the loss of one of our friends; she was moving back to her home in China. I was wearing my favorite (though tattered) dress I’d had since I was a junior in high school. My hair was dirty and I had no sense of direction. But in that room, in the most bizarre and unthinkable way, God called me to teaching.

Teaching had never been on my radar. In fact, I didn’t want to teach. If I’d ever considered it, my thoughts moved more toward teaching women the Bible after I’d gotten another degree at a seminary. High school was so not my thing and returning seemed like one big laugh. But, God called me to teaching. After I was hired, I don’t remember much for my first year other than bursting into tears in a department meeting. My favorite way to characterize that first year is “black out,” which still seems so accurate. I still find notes to myself from those first months I don’t remember making. The trainings others have assured me we’ve been through, I just don’t remember. Literal information overload.

Tonight, I find myself on the eve of my third year as an English teacher. I’ve taught composition and literature of varying degrees. I’ve cried in front of students, with students, and behind the doors after students have left. I’ve said things like, “Please don’t throw those scissors” and “Please don’t lick your friends.” (Yes, I’ve taught high school all three years.)

There’s a lot of media coverage on teachers and at least three of your Facebook friends have asked you to donate to their classrooms. It’s a weird life we live, man. And perhaps my voice is only adding to the clatter.

But, if I’ve learned one thing about teaching, it’s this important thing.

Teaching is a calling.

My school is of the Christian variety, so we have the opportunity to have these conversations openly and honestly. When my bosses encouraged us in a usual four-hour faculty meeting (bless), one was quick to point out that we’d made sacrifices to be here; this, he’d said, is our calling.

Brushed off at first as a thing Christian people say (we have the most funny way of saying things, don't we?), I didn’t think much about it. But later, as I was frantically worrying over my classroom (bulletin boards are from the enemy), and anxious over rosters (when should we really print those out?) and trying to avoid the iPads I need to disinfect, I thought about that proclamation.

This is indeed a calling.

When I think of that word, I think of someone going into battle. A young family asking for prayer before planting a church in inner city Chicago. A graduate raising support for a life of mission work in the deserts of the Middle East. I began rolling this thought around in my head trying to grasp it with two hands. And it gave me some relief.

Teaching is hard, guys. There are days I come home exhausted from a fourteen-hour workday. (We don’t really get out at 3:30, you know.) We see blood and vomit. I’ve touched more pieces of used gum than I’d ever care to admit or count. I’ve heard snot (yes, heard it) and smelled weird smells and it’s all just…well, really not glamorous. By the end of the day, I’m pretty sure the weird body odor is actually me and I’ve somehow reverted back to the weird 15-year-old I was as a freshman. But, we show up for kids whose parents have abandoned them. We walk through extreme cases of bullying, wishing we could somehow shield these small people with our own bodies (honest to God, I would if that wouldn’t be weird in the hallway). We have bags of emergency candy because 15-year-old girls who run from your room in tears need a Snickers bar, darnit.

It’s hard work.

And your work is hard, too.

Maybe you’re a teacher (God bless and keep you, friend) or maybe you’re a nurse (we really need to get capes for you guys). Or maybe you’re an accountant or a student or lots of other things. Work is hard because life is hard. It will always be (Genesis 3:17-23).

But, the good news is this. You were called to do this. Whatever this season, whatever this job, whatever this difficulty. You were called to be here, and even in the difficult times, the times when noses are physically and metaphorically bloodied and you’re so exhausted you can’t move one more inch before you collapse, you were called to do this. My dad, ever equipped with a quick little phrase to make hard things seem manageable asks me this question regularly: How do you eat an elephant? And every time, I know the answer: One bite at a time.

Jesus puts it this way:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?...Therefore do not be anxious…
— Matthew 6:25-32

So, friend, whatever this fall has your hands working on, I pray you remember the words of our Jesus when He promised to take our burdens. I pray you remember that regardless of the way you’re feeling, your supposed ability or disadvantage, you are called to do this. 

Have a great year. I believe in you.  

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 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 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, 

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


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,

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,